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Diana Betty (Di) Riddell (1929–2019)

by Verna Rosling

Di Riddell, by Gab Carpay, 1987

Di Riddell, by Gab Carpay, 1987

ANU Archives, ANUA 226-306

A well-known and respected figure on the ANU campus between 1966 and 1995, Diana (Di) Betty Riddell played a central role in the lives of thousands of students and also in the broader ACT community.

Di passed away peacefully on 9 June 2019. Born Diana Betty Gould in Chelsea, United Kingdom, on 24 October 1929, she matriculated from Wimbledon Girls’ Grammar, then worked in a cancer clinic in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, before moving to Canberra in 1963 with her economist husband John and their two children, Christopher and Martin. John passed away in 2009, and Martin passed away in 2015.

Appointed to the role of administrative secretary in the ANU Students Association in 1966, over her three decades on campus, Di was a central figure in the ANU community and in the lives of its students. Her tireless activism did much to improve accommodation, health, welfare and financial services to students, supporting them in needs beyond the lecture theatre. In 1966, as ANUSA Administrative Secretary, she assisted students in gaining a place on the ANU Council. To this day, ANU is one of the only universities with student representatives on its Council.

Di’s early years at the University were set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the radical and rapid change this brought about. It was a time of mass student protest, the opening up of university education to more Australians and the push for women’s and indigenous rights. Di and her colleagues were key support to Aboriginal activists for the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of the then Parliament House, where it still stands today. She is held in high esteem by the Aboriginal community.

A major contribution to the effectiveness of the ANUSA was Di’s well-developed connection with the university administration and her personal relationships with senior university officers. These connections were important in maintaining a bridge between the administration and the ANUSA. She also had the respect and trust of the ACT Police, important during mass student protests and arrests.

In 1971 the Aquarius foundation of Australian Union of Student held the Aquarius Arts Festival in Canberra. Di was deeply involved in ensuring that the union and the University provided relevant services in delivering a very successful festival.

After leaving the Students Association in 1990, Di joined Valentine McKelvey at the ANU Arts Centre where she continued to apply her administrative and student-centred skills and commitment. She created a working hub for student and non-student theatre work and for many years was very active in the performing arts scene both on campus and within the Canberra community. She was a long-time board member of the Canberra Theatre Trust.

Di retired from the ANU in 1995, but continued to be active in the local Canberra community. She became an effective foundation board member of the Drug Referral and Information Centre, later known as Assisting Drug Dependants, for over 30 years. Allied to her social justice concern, Di gave her full support to the creation of Cura Casa, a halfway house for women and families under pressure, especially those with mental health issues. She also became a Justice of the Peace in the Magistrates Court.

Di and her husband were staunch supporters and committed members of the Australian Labor Party. They helped found the Canberra Labor Club, which they saw as a resource for the Labor Party. Di sat on the board of the club for many years.

Following Gough Whitlam’s reforms in 1973 permitting members of the public to act as marriage celebrants, Di was one of the first to take up the offer to become a celebrant. Her personality and reputation meant that many former students sought her out, including from interstate, to preside over their marriages.

In retirement Di became a valued founding member of the ANU Emeritus Faculty and was elected to the executive committee in 1999. She later held the position of membership officer, a position she held right up until her death. She was also one of the original members of the East Coast Project, a subcommittee of the Emeritus Faculty formed in 2009 that undertook research into the possible early exploration of the east coast of Australia.

In early 2019, within the new Kambri precinct on the ANU campus, Di was honoured when the Vice Chancellor named the Di Riddell Student Centre in honour of the contribution she made to ANU and its many students, and to the community beyond.

Richard Refshauge said in his eulogy to Di: ‘No one who had contact with Di was unaffected by her, she was gregarious, bossy, efficient, genuinely compassionate, dogmatic and a firm, firm friend.’ He went on to say that ‘although it is a bit of a cliché, but absolutely true that all who knew her was the better for it’.

Di is survived by her son, Christopher, her daughter-in-law, Donna, grandson, Matthew, and granddaughter, Hannah.

Citation details

Verna Rosling, 'Riddell, Diana Betty (Di) (1929–2019)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Di Riddell, by Gab Carpay, 1987

Di Riddell, by Gab Carpay, 1987

ANU Archives, ANUA 226-306

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gould, Diana Betty

24 October, 1929
London, Middlesex, England


9 June, 2019 (aged 89)

Key Organisations
Political Activism