Revisiting the devils decade: Australian Prime Ministers and the Great Depression

28th Mar 2014  01:00 pm - 28th Mar 2014 02:00 pm Room 214/215, Economics and Business Building (H69)

Lis Kirkby, Work and Organisational Studies, School of Business, The University of Sydney, will speak on "Revisiting the devils decade: Australian Prime Ministers and the Great Depression."

A full abstract and the biographical details of the speaker are below.

If you are interested in attending please contact Andre Pinto at by noon on Wednesday 26 March as refreshments will be served.


This paper focuses on the approach that three Australian Prime Ministers took towards managing Australia during the Great Depression and the forces that influenced them - Stanley Bruce, James Scullin and Joseph Lyons. The paper highlights the conflicting ambitions, aims and policies that made Australian politics in the 1930s, the 'devil's decade'.


The Hon Dr Elisabeth (Lis) Kirkby OAM. BA(Hons) PhD was born in Lancashire (UK) in 1921 and went to school in Nottingham during the 1930s.

She served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during World War Two. After her demobilisation in 1945, she joined the Birmingham Repertory Company under William Armstrong and later the Liverpool Repertory Company under John Fernald.

After World War Two, Lis appeared in the first television play to be broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation and in 1951 was posted to the Schools Division of Radio Singapore. She lived in Kuala Lumpur during the British Military Administration (1953-1965) where she was employed by Radio Malaya and was the last British expatriate officer to be employed by Radio Malaysia.

Arriving in Sydney in 1965 Lis made her first broadcast for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) that same year and between 1965 and 1977, was an 'on air presenter'. During this time she wrote and narrated radio features on many social issues and produced 'Learn Indonesian' from 1980-1981.

In 1977 Lis joined the Australian Democrats and was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1981. She was the Parliamentary Leader of the NSW Australian Democrats and when she retired in 1998 was the longest serving Australian Democrat Member of Parliament. As an MLC, Lis was a member of the Standing Committee on Social Issues which investigated health issues, juvenile justice, employer - worker relationships. She also served on Committees examining the Police Integrity Commission and the Independent Commission against Corruption.

Lis was a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby (1972), a member of the Greater Murray Area Health Service and served as a Councillor on the Temora Shire Council (1999-2003).

After leaving Parliament, Lis was appointed to the New South Wales Judicial Commission (1999-2001) and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (2001-2004). She is still a member of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties and the Australian Council of the International Commission of Jurists.

In 2009 Lis she graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Class 1 and after studying at the University of Sydney, successfully submitted her PhD thesis 'WILL WE EVER LEARN FROM HISTORY, the Impact of Economic Orthodoxy on Unemployment during the Great Depression in Australia'. Her PhD was awarded in 2014.

In 2013, the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (an NGO founded in 1951) honoured Lis with a Lifetime Achievement Award to honour her long-standing membership (1958-current) and her work as President (1976-1980).

Lis was awarded an OAM in 2012 for her service to the Parliament of New South Wales, the community of Temora and the performing arts.