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
Media typeHard copy


The ADB project has been operating since 1957. 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.[2]

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.[3] 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:[4]

  • Douglas Pike (1962–1974)
  • Bede Nairn (1974–1984)
  • Geoff Serle (1975–1987)
  • John Ritchie (1988–2002)
  • Diane Langmore (2001–2008)
  • Melanie Nolan (2008– )


Hardcopy volumes

To date, the ADB has produced eighteen 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 publishedSubjects covered
1 and 21966–67Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1788–1850
3 to 61969–76Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1851–1890
7 to 121979–90Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1891–1939
13 to 161993–2002Covered those Australians who lived in the period 1940–1980
17 and 182007–2012Covered those Australians who died between 1981 and 1990
Supplement2005Dealt with those Australians not covered by the original volumes
Index1991Index for Volumes 1 to 12

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.[5] 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[6]

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.[6]

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.[7]


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.[8][9] However, the Legacies database from which Fernandes obtains this information is ambiguous as to Angas's connection with slavery. It states that he did not lodge the claims himself but collected the compensatory amount for unknown reasons.[10]

The original entries were written in the 1960s, and some are awaiting updating.


  1. "About Us". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University.
  2. Allbrook, Malcolm. "Indigenous lives, the 'cult of forgetfulness' and the Australian Dictionary of Biography". The Conversation. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  3. "Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie +ADB - Google Search". Google.
  4. "General Editors". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  5. "Launch of Online Edition of the ADB". Archived from the original on 28 June 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  6. "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)
  7. "About Us". Obituaries Australia. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  8. Fernandes, C. Island Off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of statecraft in Australian foreign policy (Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2018), 13–15.
  9. Daley, Paul (21 September 2018). "Colonial Australia's foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  10. "George Fife Angas: Profile & Legacies Summary". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. University College London. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
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