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

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Leonard John (Len) Hume (1926–1993)

by Ian Wilson

On Saturday, 6 February, Len Hume was tragically and needlessly killed in a car accident in Victoria.

Len was first a part-time lecturer in economics and then political science with Canberra University College in 1950-51. He divided the next few years between the public service and a doctorate from the London School of Economics (LSE), and joined ANU as a tenured member of staff in 1961.

Len was from Sydney University during its exciting post-war years and brought with him the influence of the libertarian philosopher, John Anderson. But Anderson also believed in academic hierarchies and that students, while adult, came to university to learn things they did not know. This was important to Len and, despite his early work on labour history, he had firm views on the rights and obligations of professorship, the need for academic rigour in all things and the virtues of examinations to draw out what had been learnt and could be employed in argument by students.

Len, with his solid training in economics and practical experience in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, fitted well into the department Fin Crisp had designed. Modelled in part on the LSE, there was a shared but unstated belief that Australia could be a better place if the right sort of minds were brought to bear on its problems.

Len firmly believed that an education in political science that did not include classical and medieval political thought was 'incomplete'. He kept abreast of and taught knowledgeably in contemporary political theory but saw it as 'much more expendable' in a list of course offerings.

It could not be said that Len was happy about the managerial changes that overtook Australian universities in the 1980s. He held that the apprenticeship an academic goes through means that that person's opinions in the field should carry more weight than those of administrators and those not yet through that training. He was also scathing on some modernist fads. For the most part he kept these views to himself but they did emerge at times when he felt he needed to explain his own position.

The Len Hume I have depicted here is too austere and dour, and these he never was. His innate sense of humour and the influence of his wife, Angela, protected him well. He loved music, the theatre and cricket. Rugby Union was also a keen interest for him a player, referee and then spectator when his sons took up the game. He also loved the country life and revelled in his spell at Sigg's farm in Kent while working on the Bentham papers.

Len retired in 1988, a few years before the statutory date, but remained a valued contributor to the honours seminars. He had been acting head during difficult times in 1970 and 1974, head in 1987, and his devotion to the cause of medieval studies, to work as external examiner for the University of Malaysia and on countless committees attest to his sense of duty of service.

His primary research interest was, characteristically, the reformer Jeremy Bentham. I will never forget the pride with which Len showed me the remains of that remarkable Englishman in the glass case and the box (for his head) at London's University College in 1967. On Bentham, Len Hume made his mark, writing his study Bentham and Bureaucracy (C.U.P., 1981) and as editor of volumes two and three of the Constitutional Code in the definitive collected works. He was still at work in the National Library on Bentham and several Australian topics in the week before he died.

Len' s standards of excellence and integrity were always a worry to his colleagues in the Arts Faculty when they found themselves on the opposing side. One had to be very sure of one's ground. He embraced many unpopular causes, but always with courage and on principle.

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Citation details

Ian Wilson, 'Hume, Leonard John (Len) (1926–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

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