These stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of people who may have passed away. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant services on our support page.

Distinguished Australian historian and academic Jill Roe (1949-2017) was in kinship care as a child.

Jillian Isobel Roe was born in Tumby Bay, a coastal country town in South Australia on the Eyre Peninsula. Because Jill’s mother, Edna, was seriously ill, baby Jill—the youngest of four daughters—was taken to stay with her maternal grandmother. After Edna died in 1942, Jill stayed on at Grandma Heath’s place until she was old enough for primary school.

My earliest memories are of the happiest kind. At the onset of Edna Roe’s fatal illness I was delivered 160 kilometres up-country to the household of my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Newman Heath, of Pygery. I remained there on her farm in the care of my mother’s unmarried sister Isabella, called Isie, for the next four years. The household included young uncles, and I enjoyed a privileged position (Roe, 3).

On Christmas eve in 1945, John Roe, Jill’s father, collected his daughter from the Heath household and took her back home to his farm at Yallunda Flat, a home her three older sisters had not left.

Jill began her formal education at the Yallunda Flat Primary School, a “one teacher school” (Roe, 92). From there she went to Cummins Area School before, in 1955, going to Adelaide to finish high school.

Jill Roe enrolled at the University of Adelaide to study history and after graduating in 1962, she relocated to the Australian National University in Canberra where she completed her Masters on the history of Melbourne.

First appointed a tutor at Macquarie University in Sydney in 1967, Roe continued at Macquarie until she retired as Professor Emerita in 2003.

Jill Roe’s interests spanned religion – she published Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939 – and biography, particularly the biography of Australian writer Miles Franklin. Roe’s celebrated biography of Franklin was published in 2008.

In 1984, Roe was invited to join the editorial board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) and she served as the board’s chair for ten years from 1996.

In November 2016 I was honoured to present Jill with the ADB medal for long and meritorious service in a ceremony outside her hospital room. She had already been made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007 and was awarded a Doctor of Letters by Macquarie University in 2013 (Deacon).

The Jill Roe Prize is an annual award provided by the Australian Historical Association to honour Jill Roe.

References:

Deakin, Desley. “Jill Roe obituary – Desley Deacon.” Australian Historical Association, 2017. https://theaha.org.au/jill-roe-obituary-desley-deacon/

Kingston, Beverley. “Roe, Jillian Isobel (Jill) (1940–2017).” Obituaries Australia, 2017. https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/roe-jillian-isobel-jill-27117

Roe, Jill. Our Fathers Cleared the Bush. Remembering Eyre Pensinsula. Adelaide, South Australia: Wakefield Press.

Image available here.