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Alistair Heatley (1939–2000)

by David Carment

Alistair Heatley was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1939. Although becoming an Australian citizen many years later, he remained proud of his New Zealand origins. He was educated at schools in Christchurch. He later attended the University of New Zealand, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1961, and the University of Canterbury, where he was awarded a Master of Arts degree with Honours in 1963. After a period of school teaching, he attended McMaster University in Canada, from which he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in History in 1972. His thesis was on ‘Lord Normanby: A Study in Colonial Administration, 1850-90’.

Alistair was appointed a foundation member of staff at the Darwin Community College in 1974 as Lecturer in History and Politics. He later specialised in Politics and was promoted Senior lecturer. He continued as Senior Lecturer in Politics at the Darwin Institute of Technology and the Northern Territory University, where he was promoted Reader in 1991. A member of various committees, he served a term as an Associate Dean. In 1978 he was a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU) and between 1981 and 1982 was a Research Fellow at ANU’s North Australia Research Unit (NARU). From 1986 to 1987 he was a Ministerial Officer in the Office of the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, with special responsibility for statehood planning. He undertook a wide range of consultancies for a variety of Commonwealth, Northern Territory and local government agencies and private, media and community organisations. The Northern Territory and national media frequently used him as an expert.

Alistair was a superb teacher. He expected high standards and could be very demanding. He was also highly articulate, well informed and most entertaining. He always made sure that his materials were up to date. It is not surprising that his Politics subjects were often very popular with students. While he made no secret of his own conservative political beliefs, he respected other points of views as long as they were well argued, He taught with expertise across a range of areas, including Australian politics, state politics in Australia, comparative federalism and European politics. Much of his teaching was at undergraduate level. He also, though, successfully supervised postgraduate students. At the time of his death he was supervising four Doctor of Philosophy students.

He was a prolific author. Among his publications, almost all on aspects of Northern Territory politics, were numerous books, articles in academic journals, contributions to edited books, book reviews and newspaper articles. His most notable publications were the books The Government of the Northern Territory (1979), A City Grows: A History of the Darwin City Council 1957-1984 (1986), Almost Australians: The Politics of Northern Territory Self-Government (1990) and The Territory Party: The Northern Territory Country Liberal Party 1974-1998 (1998). The latter was described by Professor Dean Jaensch, perhaps Australia’s most eminent political scientist, in an Australian Journal of Political Science review as ‘very readable’ and ‘well-written’. Similar comments could be made of Alistair’s other work. His publications made an outstanding contribution to knowledge and understanding of Northern Territory politics.

Alistair also had a practical interest in politics. Although he never sought a political career, he advised the Northern Territory Government on statehood and was an active and well-informed member of the Northern Territory Statehood Convention in 1998.

Away from his professional interests, Alistair was involved in a range of other activities. A passionate supporter of Rugby Union, he played the game for many years, was a well-respected referee and made significant contributions to the administration of Rugby in the Northern Territory. He was an enthusiastic golfer and loved camping and bush walking. An experienced international traveller, he frequently visited Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and, of course, his native New Zealand. He loved good food and red wine, frequently enjoying restaurant meals and hosting dinners at his Wanguri home.

Alistair’s marriage ended in divorce, but he had a good relationship with and was proud of his son, Alexander. He was also particularly attached to his mother, who lives in New Zealand and is now well into her 90s. As his well-attended funeral showed, he had many friends.

Alistair died in October 2000 after a difficult battle with lung cancer. He faced the disease with courage and good humour, knowing for almost a year that there was virtually no chance of recovery. Most of the last year of his life was in Melbourne, where he received treatment. His death, though, was at his home in Darwin, to which he had returned to spend a few days.

Alistair was the first to admit that he was a contradictory character. There were times when he was frustratingly difficult and he seemed to delight in making strong criticisms of those in authority, whether they were Deans, Vice-Chancellors or the leaders of political parties. Yet he was also often charming and delightful company.  He was well read and knowledgeable in a wide range of areas, from cricket to military history to share trading.

He will be long remembered.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Carment, 'Heatley, Alistair (1939–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


Christchurch, New Zealand


17 October, 2000 (aged ~ 61)
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lung)

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