Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 14, 2017

Vale Jill Roe A.0. (1940-2017)

stella-miles-franklinIt is with a heavy heart that I pass on news of the death of Professor Jill Roe, A.O, historian, biographer and academic.  There are others who knew her that will write the tribute she deserves, but as a reader of her magnificent biography of Miles Franklin, I can only say that this is a great loss.  Stella Miles Franklin, a Biography (2010) is a book to make readers fall in love with biography as a genre.  It is the model of a literary biography for would-be biographers to follow.

The Encyclopaedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth Century Australia profiles Jill Roe’s life and achievements, noting that

Among the works which established her as a leader in women’s history in Australia are Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939 (1986) and her definitive biography of Miles Franklin, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (2008; US edition: Her Brilliant Career: The Life of Stella Miles Franklin, 2009), which won the Magarey Medal for Biography, the SA Premier’s Non-Fiction Prize, and the award for best Historical Book in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. In 2013, Macquarie University granted her the Higher Degree of Doctor of Letters.

Macquarie University, where she was a founding member of staff, also profiles her academic career on their website noting also that she was Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University 1994-95, and later head of modern history at Macquarie, a position she held until retirement in 2002.

In recognition of her significant contribution to the writing, teaching and public communication of history in Australia and abroad her work is honoured annually by the Australian Historical Society with the Jill Roe Prize for the best unpublished article-length work  of historical research in any area of historical enquiry produced by a postgraduate student. 

Jill Roe was the author of numerous books, some of which are listed at Goodreads, but I am not sure that all the books there are by the same Jill Roe, so I leave it to readers to consult the list on the Goodreads site. Her most recent book is Our Fathers Cleared the Bush (2016) published by Wakefield Press.

It is very sad to think that there will be no more from this gifted writer.

Update: 17/1/17  Historian Yvonne Perkins has written a comprehensive tribute to Jill Roe at Stumbling Through the Past.



  1. Well, that’s sad. As a frequent writer on Miles Franklin I refer to Roe’s biography constantly. It is marvellously comprehensive and as you say, a model for all other biographers to follow.


    • Yes, I refer to it too, and so it’s more fresh in my mind than others I’ve read more recently. And it was such a pleasure to read, I mean, even if you’d never heard of MF, you’d still enjoy reading it. And the scholarship … she wore it lightly, but you could tell she had read everything that MF had ever written and more besides.


  2. Yes, I was sorry to see this on one of my Social Media sites when I got up this morning. Very sad, and she wasn’t that old. I remember her at Macquarie, though I only ever did one History course (on historiography which she didn’t teach) but she was a name there around the Humanities traps.


  3. I was always amazed at how long Roe stuck at her biography, slowed down by the demands of academic life and the sheer scale of what she was attempting. It’s scary for me as a biographer to contemplate dedicating most of your writing life to one subject. She chose her subject well, and her work was so definitive and influential that it must have all felt worth it.
    She also wrote two important essays on the art and state of biography, which I engage with in my thesis. I disagree with her about more experimental forms of biography being faddish, but agree with her about the need for biography to have a historical rigour she showed herself.


    • That’s interesting about what you say is experimental biography.. I’m not sure that I have seen any of these, except maybe the Evelyn Juers’ biography of the Mann family? She called it a ‘collective biography’ (see but I took issue with the way she speculated on things to cover gaps in what was known. I’ve become a bit more comfortable with speculative inserts now, because I recognise that it’s often women and minority groups who are invisible in history, but only up to a point and I like it to be very clearly signalled if the book is published as a work on non-fiction rather than fiction.
      But are there other kinds of experimental bios?


      • It is a conservative genre, but another controversial experimental element besides speculation is the visible biographer. (Brian Matthews’ Louisa has both.) Partial biographies are another emerging form – Shapiro’s one year in the life of Shakespeare at the most extreme. There’s also biography by objects, but they are rarer. And Kate Summerscale’s work is experimental in a certain sense in teasing out so broadly and effectively the cultural and literary context of crimes.


        • Biography by objects? That sounds intriguing…


  4. […] ‘Vale Jill Roe A.O. (1940-2017)‘ by Lisa Hill, book blogger at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog. Jill Roe was a writer who appealed to a wide range of readers. Lisa’s post is testament to that. […]


  5. […] ‘Vale Jill Roe A.O. (1940-2017)‘ by Lisa Hill, book blogger at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog. Jill Roe was a writer who appealed to a wide range of readers. Lisa’s post is testament to that. […]


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