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Distinguished Australian historian and academic Jill Roe (1940-2017) 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. When Jill was a baby she and her three older sisters were taken to stay with their maternal grandmother because their mother, Edna, was seriously ill. 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, 2016, p. 3).

On Christmas eve in 1945, Jill’s father, John Roe, 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 Roe began her formal education at the Yallunda Flat Primary School, a “one teacher school” (Roe, 2016, p. 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. She graduated in 1962 and relocated to the Australian National University in Canberra, where she completed a Masters degree on the history of Melbourne.

Jill Roe was first appointed as a tutor at Macquarie University in Sydney in 1967. She continued to work at Macquarie University until retiring in 2003 as a Professor Emerita.

Jill Roe’s research interests spanned religion and biography. Some of her most notable books include Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939 (1986) and a widely celebrated  biography of the Australian writer, Miles Franklin, published in 2008.

In 1984, Jill Roe was invited to join the editorial board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB). She began a ten year term as chair of the board in 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, 2017).

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


Deakin, Desley. “Jill Roe obituary – Desley Deacon.” Australian Historical Association, 2017.

Kingston, Beverley. “Roe, Jillian Isobel (Jill) (1940–2017).” Obituaries Australia, 2017.

Roe, Jill. Our Fathers Cleared the Bush. Remembering Eyre Peninsula, 2016. Adelaide, South Australia, Wakefield Press.

Image available here.