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Biographical entry Stanner, William Edward Hanley (Bill) (1905 - 1981)


24 November 1905
Watsons bay, New South Wales, Australia
8 October 1981
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia


Bill Stanner was an anthropologist who had a profound influence on the way in which Australian indigenous people were viewed and treated. He played central roles in the establishment of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and in the successful 1967 referendum which changed the status of Aborigines in the Australian Constitution. Stanner's field work centred on the Northern Territory, particularly the Daly River and Port Keats areas and he made ground-breaking studies of Aboriginal religion. In his work he challenged the way in which anthropology was practiced at the time. As, a member of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs and consultant to government agencies he significantly influenced public policy on Aboriginal affairs. In 1968 Stanner delivered the annual Boyer Lectures for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Stanner Award was inaugurated in 1985 by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.



Education - BA, University of Sydney
Award - Australian National Research Council Grant
Career event - Joined the Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
Education - MA, University of Sydney
1936 - 1938
Career position - Research Assistant, London School of Economics
Education - PhD, London School of Economics and Political Science
1938 - 1939
Career position - University of Oxford expedition of Kenya, Oxford Social Studies Research Committee
1942 - 1946
Career position - Served with the Australian military forces
1946 - 1947
Career position - Researcher, Institute of Pacific Relations in P.N.G., Fiji and Western Samoa
1947 - 1949
Career position - Foundation Director, East African Institute of Social and Economic Research, Makerere College, Uganda
1949 - 1964
Career position - Reader in Comparative Social Institutions, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University
1953 - 1956
Career position - Australian Commissioner, South Pacific Commission
Career position - Convenor and Chairman, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Conference
1961 - 1962
Career position - Foundation Executive Officer, Interim Council, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies
1964 - 1970
Career position - Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University
1965 -
Career position - Head of Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Australian National University
1965 - 1968
Career position - Member of Council, Australian National University
1967 - 1976
Career position - Member, Council for Aboriginal Affairs
Life event - Retired
Award - Mueller Medal, Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science
1971 - 1981
Career position - Emeritus Professor, Australian National University
Award - Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG)
Award - Sir Rafael Cilento Medal, Australian Institute of Anatomy
Award - Honorary DLitt, Australian National University
1972 - 1974
Career position - Visiting Fellow, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University
1974 - 1975
Career position - Special Advisor, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs
1977 - 1979
Career position - Consultant, Northern Territory Land Commission

Related Awards

Related Corporate Bodies

Published resources


  • Stanner, W. E. H., On Aboriginal Religion (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1960), 171 pp. Details
  • Stanner, W. E. H., After the dreaming: black and white Australian's - an anthropologist's view (Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1968), 63 pp. Details

Book Sections

  • Gray, Stanner, 'W. E. H. Stanner: wasted war years' in Scholars at war: Australasian social sciences, 1939 - 1945, Grey, Geoffrey, Munro, Doug and Winter, Christine, eds (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2012), pp. 95-116. Details
  • Mulvaney, D. J., 'Stanner, William Edward Hanley (1905-1981), Journalist, Soldier and Anthropologist' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 18 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2012), pp. 449-52. Details
  • Mulvaney, John, 'WEH Stanner and the foundation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1959 - 1964' in An appreciation of difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia, Hinkson, Melinda and Beckett, Jeremy, eds (Canberra: Aboroginal Studies Press, 2008), pp. 58-75. Details
  • Stanner, W. E. H., 'Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Douglas Pike, ed., vol. 4 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1972), pp. 432-435. Details
  • Stanner, W. E. H., 'Fison, Lorimer (1832-1907), Wesleyan missionary, anthropologist and journalist' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Douglas Pike, ed., vol. 4 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1972), pp. 175-176. Details

Edited Books

  • Barwick, Diane E., Beckett, Jeremy and Reay, Marie eds, Metaphors of interpretation: essays in honour of W. E. H. Stanner (Canberra: Australian Nationa University, 1985), 308 pp. Details
  • Hiatt, L. R. ed., Australian Aboriginal mythology: essays in honour of W. E. H. Stanner (Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1975), 213 pp. Details
  • Hinkson, Melinda and Beckett, Jeremy eds, An appreciation of difference: W.. E. H. Stanner and Aboriginal Australia (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008), 293 pp. Details

Journal Articles

  • Barnes, J. A., 'William Edward Hanley Stanner 1905 - 1981', Canberra Anthropology, 5 (1) (1982), 85-7. Details
  • Beckett, J. R., 'William Edward Hanley Stanner, C.M.G. (1906 - 1981)', Oceania, 52 (4) (1982), 271-3. Details


Helen Cohn