Sydney’s Women in the Field: Phyllis Kaberry and the Sepik

Phyllis Kaberry

In 1923 at a meeting of the international Pan-Pacific Congress at the University of Sydney the Australian government was urged to establish a Department of Anthropology and to fund urgent anthropological research in the region to counter the devastating effects of colonisation. The University of Sydney took up the challenge, instituting the first Department of Anthropology in the Australian-Pacific region with the appointment of AR Radcliffe Brown in 1926.

Many of the first generation of men and women who were taught at Sydney worked in isolation for periods of a year to eighteen months in areas where English was not spoken, in places not inscribed on maps, and with limited contact with people outside the community they were studying. For their work they were obliged to learn map making, linguistics and medical skills alongside their anthropological training.

The University’s Archives and Macleay Museum today look after the enormous wealth of information that these anthropologists produced from their interactions with Australian Aboriginal and Pacific peoples. For this exhibition we have focussed on the work of Phyllis Kaberry, the first female professional anthropologist to emerge from the Department.

This is a joint exhibition between Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Sydney Library, University Archives and Museums to commemorate the inscription of the Anthropological Field Research and Teaching Records, University of Sydney, 1926-1956 into the UNESCO Memory of the World Australian Register.

The exhibition is being showcased on level 3 of Fisher and Sci Tech Libraries until August 2018.

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