Camilla Hildegarde Wedgwood [1901-55], anthropologist and educationist, was born in England, a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, the master potter. In 1920 she went to Cambridge to study anthropology. She passed with first-class honours in 1924 but the university did not award degrees to women until 1948.
In 1928 she was appointed lecturer in anthropology at Sydney University from where, in 1932-34, she undertook fieldwork on Manam, a volcanic island of 4000 inhabitants off the north coast of New Guinea. She then spent 1935 in Nauru.
It was clear from her research on Manam and Nauru that, in spite of her own unmarried independence, she saw a subordinate role for women in marriage and the wider society as part of the natural order.
In 1935 Wedgwood was appointed principal of Women's College at the University of Sydney. As principal and daughter of a well-known British Labour politician, Lord Wedgwood, she was a public figure in Sydney, prominent in charitable causes as well as a member of the strongly pacifist Quakers.
In 1944 Wedgwood was commissioned lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army and served as a research officer in Alf Conlon's Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. Here she developed policies for postwar educational reconstruction in Papua New Guinea, where she served intermittently in 1944-45. On an army bivouac, when offered a cigarette by her young cadets, she replied: “No thanks, I roll my own”.
Following demobilisation in 1946, she became a popular figure at ASOPA, where she was senior lecturer in native administration.
Camilla Wedgwood died of cancer on 17 May 1955 at Royal North Shore Hospital. A girls' secondary school at Goroka in the New Guinea Highlands and a memorial lecture in Port Moresby were named after her and her friend James McAuley dedicated his poem Winter Nightfall to her.
Author: David Wetherell
Photo: Australian War Memorial