Famous Australian Intellectuals & Academics

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 1 Terri Irwin

Terri Irwin
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Famous As: Naturalist
Birthdate: July 20, 1964
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Eugene, Oregon, United States

American–Australian naturalist Terri Irwin is best known as the co-host of The Crocodile Hunter, along with her husband, the late animal expert Steve Irwin. She has also been part of shows such as Croc Files and Crikey! It's the Irwins, and helped in the development of Australia Zoo.

 2 Bob Irwin

Bob Irwin
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Famous As: Founder of Australia Zoo
Birthdate: June 8, 1939
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia

Bob Irwin, better known to the world as the father of legendary Australian conservationist Steve Irwin, is a conservationist in his own right. Initially a plumber, he later built the Beerwah Reptile Park, which later became Australia Zoo. Following Steve’s death, he cut all ties with the zoo.

 3 Douglas Mawson

Douglas Mawson
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Famous As: Explorer, Geologist
Birthdate: May 5, 1882
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Shipley
Died: October 14, 1958

Douglas Mawson was an Australian Antarctic explorer, geologist, and academic. Counted among the most important leaders of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, Mawson was honored with a knighthood in 1914. Best remembered for his contribution to Australian geology, Mawson was featured on the Australian one-hundred-dollar note from 1984 to 1996.

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 4 Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo
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Famous As: Psychologist, Professor
Birthdate: December 26, 1880
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Adelaide, Australia
Died: September 7, 1949

Elton Mayo was an Australian-born industrial researcher, psychologist, and organizational theorist. As a psychologist, Mayo played an important role during World War I, helping soldiers returning from the war recover from the stresses. He also conducted psycho-pathological tests and is credited with pioneering the psychoanalytic treatment of shell-shock. Elton Mayo's works also laid the basis for the human relations movement.

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 5 Peter Singer

Peter Singer
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 6, 1946
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia

Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer, is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He specializes in applied ethics. He is best known for his book Animal Liberation, which is considered a seminal work in the animal liberation movement.  The Council of Australian Humanist Societies recognized him as the Australian Humanist of the Year in 2004.

 6 Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn
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Famous As: Researcher
Birthdate: November 26, 1948
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hobart, Australia

Nobel Prize-winning Australian-American biochemist and molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn is best known for co-discovering the enzyme telomerase. She was allegedly removed from the American President's Council on Bioethics over her support for stem cell research, which went against the government. She has honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

 7 David Chalmers

David Chalmers
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Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: April 20, 1966
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Australia

Apart from teaching philosophy at the New York University and the Australian National University, David Chalmers has also gained fame for his study on the hard problem of consciousness. A TED speaker, he has also penned books such as The Conscious Mind. He also sings for the Zombie Blues band.

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 8 George Pell

George Pell
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Famous As: Cardinal
Birthdate: June 8, 1941
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ballarat, Australia

Australian archbishop George Pell had served as the first prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. He had also played professional Australian rules football before stepping into priesthood. He made headlines in 2018, when he was convicted of child sexual assault, though the conviction was reversed later.

 9 Yanis Varoufakis

Yanis Varoufakis
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Famous As: Member of the Hellenic Parliament
Birthdate: March 24, 1961
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Palaio Faliro, Greece

Yanis Varoufakis is a Greek-Australian economist and politician who served as minister of finance for a few months in 2015 under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Essex. He began a career in academic economics before entering politics. Along with US Senator Bernie Sanders, he launched the Progressive International. 

 10 J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 9, 1940
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa

Nobel Prize- and two-time Booker Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee had started his career as a Fulbright scholar. After teaching English in the U.S. and South Africa, he now lives and teaches in Australia. He is best known for his colonial settings in novels such as Waiting for the Barbarians.

 11 Richard Farleigh

Richard Farleigh
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Famous As: Chancellor of London South Bank University since 2012
Birthdate: November 9, 1960
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kyabram, Australia

Richard Farleigh is an Australian reality television personality and private investor. Apart from investing in major companies like Wolfson Microelectronics and Evolution Group, Farleigh is also credited with setting up an advisory firm called H2O Markets which he launched in 2010. A former chess player, Richard Farleigh has represented Bermuda and Monaco in the 31st and 34th Chess Olympiad respectively.

 12 V. Gordon Childe

V. Gordon Childe
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Famous As: Archaeologist
Birthdate: April 14, 1892
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia
Died: October 19, 1957

V. Gordon Childe was an Australian archaeologist best remembered for his contribution to the study of European prehistory. One of the earliest supporters of culture-historical archaeology, Childe went on to become the first proponent of Marxist archaeology. He is regarded as one of the best-known and most revered archaeologists of the 20th century.

