Peter Lawrence [1921-1987] was born in Lancashire and read classics at Cambridge. After war service in naval intelligence, he returned to Cambridge to study anthropology and earned his PhD for research amongst the PNG Garia people of the southern Madang Province in the late 1940s. Lawrence had a real love affair with the Garia and eventually managed to visit them each year from 1971 until shortly before his death. Lawrence’s book on the Garia, critics said, was the work of a determined, resourceful and distinguished contributor to Melanesian ethnology.
Lawrence's professional career was spent in Australia, where he was Professor of Anthropology at both Queensland University (1966-70), and Sydney University (1970-86). He was a frequent visitor to North America, where he lectured widely.
His principal theoretical interest was in the intellectual life of primitive peoples, with perhaps his best known books being Road Belong Cargo and Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia. He wrote on religion, social structure, politics and law. But much of his teaching emphasised the applied value of anthropology, particularly for colonial administrators committed to indigenous development.
Lawrence’s first and enduring passion, he admitted, was teaching at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, beginning in 1957, where he created the Anthropology curriculum.
He had a major role, too, in the transformation of ASOPA to the International Training Institute, which contributed much to the education and careers of administrators from Third World countries. Peter Lawrence in Sydney died of a stroke on 12 December 1987.