27 May 2020

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains an image and the names of deceased persons.

Dr Shino Konishi, a Yawuru woman and researcher at The University of Western Australia is leading a project with Dr Malcolm Allbrook and Professor Tom Griffiths—both from the Australian National University—under the Discovery Indigenous scheme to double the number of Indigenous biographies, adding 190 new entries, within the online Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) as well as producing a standalone published volume of Indigenous short biographies in the ADB.

First published in 1966, the ADB tells the stories of more than 13,000 Australians who have passed away, so that their stories are recorded into Australian history. Dr Konishi has analysed these entries, noting that prior to her project only 210 biographies included in the ADB were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, representing only 1.5% of all entries.

Dr Konishi and her team have sought to produce new biographies that are more representative of the demographic makeup of past and present Indigenous communities, by increasing the proportion of Indigenous women, and ensuring more language groups and communities from across Australia are represented. They also considered which types of peoples and roles are important to Indigenous people.

70 biographies and collective biographies of 103 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals have now been commissioned. Nine articles have been published in the online ADB, and another 26 will soon be published. These articles include biographies of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, who lived 42,000 years ago on the traditional lands of the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi people, and the little-known nineteenth-century women Woretemoeteryenner (c. 1795-1847), a palawa from North-East Tasmania, and Annie Brice (c. 1849-1931), a Boandik from South Australia. Both women are considered important ancestors in their communities, and the articles were authored by their descendants. Just in time for Anzac Day 2020, an article on Ngarrindjeri serviceman and prisoner-of-war Roland Wenzel Carter (1892-1960) was published.

This co-operative project draws together Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors from across Australia, and is governed by the Indigenous Working Party, a national advisory group of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

Images: Top: Jack Dale, ‘History painting’, 2003. Courtesy of Malcolm Allbrook and the family of Jack Dale. 

Bottom: Annie Brice, on far right, c.1869. Credit: State Records of South Australia.