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Joan Cecile Rydon (1924–2008)

by Talis Polis

Emeritus professor Joan Rydon, who provided long and distinguished service as a luminary in the field of politics at La Trobe University, has died of pneumonia at St Vincent's Hospital. She was 83.

Rydon began at La Trobe as lecturer in politics in 1966, the year before the first student intake, at a time when the campus at Bundoora was still a paddock.

From then until her retirement as an emeritus professor 24 years later, she taught undergraduate subjects and supervised higher-degree students in the broad field of Australian government and its Anglo-American antecedents.

Rydon's specialised research established her as an authority on Australian elections. Her 1954 publication, jointly with Henry Mayer, of The Gwydir By-Election was a pioneering contribution to election studies in this country. It was followed by a doctorate titled "Voting at Federal and State Elections in Australia 1937-1962".

This interest was to extend to an extraordinary mastery of technical detail in Australian electoral procedures, encompassing such things as "donkey voting", and on one occasion even advising the electoral commission on whether ballot papers with ticks and crosses instead of the required numerical ranks could nevertheless be deemed valid.

Within a general interest in federalism, Rydon also studied the membership of Australian legislatures, with particular reference to politicians whose careers included movement between state and national parliaments. The book A Federal Legislature: The Australian Commonwealth Parliament 1901-80 is perhaps the most significant record of her research in this area.

Rydon's own political disposition was generally conservative. In the context of university politics, for instance, any student demands for changes to the established order would almost certainly provoke her staunch disapproval. Many years later this was to add interest to her collaboration with Albert Langer — a noted erstwhile leader of student radicals — in a mildly subversive effort to inform the public that compulsory voting in this country meant nothing more than compulsory attendance at the venue.

She was also far from sympathetic to feminism. However, her prominence for a time from 1975, as La Trobe's first and only woman professor, together with her (then relatively uncommon) practice of using her maiden name, occasionally caused disappointment to people approaching her with the contrary assumption.

Born in Sydney to Lenord and Marjorie (nee Robins) Rydon, she spent her childhood in rural New South Wales and was educated at Griffith High School. She got her BA at Sydney University and Phd at Melbourne University; in 1999 Sydney University awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Rydon held academic appointments at the ANU and the universities of Sydney and Melbourne before joining La Trobe's foundation staff. She also did non-tenured research work in Cape Town while her husband, Sam Soper, an economist whom she married in 1954, worked there. He was later a lecturer, then professor at Melbourne University.

As a young academic, Rydon was a keen participant in the Australasian Political Studies Association from its inception in Sydney in the early 1950s. She acted as the association's secretary and worked tirelessly to promote it.

Sam died before her, and Rydon is survived by their son, John.

Original publication

View the list of ADB articles written by Joan Cecile Rydon

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Talis Polis, 'Rydon, Joan Cecile (1924–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

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