Tribute to Dorothy Hill

Published: 9/2/2022

Dorothy Hill was an Australian palaeontologist and geologist who became the first female Australian University professor and was the first female president of the Australian Academy of Science.

Raised in Taringa and Coorparoo in Brisbane, Hill won a scholarship to Brisbane Girls Grammar where she received both the Lady Lilley Gold Medal and the Phyllis Hobbs Memorial Prize in English and History in 1924. She was a keen sportswoman who excelled in athletics, rowing, netball and was a master horsewoman at home.

Dorothy Hill on geological excursions in the Brisbane Valley 1929. Image source: The University of Queensland
Dorothy Hill on geological excursions in the Brisbane Valley 1929. Image source: The University of Queensland

Following her high school years, Hill considered studies in medicine at the University of Queensland (UQ), however degrees of this nature were not yet available at that time. Fortunately, she was offered an entrance scholarship at UQ and graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Geology in 1928. Hill continued on with her UQ scholarship studying for her Master of Science; later winning a science travelling scholarship to Cambridge University, England where she completed her doctorate.

Following seven years in England, Hill began to not only miss what was on offer in Australia, but she also had big research ideas to bring back to Australian universities, in particular Queensland. Hill returned to UQ in 1937 as a research fellow where she began what was a fifty year career. During this time she advanced to lecturer, senior lecturer and was appointed a geology research professor in 1959 - a milestone moment, for she was the first female Professor at an Australian university. She became a full professor the following year in 1960.

Nora Holdsworth, James Lowson and Dorothy Hill at a University of Queensland geology excursion, c1928 to 1929. Image source: The University of Queensland
Nora Holdsworth, James Lowson and Dorothy Hill at a University of Queensland geology excursion, c1928 to 1929. Image source: The University of Queensland

Specialising in reef research and fossil corals from 1946 to 1955, Hill served as Secretary of the Great Barrier Reef Committee for nine years. Her contributions to research were instrumental in establishing the Heron Island Marine Research Station and her work on corals won her a Lyell Fund Award in 1940, the first Queenslander to do so.

Hill in her own right achieved academic notoriety becoming: president of the Royal Society of Queensland, chairman of the Geological Society of Australia, the first female fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Editor of the Journal of the Geological Society of Australia (six years), was awarded the Lyell Medal for her efforts in scientific research and was the first Australian woman to be appointed Fellow of the Royal Society (of London).

Hill joined the Australian Academy of Science committee, becoming vice-president in 1969, and was the first female president the following year. During the late 60s and early 70s Hill embarked on another of her passionate endeavours; being a role model for women and encouraging them to enrol in science.

In 1971, Hill was president of the Professorial Board of UQ and her role there was critical in the university's development, and for women wanting to enter tertiary education.  Hill's enormous success inspired young women to strive for a career in science; stating herself: "previous conventions can be overcome with application and dedication".

Hill retired from UQ in 1972 to give younger academics a chance to follow in her research and administration footsteps. She still however remained active in her geology interests well into her retirement and walked daily to UQ to exchange news and ideas until her death in 1997.

Hill published over 100 research papers in Australian and international books and journals.  An online exhibition of her life and professional documents are available in the UQ library as well as geological collections of thousands of thin rock sections on glass slides in the UQ Geology Museum, as well as museums around the world.

An academic pioneer, Hill was a true inspiration to so many students in her career. In fact she was respected and appreciated so much that three honorific volumes were published by her students in 1969, 1974 and 1983. Colleagues said Hill supported them personally but profoundly supported them intellectually by offering lively criticism when ever needed.

Rest in peace Professor Dorothy Hill, thank you for your outstanding contribution to raising the academic standard of Australian universities, for women's educational rights and for your pioneering role in Australia's protection and welfare.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Hill
  • https://www.science.org.au/fellowship/fellows/biographical-memoirs/dorothy-hill-1907-1997 

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