 13 Michael Taussig

Michael Taussig
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Famous As: Anthropologist, University teacher
Birthdate: April 3, 1940
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Sydney

With a medical degree from University of Sydney and a PhD in anthropology from London School of Economics, Michael Taussig is famed for his provocative ethnographic studies and unconventional style of teaching. Best known for his commentaries on Karl Marx, especially in relation to the idea of commodity fetishism, he has also produced several well-researched works on medical anthropology. .

 14 Alexander Downer

Alexander Downer
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Famous As: Economist, Diplomat, Politician
Birthdate: September 9, 1951
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Adelaide

Alexander Downer is an Australian former diplomat and politician. From 1996 to 2007, Downer served as Australia's foreign minister, becoming the longest-serving Minister for Foreign Affairs in the history of Australian politics. He also served as the Liberal Party's leader from 1994 to 1995. Alexander Downer was honored with the prestigious Centenary Medal in January 2001.

 15 Peter Costello

Peter Costello
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Famous As: Economist, Politician, Lawyer, Investment banker
Birthdate: August 14, 1957
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Melbourne

Peter Costello is an Australian former politician and lawyer. From 1996 to 2007, Costello served as the Treasurer of Australia, becoming the longest-serving Australian Treasurer in history. Costello had an illustrious political career; from 1990 to 2009 he was an important member of the House of Representatives and from 1994 to 2007, he served as the Liberal Party's Deputy Leader.

 16 Steve Keen

Steve Keen
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Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: March 28, 1953
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Sydney

Steve Keen is an Australian author and economist. One of the most important critics of neoclassical economics, Keen's work focuses on modeling American economist Hyman Philip Minsky's financial instability hypothesis. Steve Keen also served as a former associate professor at the University of Western Sydney.

 17 Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery
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Famous As: Biologist, Paleontologist, Zoologist, Environmentalist
Birthdate: January 28, 1956
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Melbourne

Tim Flannery is an Australian paleontologist, mammalogist, environmentalist, explorer, conservationist, and public scientist. Tim Flannery is credited with discovering over 30 mammal species. He is also credited with co-founding Climate Council, a non-profit organization that aims at providing accurate information on climate change to the Australian public. In 2007, Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year.

 18 James D. Wolfensohn

James D. Wolfensohn
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: December 1, 1933
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

A renowned investment banker and the ninth President of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn was also a transformative and hands-on leader and a global champion of human rights.  Beginning his career in investment banking, he worked for several different institutions, before being nominated to the World Bank, shifting the Bank’s commitment back to alleviate poverty and promote social justice.  

 19 Bill Mollison

Bill Mollison
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Famous As: scientist, naturalist, psychologist
Birthdate: May 4, 1928
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Stanley
Died: September 24, 2016

Known for co-developing the concept of a sustainable form of agriculture called the permaculture, Bill Mollison was one of the most influential ecological pioneers, authors, and teachers. Also the founder of The Permaculture Institute (Tasmania) and co-publisher of a book called Permaculture One, he is credited with training thousands of people the art of growing food without harming the nature.  

 20 Joseph Jacobs

Joseph Jacobs
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Famous As: Literary critic, Literary historian, Folklorist, Historian, Children's writer
Birthdate: August 29, 1854
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Sydney
Died: January 30, 1916

Joseph Jacobs was an Australian literary critic, folklorist, social scientist, translator, writer, and historian. A notable publisher of English folklore, Jacobs' work is credited with popularizing some of the most renowned versions of English fairy tales like Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk. Jacobs was widely regarded as one of the world's leading experts on English folklore.

 21 J. L. Mackie

J. L. Mackie
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Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: August 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Sydney
Died: December 12, 1981

Australian philosopher J. L. Mackie is known for his invaluable contribution the philosophy of religion and metaphysics. He believed objective values don’t exist. Best known for his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, he introduced ideas such as the argument from queerness that supported moral nihilism.

 22 John Finnis

John Finnis
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Famous As: Legal philosopher, jurist and scholar specializing in jurisprudence and the philosophy of law
Birthdate: July 28, 1940
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Australia

 23 Colin Barnett

Colin Barnett
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Famous As: Economist, Politician
Birthdate: July 15, 1950
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nedlands

Former premier of West Australia, Colin Barnett boasts of an economics degree and has lectured at the Western Australian Institute of Technology. He was dragged into a controversy when he granted Rio Tinto the right to destroy Aboriginal sites for mining. He has also been the Treasurer of Western Australia.

 24 Raymond Dart

Raymond Dart
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Famous As: Anatomist
Birthdate: February 4, 1893
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Brisbane, Australia
Died: November 22, 1988

Born to a farmer in Australia, Raymond Dart initially wished to become a medical missionary to China. However, he was later pushed by his father to study science. He later grew up to be a renowned anatomist and anthropologist, best known for discovering the first fossil of the Australopithecus africanus.

