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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eggleston, Elizabeth Moulton (1934–1976)

by Phillipa Weeks

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Elizabeth Eggleston, 1970

Elizabeth Eggleston, 1970

Monash University, 1519

Elizabeth Moulton Eggleston (1934-1976), academic lawyer and activist, was born on 6 November 1934 at Armadale, Melbourne, eldest child of Victorian-born parents (Sir) Richard Moulton Eggleston (d.1991), a barrister who became a judge and chancellor of Monash University, and his wife Isabel Marjorie, née Thom, a mathematics teacher. Educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College and Tintern Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Elizabeth studied at the University of Melbourne and was active in the Australian Student Christian Movement, the Students' Representative Council, a voluntary legal-aid service and the editorial board of the legal journal, Res Judicatae. She graduated (LL.B., 1956) with second-class honours (division B).

After briefly practising law in Melbourne, Eggleston studied at the University of California at Berkeley (LL.M., 1958), United States of America, then worked and travelled in Britain and Europe. She returned to Melbourne in early 1961, practised as a solicitor for three years and in 1964 completed an arts degree at the University of Melbourne. In the following year she became the first doctoral candidate in the faculty of law at Monash University (Ph.D., 1970). Inspired by her earlier visit to Navajo Indian country in America, she wrote her thesis on Aborigines and the administration of justice, conducting extensive field-work in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

In 1969 Eggleston was appointed lecturer in the faculty of law at Monash. Two years later she was promoted to senior lecturer. She established new courses in industrial law, legal aid and poverty law, and co-authored Cases and Materials on Industrial Law in Australia (Sydney, 1973). From 1971 she was also director (part time) of the university's Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs. Under her leadership the centre generated and co-ordinated research, organized seminars and national conferences, established a course in Black Australian Studies, provided resources for Aboriginal groups and individuals, and liaised with government and overseas bodies.

A founder (1972) of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Eggleston conducted a discussion group with Aborigines in Pentridge gaol and advised Aboriginal communities. She addressed conferences throughout the country, published articles, and made submissions to government inquiries and parliamentary committees on discrimination, Aboriginal legal services, and the recognition of Aboriginal land rights and cultural heritage. Study leave in North America in 1972-73, where she undertook research in Indian communities, gave a comparative dimension to her work. Her major publication, Fear, Favour or Affection (Canberra, 1976), which was based on her doctoral thesis, was published two months before her death. Reviewers acclaimed her contribution to Australian scholarship and policy-making in revealing systemic discrimination against Aborigines in the administration of criminal justice.

Eggleston was 'gentle and unassuming', but was moved to exploit her lawyer's skills by a deep-rooted and burning sense of injustice. Five ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, with blue eyes, and wavy brown hair cut short, she wore glasses and, from her early thirties, took daily medication for asthma. She died of cancer on 24 March 1976 in East Melbourne and was buried in Brighton cemetery; Aboriginal friends sang and played traditional music at a memorial service at Monash.

Select Bibliography

  • Legal Service Bulletin, vol 1, no 13, Mar 1976, p 350
  • Nation Review, 6, no 25, Apr 1976, p 620
  • Politics, 11, no 2, Nov 1976, p 235
  • Monash University Law Review, 3, Nov 1976, p 1, p 5, p 173
  • Australian, 6 Apr 1974, 7 Feb 1976
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Feb, 25 Mar, 2 Apr 1976, 19 Jan 1978
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 25 Mar 1976
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Mar 1976
  • Sir R. and Dr E. Eggleston papers (Monash University Archives)
  • student, staff and research files of E. Eggleston (Monash University Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Phillipa Weeks, 'Eggleston, Elizabeth Moulton (1934–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 5 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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