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Diane Bell, Nungarrayi and Jupurrula

Diane (Di) Bell (born 1943) is a pioneering Australian feminist anthropologist, author and activist, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the George Washington University in Washington DC, USA, Writer and Editor in Residence at Flinders University, South Australia. After 17 years in the USA, she has returned to her native Australia to retire and currently lives and writes in South Australia.



Bell was born and grew up in Melbourne. She has lived in Sydney NSW, Canberra ACT, Darwin NT, Alekarenge (Ali-Curung) NT, Worcester Massachusetts (USA), Washington DC (USA), Berkeley Springs WV (USA), Blackstown VA (USA)and Finniss SA. She is the daughter of Allan and Florence Haig. She has two children, Genevieve and Morgan, and two grandchildren, Lawson and Clancy.

Originally trained as a primary teacher in the 1960s in Victoria, Australia, Bell returned to study in the 1970s to complete high school teacher training. She received her BA (Hons) in Anthropology at Monash University in 1975, and a Ph.D. from Australian National University in 1981 which was based on field work with Aboriginal women in central Australia. During the 1980s, Bell held a range of positions in Australia. She worked for the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Authority in the early 1980s, before establishing her own anthropological consultancy in Canberra. She consulted for the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council, the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. She subsequently held academic posts, first as a Research Fellow at the ANU, and then as the Chair of Australian Studies at Deakin University in Geelong where she was the first female Professor on staff. In 1989, Bell moved to the United States to take up the Chair of Religion, Economic Development and Social Justice endowed by the Henry R. Luce Foundation, at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1999 she moved to Washington DC where she was Director of Women's Studies and Professor of Anthropology. As the recipient of an American Council on Education Fellowship in 2003-4, she also worked closely with the administration of Virginia Tech as they revised their curriculum, and also served on the Board of Trustees for Hampshire College.

Bell is the author of several significant monographs on Australian Aboriginal culture and numerous articles and book chapters dealing with religion, land rights, law reform, art, history and social change. .[1]

Changing the Face of (Australian) Anthropology

Bell's first full-length anthropological monograph,Daughters of the Dreaming, was ground breaking scholarship. Her explicit focus on the religious, spiritual and ceremonial lives of Aboriginal women in central Australia was not without controversy, but her rich ethnographic material had an indelible mark on Australian anthroploogy, and beyond. Daughters of the Dreaming was a best-seller in Australia, and Bell has the distinction of being one of the few Australian anthropologists to enjoy main-stream publishing success with an academic tome.

In the late 1980s, Bell was commissioned to write a book about women in Australia for the 1988 Bicentenary. The book, Generations: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters (with photos by Ponch Hawkes) explored generations of Australian women and "the way the significant objects in their lives have been passed from hand to hand, generation to generation".[2] It focused on ordinary people through the stories they had been told by and were passing onto their female kin. The book topped the Australian best seller list for months and was in the top ten for a year.

Bell continued to write and publish throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with edited collections on feminist ethnography, feminist scholarship, Aboriginal religion and social justice.

"Anthropology in the Eye of the Storm"

Throughout the latter part of the 1970s, and through most of the 1980s, Bell was involved in issues surrounding Aboriginal land rights and law reform. With lawyer, Pam Ditton, she authored "Law: the old and the new. Aboriginal Women in Central Australia Speak Out (Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, 1980) which addressed issues of law reform in Central Australia, in the wake of the passage of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act (1976). Bell worked on a number of land claim cases in the Northern Territory, particularly in central Australia, but also in and around the Top End.

In the 1990s, Bell was a key player in the court case surrounding 'Secret Women's Business' on Hindmarsh Island - an island in South Australia which was connected to the mainland by a bridge. A group of Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal women of the area claimed that such a construction over the water was in conflict with their religious beliefs. The court case ruled that 'secret women's business' on Hindmarsh Island was fabricated in order to prevent construction. A Federal Court case (held after the bridge had been built) ruled otherwise. Bell's subsequent monograph on the Ngarrindjeri won the NSW Premier's Gleebook Award for cultural and literary criticism in 1999, was short listed for The Age Book of the Year and the Queensland Premier's History Award in 1999 and the Gold Medal of the Australian Literary Society in 2000. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin (1998) is often cited as an important example of alternate ethnographic prose. Bell's most recent writing with Ngarrindjeri women, Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunan (2008) is a further contribution to collaborative research and writing.


Aside from her numerous anthropological texts, and feminist works, Bell has also delved into fictional writing. Her first book, titled "Evil", addresses secrets within the churches and is set on the campus of an American college. Performed as a play adapted by Leslie Jacobson for the "From Page to Stage" season on new plays at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, USA, 3 September 2006 and presented as a staged reading in Adelaide, 16 May 2008.


Bell ran as an independent candidate in the 2008 Mayo by-election, caused by the resignation of former foreign minister and Liberal leader Alexander Downer.[3]

South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon gave support to Bell's campaign.[4][5] Her campaign was called Vote 4 Di and was supported by a campaign website.[6] In a field of 11 candidates, Bell received 16 percent of the vote, behind the Greens on 21 percent and the Liberals on 41 percent. The seat became marginal for the Liberals, who suffered a reduced primary and two-party margin.[7]



As author

  • Evil: A novel Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2005.
  • Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A world that is, was, and will be Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 1998
  • Generations: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters Melbourne, Penguin, 1987
  • Daughters of the Dreaming, First ed. Melbourne, McPheeGribble/Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1983
  • Law: The Old and the New (with Pam Ditton) Aboriginal History, Canberra, 1980

As editor

  • Kungun Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking: Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking Melbourne, Spinifex Press, 2008
  • All about Water: All about the River (co-edited with Gloria Jones for the River, Lakes and Coorong Action Group,
  • Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed (Contributing co-editor with Renate Klein) Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 1996
  • Gendered Fields: Women, Men and Ethnography (Contributing co-editor with Pat Caplan and Wazir Karim) Routledge, London, 1993
  • This is My Story: The Use of Oral Sources (Contributing co-editor Shelley Schreiner) Centre for Australian Studies, Deakin University, Geelong, 1990
  • Longman's Encyclopedia (Australian Contributing Editor) Longmans, 1989
  • Religion in Aboriginal Australia (Contributing co-editor with Max Charlesworth, Kenneth Maddock and Howard Morphy) University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1984


External links


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