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Lionel Arthur Gilbert (1924–2015)

by John Harris

Well known Armidale author, historian and naturalist Lionel Gilbert OAM has died, aged 91.

Dr Gilbert wrote many books, including The Last Word: Two Centuries of Australian Epitaphs (2005) and History Around Us (1974).

He died on January 28.

His contribution as a writer earned him great respect and genuine affection from the city he grew to love and to serve for more than 50 years.

Born in Burwood in 1924, he attended Burwood Primary School, then Homebush Intermediate High School and later Fort Street Boys’ High School, before moving on to Sydney Teachers’ College in 1942.

World War II interrupted his teacher training, and he enlisted in the RAAF as a radio operator in 1943, serving in Arnhem Land – only 300 kilometres from the Japanese forces.

He had a passion for field botany and Australian and local history, which was evident in his study and later writing.

While teaching in Nabiac he met Margaret Roberts and the couple were married in 1949.

Their daughter Anne was born in 1960. In 1955 Lionel enrolled as the University of New England’s first group of external students, and the family moved to Armidale in 1960 so he could finish his honours degree.

Joining the then Armidale Teachers’ College as lecturer in history in 1963, he was soon promoted to head of the history department and, late in his career, to acting deputy principal.

In a time of great change in tertiary education he instigated the introduction of ground-breaking courses in local and applied history, which met the growing needs of students.

His driving research interests led to an impressive and influential body of publications, and his meticulous preparation, writing and stimulating presentation, tinged with an obvious respect for “other days, other ways”, saw him generously accept a punishing round of speaking engagements.

During that time he was able to maintain his involvement in the Armidale Historical Society, advisory committees for the Armidale Dumaresq Council, and state archive bodies.

Dr Gilbert had a role in establishing the Port Macquarie Museum, the Armidale Folk Museum, the Hillgrove Museum and the Museum of Education at Armidale.

He was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1972, the Order of Australia Medal in 1995, a Centenary Medal in 2001, the Freedom of the City of Armidale by the Armidale Dumaresq Council in 2001 and an honorary degree of doctor of letters from UNE in 2008.

Dr Gilbert is survived by his wife Margaret, daughter Anne, son-in-law Tony and grandson Alexei.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Harris, 'Gilbert, Lionel Arthur (1924–2015)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 April 2024.

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