An Intimate History of Leadership: Sydney University’s Department of Geography, 1921–1997


  • R.F. Warner


This paper was written to commemorate the centenary of the first Department of Geography in Australia, that at The University of Sydney. I was the last head before the Department was merged with Geology and Geophysics to form the School of Geosciences in 1998. With the exception of Marie Bentivoglio, I was fortunate enough to have met all the past heads and to have worked with or for six of them. The professional achievements of each are outlined, along with my personal observations of them. I emphasise the pivotal role of Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David in the establishment of the Department. He introduced a course in Physical Geography in 1891 soon after his appointment to the Chair of Geology and some 30 years before the establishment of the Department of Geography, and was a major advocate for the creation of a free-standing department in 1921. Since the 1990s, geography departments have experienced mergers, reclassification and redistribution. The result is that there are now no free-standing departments of geography in Australia, with few remaining elsewhere.