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Marian Jane Simms (1951–2021)

by John Halligan

Marian Simms, n.d.

Marian Simms, n.d.

ANU Archives, ANUA 225-1137

The sudden death of Marian Jane Simms has meant that Australia has lost an outstanding scholar and academic whose career and research was influential across several fields.

Marian was a Canberra product. She was born in Canberra and grew up on the country margins to the north where she attended primary school, followed by Lyneham High School in Canberra.

Marian graduated with a BA (Hons) in history and political science from The Australian National University in 1974. Her honours thesis was entitled ‘John Latham and the Conservative response to the Great Depression in Australia’. She commenced an MA at the University of Melbourne but converted to a PhD in political science at La Trobe University under the co-supervision of Professor Joan Rydon, the first woman appointed to an Australian Chair in Politics. She graduated in 1979 with a doctoral thesis entitled ‘The Menzies Government and Government Enterprise’.

Her initial full-time appointments were first as Lecturer, Politics Discipline, School of Management, Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra), 1980–85, and then as Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in the Political Science Department of The Australian National University, 1985–94. She was promoted to Reader in Political Science 1994–2002, and served as Acting Head of Political Science, ANU, and was Director of Women’s Studies, ANU, 1996–97.

Marian became the Chair in Political Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2002–09, the first woman professor in the department (of which she was the Head, 2002–07).

Marian returned to Australia to become Professor and Head of the School of History, Heritage and Society at Deakin University, 2009–11. She also held the positions of Chair in Australian Studies, 2011–14 (on leave of absence) and Adjunct Chair, Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University, 2014–17.

In 2011, Marian became Executive Director of Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences at the Australian Research Council, Canberra, a position she held until 2017. She was also Acting Chief Executive Officer for various periods. During this time Marian had a rich experience working with Discovery Projects, Discovery Early Career Research Award, Australian Laureate Fellowships, Future Fellowships and Discovery Indigenous. She was involved in the establishment of the continuous Linkage scheme and in opening such applied schemes to the social sciences, as well as contributing to the development of government research and research integrity policies. At various times, she also contributed to the review and evaluation activities of research bodies in New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.

Marian’s last appointment was as Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. Marian continued to be active in advising higher degree research students, early career researchers and other academic and administrative staff. Her advice covered a full range of research grant matters, from grant writing through to complex eligibility, post-award, rejoinder, and grant transfer matters. Marian was a key contributor to building research strength in the Faculty of Business, Government and Law.

In terms of higher degrees by research, she supervised 25 honours, 14 master’s and 12 doctoral students at the University of Canberra, The Australian National University, University of Otago and Deakin University. Four ANU PhD graduates—Peter Chen, Peter Martin, Maria Maley and Diane Stone—have achieved senior academic appointments. Two Otago graduates have worked as academics in London and Tel Aviv. Many Otago and ANU honours and master’s graduates have been policy researchers in public service organisations in Australia and New Zealand

Marian was an active member of international and national associations, the most important being the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA) from 1979 and the International Political Science Association from 1988. She co-edited APSA’s Australian Journal of Political Science for six years. She chaired IPSA’s Research Committee on Globalization, Gender and Democratization from 2003 to 2006.

Several awards deserve to be mentioned. There was the Potter Foundation Doctoral Travel award taken up at the University of Southern California Los Angeles campus, to study American politics, 1980. A Fulbright Fellowship was taken up at the University of Southern California campus at Washington DC, to research congressional campaigning, 1988–89. Importantly, there was the award in 2003 of the Centenary Medal by the Australian Government for work on the political history of federation.

Her major publications over 40 years covered six authored and co‑authored books (including one that ran to a second edition) and 10 edited and co‑edited books, plus several collections published through journals. There were also 33 articles and 56 scholarly book chapters and commissioned reports. Her research encompassed Australian and comparative foci and utilised a range of methods and techniques, including surveys, data analysis, content analyses, interviews with practitioners and use of primary and secondary source materials. From her early days as an academic, she regularly worked with many colleagues on research projects and collective publications. Several themes stand out: women and politics, Australian democracy, and elections and political parties.

Marian’s active interest in women and politics dates from her involvement in the Women’s Caucus of the APSA from its founding at the 1979 APSA conference in Hobart. Papers on women and politics presented at the APSA Women’s Caucus were edited by Marian and published as Australian Women and the Political System (Longman Cheshire, 1982). She co-authored, with Marian Sawer, A Woman’s Place: Women and Politics in Australia (Allen & Unwin, 1984; revised second edition, 1994).

Marian’s special interest in gender regimes was reflected in a range of publications on gender and leadership that explored the barriers to women’s political engagement, including a comparative analysis of Margaret Thatcher and Helen Clark, published in Public Leadership: Perspectives and Practices (ed. Paul ‘t Hart and John Uhr, 2008); and an article in Signs: The Journal of Women, Culture and Society (2008).

Publications on another specialisation, the emergence of Australian democracy, included an edited book on the 1901 election (2001); a book on the origin and evolution of democratic institutions, From the Hustings to Harbour Views: Electoral Institutions in New South Wales, 1856–2006 (2006); her inaugural professorial lecture ‘Empire and democracy? The view from settler societies’, University of Otago (2004); and her co-edited volume on Political Parties and Democracy: Africa and Oceania (2010), which both explained and critiqued political processes with particular reference to their limitations in terms of equal representation for women and Indigenous people.

Her long-term interest in political parties is exemplified by two books: A Liberal Nation: The Liberal Party and Australian Politics (Hale & Iremonger, 1982), followed by The Paradox of Parties: Australian Political Parties in the 1990s (edited) (Allen & Unwin, 1996), which recognises the durability of the party system; and a chapter on ‘Political Parties’ in The Oxford Companion to Australian History (ed. Stuart Macintyre et al., Oxford University Press, 1998 and 2001).

Australia’s national elections were a regular subject for study from the mid-1990s to the last election. Marian was a team leader for the ANU post-election studies (with John Warhurst) 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2019 and sole convenor 2010; and co-editor of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia Post-Election Workshop volumes 1996–2010 and 2019.

Recently, she was engaged in several research projects: analysing the 2019 Australian election campaign; comparative environmental politics and policy; comparative political party leadership; and contemporary integrity governance and research challenges, particularly as they relate to Indigenous research. In recent years, Marian continued to actively publish, including Morrison’s Miracle: The 2019 Australian Federal Election (co-edited with Anika Gauja and Marian Sawer, ANU Press, 2020). She was working on a book with Aynsley Kellow (University of Tasmania), ‘Drilling Down: Mining Industry Association at Multiple Levels of Governance’, and had received an invitation to submit a book proposal from a British publisher.

Marian was notable for an unusual combination of qualities: her intellect, integrity, distinctive values, strength of character, generosity of spirit and warmth of personality and style. Marian will long be recalled for her exceptional contribution in offering time and sage advice to colleagues and higher degree students about research, but she will be remembered not only as a scholar, but as a warm and loyal friend and family member. Her devotion to her pets led to her supporting others working to rescue and rehome dogs. Her other passion was the investigation of her family’s history in Australia and beyond. She researched genealogical history with the same discipline she applied to her work while taking great pride in her Australian heritage.

View the list of obituaries written by Marian Jane Simms

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Citation details

John Halligan, 'Simms, Marian Jane (1951–2021)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

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