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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Geoffrey Thomas (Geoff) Caldwell (1935–2000)

by Dick Johnson

Dr Geoff Caldwell, a long-serving member of The Australian National University, died on 17 September after an illness lasting some years.

One of his passions and leisure pursuits was photography (two examples from the ANU campus are featured on this page). While vocationally he was trained as a sociologist, as a photographer he rarely made social comment or presented visual messages. Rather, he was fascinated with the natural environment, with the patterns of landscape and seascape and the geometrical symmetry of nature. One of the factors that led him to take photographs was the need to share images that he found beautiful, appealing and intriguing.

Geoff was brought up in Sydney, a proud graduate of Canterbury Boys' High and the University of Sydney, where he studied History, English and Political Science. He became a teacher in Sydney, Canada and England, and then, turning his interests to sociology, went to Canada for further studies, gaining a Masters degree from the University of Calgary. In 1968 he took up a PhD scholarship in the Sociology Department of the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) at ANU studying "leisure cooperatives and the institutionalisation of gambling: a study of large leisure organisations in NSW" —in other words, the social impact of the licensed clubs of NSW and their poker machines, which were fairly new phenomena at that time. This seemed a strange topic to some people then, but it has since become of considerable importance; Geoff, a pioneer in this field, was the first person able to speak on the topic with scholarly authority instead of enthusiasm or prejudice. He advised the Registered Clubs Association of NSW, encouraging them to focus on the quality of their facilities, activities and personnel rather than on opening more luxurious buildings and to undertake research on the gambling patterns and needs of members.

His first academic appointment after his PhD was to the Education Research Unit in RSSS. Here he worked for three years on a major study of overseas students in Australian higher education. He maintained a strong interest in leisure institutions and in his writings stressed the importance of providing leisure activities that offered opportunities for self-development. It is not surprising that his academic career from then on was in the CCE at ANU where he had scope for two of his personal commitments: the extension of higher and continuing education to adults of all backgrounds, including in Pacific countries and Asia, and the promotion of intellectual discussion in the general community. He became Director of the Centre in 1986 and served as such until 1994.

As Director of the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) he was able to invite retired academics and bureaucrats to become honorary Visiting Fellows of the Centre, and he recruited a small group to form the Higher Education Policy Unit, undertaking enquiries and writing reports for other universities and for Commonwealth agencies. He was for many years a member of the National Commission for UNESCO, and towards the end of his career, in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, he established the ANU Centre for UNESCO Visiting Fellows, becoming its first Executive Director after his retirement from the CCE.

One of Geoff s particular skills was that of facilitator. He facilitated strategic planning exercises across a broad range of organisations including (until a short time before his death) groups within ANU, the Australian Sports Commission and, for the last 17 years, the Canberra Southern Cross Club.

Geoff made a major contribution as a member of the Board of the Canberra School of Art and Chair of its Council during the period of its amalgamation with the School of Music; a member of the Governing Body of University House; president of the Senior Common Room at John XXIII College; Chair of the Commonwealth Government's Enquiry into the Social Impact of the ACT Casino; President of the Arts Council of the ACT, President of the Canberra Photographic Collectors Society, and the founder of that group of ANU-based Raiders supporters, the Meningans (he is pictured left with Raiders' coach Mai Meninga), who have named the scholarship that they finance the Geoff Caldwell Education scholarship. Another of his passions was golf. Geoff was one of the founders of the ANU/University of Canberra Annual Golf Challenge (played for the 10th time this month and won for the 6th by the ANU). The competition will now be played for the Geoff Caldwell Trophy.

Tributes have flowed in to his family. ANU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deane Terrell, wrote: "Geoff's work at the Centre for Continuing Education, and through the ANU Centre for UNESCO Visiting Fellows, in particular, reached out to many people and had a significant impact on international education. Geoff's role in establishing the Centre was an important one that enabled him to exert a very positive influence on education in the Pacific region. Prof Ken Wiltshire AO, the Chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, remarked on: "Geoff's enthusiasm, his great sense of humour, his keen interest in human nature, and his concern for fellow humans..." Justice Michael Kirby said, of Geoff's work in UNESCO: "he made many contributions to building a better world".

Besides all these official positions and public contributions, what colleagues and friends will most remember is a man of great humility, gentleness and kindness, a loyal friend, a good companion.

He was devoted to his wife Carole and daughter Jillian, and will be remembered with love not only by them but also by many others.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Dick Johnson, 'Caldwell, Geoffrey Thomas (Geoff) (1935–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 September 2023.

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