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Janet Marian Phillips (1939–2018)

by David Hilliard

Janet Marian Phillips was born on 12 January 1939, daughter of Charles and Marian Robertson of Tusmore. She was educated at St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School and retained a life-long affection for the (Anglican) Sisters of the Church who taught her. Later she wrote the school’s centenary history. Janet attended the University of Adelaide where she competed a BA honours degree in 1959 and then trained as a secondary school teacher. After teaching in schools for several years she enrolled for a PhD, with a thesis on the modern history of South Africa, which was awarded in 1969. In 1967 she was appointed to a lectureship in history at the new Flinders University, along with David Close, Brian Dickey and David Hilliard. She remained there until her retirement in 2008. In 1970 she married Peter Phillips of the History department at the University of Adelaide; he died in 2010. They had two sons: Daniel and Joshua.

During her forty years at Flinders University Janet taught in many different fields of history. The subjects for which is best remembered, and which always attracted large enrolments, are the history of Nazi Germany and the social and cultural history of Victorian England. She loved teaching and in her lectures and tutorials conveyed her enthusiasm for her subject. She encouraged students to look behind a narrative of events, to explore big questions and to challenge inherited orthodoxies. Many of them remember her with affection as a stimulating teacher and generous mentor.

Janet’s publications include three books: Liberalism in South Africa, 1948–1963 (1971); The Victorians at Home and Away (with Peter Phillips) (1978); and Not Saints but Girls: The First 100 Years of St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School (1994).

In later years Janet suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and a succession of illnesses. She faced her physical disabilities with courage, cheerfulness and a deep religious faith. She died on 12 March 2018. Her funeral at Holy Innocents’ Anglican Church at Belair on 21 March was attended by a large number of former colleagues, former students and family friends. 

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Hilliard, 'Phillips, Janet Marian (1939–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Robertson, Janet Marian

12 January, 1939
South Australia, Australia


12 March, 2018 (aged 79)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.