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William Joseph (Bill) Ginnane (1929–2007)

by Paul Thom

[William Joseph] Bill Ginnane, who died in early May, was born at Melbourne on 2 July 1929. He worked for three years as a cadet industrial chemist at the Shell Company’s plant in Yarraville while studying part-time at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT). He went on to Melbourne University, first as a trainee social worker. There, he developed a passion for philosophy, and eventually graduated with first-class honours in that discipline. On his way through, he worked as a youth group organiser, taxi driver, salesman, kaolin miner and builder’s labourer. He was also active in student theatre, appearing in the 1954 revue Terror Australis with Barry Humphries (inter alia). Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he stayed on at Melbourne University, taking out a master’s degree with first-class honours in philosophy.

He was awarded a travelling scholarship to study at Oxford and took a Bachelor of Philosophy there under the supervision of Gilbert Ryle. His 1960 article ‘Thoughts’, published in the premier philosophical journal Mind, opens with a reference to Ryle’s classic book The Concept of Mind. This article remains Bill’s main contribution to the philosophical literature. In Oxford he tutored at Christ Church and Saint Hilda’s College.

Returning to Australia, he took up a Lectureship at Sydney University, where I met him. His lectures, and more especially his supervision of my undergraduate thesis, kindled my own passion for philosophy. We also shared an active interest in student theatre, and I have many happy memories of shows we were both in at Sydney. While at Sydney University, Bill for a time served as Secretary of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. In that capacity he contributed to the public debate, between 1956 and 1966, surrounding the summary dismissal of Professor Sydney Orr from the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania.

In 1965 Bill moved to ANU, where he rose to the rank of Reader and served for a time as Head of the Philosophy Department. I worked with him as a colleague after I moved to ANU in 1967. He made many contributions to the University and to Canberra life more generally. He served as an elected member of the University Council, was one of those involved in setting up the Religious Studies Program, was President of the ANU Gliding Club (the Federal Soaring Club) and continued to participate actively in theatre both on and off campus. Our ways parted when he left the University. I will remember him as a mentor and a friend.

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Citation details

Paul Thom, 'Ginnane, William Joseph (Bill) (1929–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 July, 1929
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


5 May, 2007 (aged 77)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.