 25 Ian Plimer

Ian Plimer
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Famous As: Geologist
Birthdate: February 12, 1946
Sun Sign: Aquarius

Australian geologist Ian Plimer taught mining geology and earth sciences at institutes such as the University of Adelaide. Apart from publishing over 120 research papers, he has also been a co-editor of the five-volume Encyclopedia of Geology and has penned the award-winning A Short History of Planet Earth.

 26 Rene Rivkin

Rene Rivkin
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Famous As: Stockbroker
Birthdate: June 6, 1944
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Shanghai
Died: May 1, 2005

Rene Rivkin was a Chinese-born Australian investor, entrepreneur, stockbroker, and investment adviser. Rene Rivkin was named Stockbroker of the Year in 1985 by Business Review Weekly. From 1982 to 1999, Rene Rivkin was associated with important people and became a household name in Australia. In 2003, he was accused of insider trading and sentenced to nine months of weekend detention.

 27 John Hewson

John Hewson
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Famous As: 9th Leader of the Liberal Party
Birthdate: October 28, 1946
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Carlton, Australia

John Hewson is an Australian former politician. Serving as the Liberal Party's leader from 1990 to 1994, Hewson led the Coalition to defeat at the federal election in 1993; the loss ultimately led to his retirement. Prior to his political career, Hewson worked as an economic advisor under the Fraser Government and was associated with the Reserve Bank of Australia.

 28 Richard Bonynge

Richard Bonynge
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Famous As: Conductor, Pianist
Birthdate: September 29, 1930
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Epping, Australia

Richard Bonynge is an Australian pianist and conductor best known for conducting almost all of his wife Dame Joan Sutherland's operatic performances from 1962 to 1990. For his services to music, Richard Bonynge was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, in 1977. In 2009, Richard Bonynge was honored with the prestigious Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award.

 29 Rosi Braidotti

Rosi Braidotti
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Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher, Feminist
Birthdate: September 28, 1954
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Latisana

Philosopher and Utrecht University professor Rosi Braidotti was born in Italy but moved to Australia at 16. An academic whose research scope includes postmodern feminism and continental philosophy, she has also earned honorary degrees from various universities and the knighthood in the Netherlands. Her books include Nomadic Subjects.

 30 Geoffrey Blainey

Geoffrey Blainey
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Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: March 11, 1930
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Melbourne

Australian historian and bestselling author Geoffrey Blainey is best known for his books on economic and social history. Initially a freelance writer, he also later taught economic history at the University of Melbourne. He has also chaired the Australia Council. His books include The Peaks of Lyell.

 31 Keith Windschuttle

Keith Windschuttle
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Famous As: historian
Birthdate: 1942 AD
Birthplace: Sydney

Keith Windschuttle is an Australian historian, writer, and former board member of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He is best known for producing works that discuss social and other important issues in Australia. A respected literary figure, Windschuttle has been serving as the editor-in-chief of Quadrant since 2015. Since 1994, he has been serving as the publisher of Macleay Press.

 32 Hedley Bull

Hedley Bull
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Famous As: Political scientist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 10, 1932
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Sydney
Died: May 18, 1985
An Australian academic who had taught at prestigious universities such as Oxford and LSE, Hedley Bull was an expert in the arms race. He had also been the head of the arms control division of the British Foreign Office and later also became a British citizen.

 33 Hubert Wilkins

Hubert Wilkins
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Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: October 31, 1888
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mount Bryan, Australia
Died: November 30, 1958

Australian-born British explorer and ornithologist Hubert Wilkins is best remembered for pioneering the use of the submarine for polar exploration. While he initially studied photography and engineering, he later embarked on the world’s first transpolar airplane flight across the Arctic and the first over parts of Antarctica.

 34 J. J. C. Smart

J. J. C. Smart
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Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: September 16, 1920
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cambridge
Died: October 6, 2012

Known as a pioneer of physicalism, British-Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart laid the foundation of the Type Identity theory. A professor of philosophy, who spent most of life teaching at prestigious universities such as the Australian National University, Smart was also a skilled player of both cricket and hockey.

 35 Tony Attwood

Tony Attwood
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Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: February 9, 1952
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Birmingham

British clinical psychologist Tony Attwood is best known for his expertise on the autism spectrum. While he now teaches at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, he has also penned the bestselling book Asperger's Syndrome - A Guide for Parents and Professionals. He also organizes workshops and training courses on Asperger's Syndrome.

 36 Julian Burnside

Julian Burnside
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: June 9, 1949
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia

Apart from being a successful barrister, Melbourne-based Julian Burnside, now a Living National Treasure, is also a famed human rights activist. A lover of the arts, he is a passionate collector of paintings and sculptures and has also chaired Chamber Music Australia. An author too, he has penned a children’s book.

