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Robert Ian Jack (1935–2019)

by Carol Liston and Christine Yeats

Dr Robert Ian Jack was the longest serving president of the Royal Australian Historical Society, holding this position for eight years between 2003 and 2011. While this is an extraordinary achievement, Ian’s long and distinguished association with the Society extended far beyond his time as President.

Ian Jack was born in Scotland in 1935. Following an MA at the University of Glasgow, he studied in London where he obtained a qualification in archives administration. He completed a doctorate in medieval history at the University of London in 1961. That was the same year that he moved to Australia, following his appointment to the position of lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Sydney, where he had a long and distinguished career. He became Senior Lecturer (1965), Associate Professor (1970), Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1974-77) and Head of the Department of History (1979-82 and 1992-95).

In the 1970s Ian Jack also found time to conduct Adult Education courses on the colonial buildings and sites of the Hawkesbury and Nepean Valley. Many of the Society’s members attended these courses and came to share his delight in the study of local history. Ian’s numerous and wide-ranging publications included A colonial scene: the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley in 1980 with Daphne Kingston, Exploring the Hawkesbury (1986 and later editions), and the Bibliography of New South Wales local history: an annotated bibliography of secondary works published before 1982 in 1987 with Christine Eslick and Joy Hughes. Ian and Terry Kass also prepared a guide to local government records for the Royal Australian Historical Society. With Dr Dennis Jeans he jointly authored the State Historical Guidelines and the main text for the Regional Histories volume of the NSW Heritage Manual published in 1996. He and Jan Barkley- Jack co-wrote the bicentennial history of St Matthew’s church, Windsor (2016).

When he retired from the University of Sydney in 2002, Ian was appointed an Honorary Research Associate. He was also a Senior Fellow and archivist of St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney.

In 1981 Ian joined the Royal Australian Historical Society. He first served on the Council between 1990 and 1991 and then again from 1999 to 2014. This included terms as Senior Vice-President between 2000 and 2003 and President from 2003 to 2011. Ian also served on the Society’s Library and Archives Committee for many years. His sage advice was always a welcome contribution to the deliberations of this Committee. He represented the Society on the Federation of Australian Historical Societies (FAHS) from 2004 until his death. He was FAHS Vice-President from 2005-2007 and 2016-2019 and Senior Vice-President from 2007-2010. He was a member of the FAHS awards committee 2006-2010, and a member from 2012 onwards, and was the Chair from 2016-2018.

Ian was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK) and, in 2004, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society. This is the Royal Australian Historical Society’s highest honour and it was awarded in recognition of his service to both the Society and to Australian history.

He was generous with his time, delivering many lectures to local societies and other interest groups across the state. ‘I had the privilege of accompanying Ian on a lecture tour of south western NSW some years ago. The theme of the tour was Off the Beaten Track.

Listening to Ian speak about history and archaeology of the region, I gained a deep appreciation of his influence within the local history community and the esteem in which he was held everywhere that he visited.’ (Christine)

Ian was a member of the NSW Heritage Council from 1990-1993, 1997-1999 (Alternate Member) and 2000- 2005. He played a key role in the formation of the Australian Society for the History of Engineering and Technology (ASHET) and served as its founding President between 2003 and 2012. He was an active member of the Hawkesbury and District Historical Society and an inaugural member of the Blue Mountains Association of Cultural Heritage Organisations. When Ian died he was the President of both organisations.

Ian was an active professional historian and consultant until his death on 6 September 2019. He will be remembered for his humour and charm and, above all, as a true champion of the history and heritage of this state.

Original publication

Citation details

Carol Liston and Christine Yeats, 'Jack, Robert Ian (1935–2019)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

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