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The Australian National University

Obituaries Australia

The National Centre of Biography’s new obituaries database finally has a name, a web design and over 300 obituaries.

The project has come a long way since it was proposed last year. Then the idea was simply to transform the Biographical Register, which we have been maintaining since 1954, from an ‘in-house’ to an ‘online’ database so that all researchers could easily access the records. 

We have since narrowed our focus in that we will now concentrate on collecting published obituaries. We have also become much more ambitious. Rather than just being a citation database, Obituaries Australia will display the full text of published obituaries. The obituaries will also be indexed using the same fields as those in the ADB so that, in time, those searching the ADB will also be drawn to results in Obituaries Australia and vice versa. 

Although it is still in its pilot stage, and not yet accessible online, the response to Obituaries Australia from family members, from whom we have sought obituaries and associated material, has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed the support has been so overwhelming that we have decided to involve the public in the project by inviting them to submit scanned copies of obituaries, that are now out of copyright, and to do some of the indexing, thus saving NCB staff a considerable amount of time. 

People will also be encouraged to send us other biographical material, including up to 10 images showing the subjects at various stages of their lives, as well as unpublished autobiographies, memoirs and eulogies which we will digitise, using our new state-of-the-art Guardian camera/scanner (described elsewhere in the newsletter), and link to the obituaries. We have already started gathering some of this material. The son of one of our subjects, a World War II Sandakan prisoner-of-war camp survivor, has sent us his father’s unpublished autobiography, which we will digitise and make available through Obituaries Australia. Another of his sons has painted a number of portraits of his father – one of which one the Gallipoli Art Prize - which he is allowing us to use on the site. 

As a further aid to researchers we will be linking obituaries to significant digitised biographical material such as war service records, ASIO files and oral history interviews held by libraries, archives and museums. Obituaries will also be linked to the National Library of Australia’s ‘Trove’ search facility to reveal any items about/by the subjects held in the nation’s libraries and in the Australian newspapers that have so far been digitised. 

We believe that, in time, Obituaries Australia will be a valuable research tool for anyone undertaking biographical research on Australians. Not only will it enhance existing ADB entries, it will assist the NCB in developing prosopographical projects and research projects on embedded relationships and the associational life of Australians. It will also serve the purpose, as the Biographical Register which it replaces has served, of aiding ADB Working Parties in the selection of individuals to be included in the ADB. And it will be of enormous benefit to both ADB staff and authors when we begin the mammoth task of rewriting/revising existing entries and adding ‘missing persons’ to the ADB. 

The NCB is particularly grateful to John Farquharson for allowing us to publish his collection of obituaries for the pilot stage of the project. John has had a long association with the ADB, both as an author and a member of the Commonwealth Working Party. A former political journalist and deputy editor of the Canberra Times, John is considered to be one of Australia’s finest obituarists. 

Obituaries Australia will be launched in August.

Updated: 18 May 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Director, NCB / Page Contact:  Web Publisher