 37 Ferdinand von Mueller

Ferdinand von Mueller
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Famous As: Physician & Geographer
Birthdate: June 30, 1825
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Rostock, Germany
Died: October 10, 1896

Ferdinand von Mueller was a German-Australian geographer, physician, and botanist. He is credited with founding the National Herbarium of Victoria, the oldest scientific institution in Victoria. He is also credited with naming several Australian plants. Such is his popularity that many plants, animals, journals, and places in Australia are named after him. 

 38 Ghil'ad Zuckermann

Ghil'ad Zuckermann
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Famous As: Linguist, Philologist
Birthdate: June 1, 1971
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

 39 Phillip Knightley

Phillip Knightley
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Famous As: Journalist, Historian
Birthdate: January 23, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Sydney
Died: December 7, 2016

Phillip Knightley was an Australian literary critic, author, and journalist. A well-known journalist with interests in war reporting and espionage, Knightley received prestigious awards, such as the Overseas Press Club of America Award. In 1980 and 1988 he was named Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards, becoming one of two journalists to have earned the award twice.

 40 Glenn Stevens

Glenn Stevens
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Famous As: Economist, Banker
Birthdate: January 23, 1958
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Sydney

Australian economist Glenn Stevens is known for his 20-year stint at the Reserve Bank of Australia, part of it as its governor. A staunch Christian, he also plays the guitar at his local church. He has chaired the Australian Council of Financial Regulators and has headed the Anika Foundation.

 41 Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell
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Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: 1968 AD
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

Apart from teaching at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian anthropologist Genevieve Bell has also had an 18-year stint at Silicon Valley as an Intel Fellow. The Stanford alumna is also a TED speaker and has been named an Officer of the Order of Australia.

 42 Samuel Alexander

Samuel Alexander
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 6, 1859
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia
Died: September 13, 1938

Australian-British philosopher Samuel Alexander initially rejected a fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford, to study experimental psychology instead. He taught at Owens College for most of his life. He is best remembered for the philosophical ideas expressed in his book Space, Time and Deity, and for his interest in metaphysics.

 43 John Passmore

John Passmore
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 9, 1914
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Manly, Australia
Died: July 25, 2004

Australian philosopher John Passmore taught in various universities across the world, including New Zealand’s University of Otago and the U.S.’s Brandeis University. A Companion of the Order of Australia, he had penned works such as Man's Responsibility for Nature and Philosophical Reasoning. His interests included history of philosophy.

 44 Alan Villiers

Alan Villiers
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: September 23, 1903
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia
Died: March 3, 1982

Apart from gaining fame as a sailor and an adventurer, Alan Villiers also became famous as a photographer and author. He was 15 when he first went sailing. Of his 44 books, one of the most well-known is Men, Ships, and the Sea, which was released by the National Geographic Society.

 45 William Edward Hanley Stanner

William Edward Hanley Stanner
1
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: November 24, 1905
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sydney, Australia
Died: October 8, 1981

Anthropologist William Edward Hanley Stanner contributed immensely to studies on Indigenous Australians. He was also one of the men behind the Canberra-based Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and taught at the Australian National University. An Aboriginal rights activist, he is said to have coined the term the Great Australian Silence.

 46 Basil Hetzel

Basil Hetzel
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Famous As: Epidemiologist, Scientist
Birthdate: June 13, 1922
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: February 4, 2017

 47 Walter Baldwin Spencer

Walter Baldwin Spencer
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Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: June 23, 1860
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Stretford, England
Died: July 14, 1929

English biologist and anthropologist Walter Baldwin Spencer is remembered for his pioneering study of the indigenous population of Australia. He initially taught biology but later drifted to anthropology. He was also knighted but died while on an expedition to study the Ushuaia of the Tierra del Fuego.

 48 Kylie Tennant

Kylie Tennant
1
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 12, 1912
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Manly, Australia
Died: February 28, 1988

Author Kylie Tennant won the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize with her first novel, Tiburon. She is also known for her novel The Battlers, apart from her travel writing and children’s books. Initially a journalist, she later conducted her own research on the downtrodden sections of Australia for her novels.

 49 Francis James Gillen

Francis James Gillen
2
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: October 28, 1855
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Electoral district of Little Para, Australia
Died: June 5, 1912

Surprisingly, Francis James Gillen was not a trained anthropologist but learned much about the Aboriginal population of Australia while working with the Australian postal and telegraph service. As a recognition of his efforts, he was made the magistrate and sub-protector of the Aborigines. He also collaborated with British anthropologist Baldwin Spencer.

 50 Priscilla Kincaid-Smith

Priscilla Kincaid-Smith
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Famous As: Physician, Researcher
Birthdate: November 30, 1926
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: July 18, 2015