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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Sofija (Sonya) Witheridge (1930–2006)

by Rosh Ireland, Margaret Travers and Kevin Windle

The death of Sofija (Sonya) Witheridge is a reminder of the debt owed by this and other Australian universities to those part-time and occasional tutors and lecturers called in, often irregularly and at short notice, to help out with special knowledge or in time of need.

Sonya taught in the former departments of Slavonic studies and Modern European languages over a period of years, sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time, after the University ended its generous practice of inviting a Visiting Lecturer from Moscow University to fill a native speaker slot. Once only did she have the opportunity to apply for a continuing post, offering stiff competition to the eventual appointee.

While her ongoing role was as a native speaker, and as a female voice when, in language teaching, balance was needed, her academic qualifications in Russian, fine art and comparative linguistics and experience as a limited tenure lecturer at Melbourne University, before she moved to Canberra in 1974, together with native speaker competence in Serbo-Croatian, sent her to the teaching front in elementary and advanced Russian, in Serbo- Croatian when the University boasted the first Slavonic department in Australia, and also in a first-year unit in Russian history and culture for non-language students.

For her, part-time implied no limit on commitment. She kept up an interest in modern Russian writing, making contact with one of Russia’s best war novelists, whom she had met when he was a junior officer in Yugoslavia at the end of the war, and filming an interview with the author of the first and greatest Russian World War II novel, Stalingrad, for the University. She was a mainstay of the department’s Russian-speaking weekends, held twice a year at various sites on the South Coast for more than 20 years. Her talents as a cook came to the fore here, as at all our less serious activities. It was less well known that she was a gifted artist. Throughout her time in Canberra, she devoted much time and energy to serving the Russian community and its church.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rosh Ireland, Margaret Travers and Kevin Windle, 'Witheridge, Sofija (Sonya) (1930–2006)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 February, 1930


23 January, 2006 (aged 75)
Garran, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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.