22 September 2006
Marie Reay [1922-2004] was a senior fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the Australian National University, author of The Kuma and numerous articles on the New Guinea Highlands. She also spent time at ASOPA. The anthropologist AP Elkin inspired her with an interest in Aborigines and in the mid-1940s she became the first anthropologist to study contemporary conditions among Aborigines in Northern NSW.
After a year as a research assistant at the London School of Economics, Marie spent two years lecturing at ASOPA. She then began a study of the Orokaiva in Papua. This project was aborted by the eruption of Mt Lamington, in which she was caught up and after which she suffered a nervous breakdown.
In 1953, however, she returned to New Guinea and was the first woman anthropologist to go to the Highlands, though the authorities took a good deal of persuading, and imposed absurd restrictions including dress, which once in the field she was able to ignore. The journalist, Colin Simpson discovered her there, and featured her in his travelogue, Adam in Plumes (1954).
Marie remained at ANU for the rest of her career and, despite increasing infirmity, continued to return to the Wahgi, where she maintained a house, almost to the end of her life.
[Source: Australian Journal of Anthropology, December 2005 by Paula Brown Glick and Jeremy Beckett]
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