Promoting the Theory and Practice of Criminology: The Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and Its Founding Moment

By Finnane, Mark | Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Promoting the Theory and Practice of Criminology: The Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and Its Founding Moment


Finnane, Mark, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology


The Australian New Zealand Society of Criminology was an initiative of Australia s first criminology department, at Melbourne, from where the proposal to establish a journal also evolved. The society was of its time, its priorities reflecting above all the negligible research knowledge of crime and criminal justice in the antipodes. But local initiative had a regional (Asia--Pacific) and international (disciplinary as well as geographical) context. In this article I explore some of this context, consider the ways in which it delayed the establishment of the almost contemporaneous Australian Institute of Criminology, and discuss the potential of a regional engagement that was only partly fulfilled in subsequent years. In doing so I also ask how adequate are interpretations of criminology's mid-century history as above all conservative, pragmatic, technocratic and administrative.

Keywords: history of criminology, Australia, United Nations, Norval Morris, human rights

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It is almost 40 years to the day that a notice advertising a meeting to form an Australian Society of Criminology was distributed by David Biles, a lecturer in the Criminology Department at the University of Melbourne. As the notice makes clear, discussion had been under way for some time about the need for a society that would bring together 'people working in all aspects of criminal policy, crime control and correction'. Earlier in 1967, Biles and his colleagues at the Melbourne department had canvassed support for the proposal in a survey distributed throughout Australia, to which about 120 people had replied positively. (1) It was the year in which Ronald Ryan had been hanged at Pentridge Prison, an event that involved and appalled many who helped form the society. It was a time when the whipping of violent offenders was still considered a penal option, as the first issue of the society's journal would highlight. It was also the eve of a year in which many political and intellectual certainties of Western liberal democracies would, at least briefly, be challenged by the activists of 1968. (2)

The foundation meeting of the society took place on 24 October 1967, and was reported the following day in the Melbourne Herald, under the somewhat ambiguous headline, 'The crime picture's confused'. Forty-seven people gathered in the Japanese Room of the Architecture Building, academics from criminology and law, a judge, a bishop, a police commissioner and numerous professionals in social work and penology. Predictably enough, the dominant participation was from Melbourne and, during the first decade, about half of the membership was Victorian. But Ken Shatwell, the Dean of Law who had been responsible for establishing the Institute of Criminology at the University of Sydney, was strongly supportive, attended the meeting and later served as President (1971-75). There were only four women at the first meeting--and by 1976 only 12% of the 300 members were women (Minute Books of the Society, 1967-1972; Johnston, 1976). Not until 1991 was there a female President (the first being Christine Alder).

The inaugural meeting elected the acknowledged pre-eminence of Australian criminology, Sir John Barry, a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court, as its first president. It may have been Barry's prompting that led to the meeting expanding the society's name to include New Zealand, and it was almost certainly his suggestion that the New Zealand member of the Executive should be Dr John Robson, the long-serving Secretary of the Justice Department in that country. The two had met in London at a United Nations (UN) Congress in 1960 and maintained a regular correspondence during the next decade. Robson accepted the nomination, and the society became the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology. New Zealand membership was slow in developing, and there has never been a President based in New Zealand. In spite of this, there seems not to have been the kinds of tensions that bedevilled relationships between Australian and New Zealand sociologists, eventually leading to dissolution of the almost contemporaneous sociological body (Germov & McGee, 2005).

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