Australian Dictionary of Biography


The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB or AuDB) is a national co-operative enterprise founded and maintained by the Australian National University (ANU) to produce authoritative biographical articles on eminent people in Australia's history. Initially published in a series of twelve hard-copy volumes between 1966 and 2005, the dictionary has been published online since 2006 by the National Centre of Biography at ANU, which has also published Obituaries Australia (OA) since 2010.

Australian Dictionary of Biography
First edition of volume 1
SubjectBiographies of notable Australians
PublishedCarlton, Victoria
PublisherMelbourne University Press
Publication date
Publication placeAustralia
Media type
  • Print (1966–2021)
  • Online (2006–present)
OCLC70677943 Edit this at Wikidata



The ADB project has been operating since 1957,[1] although preparation work had been made since about 1954 in the Australian National University. An index was formed that would be the ADB's basis. Pat Wardle was involved in this work and in time she too was in the ADB.[2] Staff are located at the National Centre of Biography in the History Department of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Since its inception, 4,000 authors have contributed to the ADB and its published volumes contain 9,800 scholarly articles on 12,000 individuals.[1] 210 of these are of Indigenous Australians, which has been explained by Bill Stanner's "cult of forgetfulness" theory around the contributions of Indigenous Australians to Australian society.[3]

Similar titles


The ADB project should not be confused with the much smaller and older Dictionary of Australian Biography by Percival Serle, first published in 1949, nor with the German Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (published 1875–1912) which may also be referred to as ADB in English sources.[4] Another similar Australian title from an earlier era was Philip Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography (1892).

General editors


Since the project began there have been six general editors as of 2021, namely:[5]



Hardcopy volumes


To date, the ADB has produced 19 hardcopy volumes of biographical articles on important and representative figures in Australian history, published by Melbourne University Press. In addition to publishing these works, the ADB makes its primary research material available to the academic community and the public.

Volume(s) Years published Subjects covered
1 and 2 1966–67 Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1788–1850
3 to 6 1969–76 Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1851–1890
7 to 12 1979–90 Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1891–1939
13 to 16 1993–2002 Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1940–1980
17 and 18 2007–2012 Covered those Australians who died between 1981 and 1990
19 2021 Covered those Australians who died between 1991 and 1995
Supplement 2005 Dealt with those Australians not covered by the original volumes
Index 1991 Index for Volumes 1 to 12

Biographical Register


Two supplementary volumes were published as a by-product of the first 12 volumes of the ADB. These are A Biographical Register, 1788–1939: Notes from the Name Index of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (1987) in two volumes. These contain biographical notes on another 8,100 individuals not included in the ADB. Each entry contains brief notes on the individual concerned, gives sources, lists cross-references between entries and the ADB and there is an occupation index at the end of volume II.

Online publication


On 6 July 2006, the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online was launched by Michael Jeffery, Governor-General of Australia, and received a Manning Clark National Cultural Award in December 2006.[6] The website is a joint production of the ADB and the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, University of Melbourne (Austehc).



Obituaries Australia


Obituaries Australia (OA), a digital repository of digital obituaries about significant Australians, went live in August 2010, after operating as an in-house database for some time, using Canberra Times journalist and deputy editor John Farquharson's obituaries for its pilot. The National Centre of Biography encouraged the public to send in scanned copies of obituaries and other biographical material.[7]

The fully searchable database also links the obituaries to important digitised records such as war service records, ASIO files and oral history interviews, in libraries, archives and museums. and will link to a search on the name in Trove, the National Library of Australia's database of newspapers, library catalogue holdings, government gazettes and other material.[7]

The database comprises obituaries about "anyone who has made a contribution to Australian life"; some have not even visited Australia but had political or business connections and interests. There are links between ADB and AO on each entry where articles exist on both databases.[8]



In 2018, Clinton Fernandes wrote that ADB is conspicuously silent on the slaveholder or slave profiting pasts of a number of influential figures in the development of Australia, including George Fife Angas, Isaac Currie, Archibald Paull Burt, Charles Edward Bright, Alexander Kenneth Mackenzie, Robert Allwood, Lachlan Macquarie, Donald Charles Cameron, John Buhot, John Belisario, Alfred Langhorne, John Samuel August, and Godfrey Downes Carter.[9][10] The NCB subsequently launched its Legacies of Slavery project, which aims to expand coverage of people who had links to British slavery.[11]


  1. ^ a b "About Us". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University.
  2. ^ Clarke, Patricia, "Patience Australie (Pat) Wardle (1910–1992)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 12 May 2024
  3. ^ Allbrook, Malcolm (31 October 2017). "Indigenous lives, the 'cult of forgetfulness' and the Australian Dictionary of Biography". The Conversation. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie +ADB – Google Search". Google.
  5. ^ "General Editors". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  6. ^ "Launch of Online Edition of the ADB". Archived from the original on 28 June 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  7. ^ a b "National Centre of Biography – ANU". Obituaries Australia. 18 May 2010. Archived from the original on 13 March 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ "About Us". Obituaries Australia. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  9. ^ Fernandes, C. Island Off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of statecraft in Australian foreign policy (Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2018), 13–15.
  10. ^ Daley, Paul (21 September 2018). "Colonial Australia's foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  11. ^ "Legacies of Slavery". People Australia. National Centre of Biography. Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  • Official website  
  • Nolan, Melanie; Fernon, Christine (2013). The ADB's Story. Canberra: Australian National University. ISBN 978-1-925021-20-2. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013.