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Deborah Bird Rose (1946–2018)

by Ian Keen

Deborah Bird Rose was born and grew up in Seattle, Washington. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology with honours and distinction at the University of Delaware, and later an MA and PhD in anthropology at Bryn Mawr. Her doctoral research, funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, took place at Yarralin in the Victoria River District, Northern Territory. The theme of her research and resulting PhD thesis was an interpretive approach to the position of the person within the cosmos. The resulting monograph, Dingo Makes us Human in (Cambridge University Press, 1992, reprinted in 2000 and 2011), won the Stanner Award.

In a parallel research theme, Rose documented Indigenous histories, in particular those concerning Captain Cook and Ned Kelly, as well as Indigenous histories of the effects of white settlement on Aboriginal communities (Hidden Histories, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991). A third research theme arose out of a collaboration with the archaeologist Darell Lewis, on rock art in the Victoria River district, resulting in the co-authored The Shape of the Dreaming: The Cultural Significance of Victoria River Rock Art (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1988).

Rose was also concerned about the ethics of colonisation and processes of decolonisation. In Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation (UNSW Press, 2004), she drew on her understandings of Indigenous Australian cultures, especially that of the people of Yarralin, as the basis for critiques and analyses. She explored the theme of human relations with other species in Wild Dog Dreaming (University of Virginia Press, 2012).

Like many of her contemporaries in anthropology, Rose was active from the 1980s in documenting Aboriginal relations to land in the context of land claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. She also acted as an expert adviser to the Aboriginal Land Commissioner Justice Peter Gray.

Rose was elected to the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1997. She was a Senior Research Fellow at the North Australian Research Unit (NARU) in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies 1998– 2000 before becoming a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Resource and Environment at the ANU. In 2008 she took up the position of Professor in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University.

It is evident that a notable aspect of Debbie Rose’s career was the extension of her anthropological perspective into a variety of fields and concerns. She was the author or co-author of six books, the editor or co-editor of another six volumes, and the author of more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. She initiated and edited the Ecological Humanities section of The Australian Humanities Review, first with Libby Robin and then with Thom van Dooren, and edited the online journal Environmental Humanities.

View the list of ADB articles written by Deborah Bird Rose

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Citation details

Ian Keen, 'Rose, Deborah Bird (1946–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/rose-deborah-bird-32930/text41018, accessed 17 July 2024.

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