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William George Buick (1923–1990)

by G. A. Stafford

This article was published:

William George Buick (1923-1990), librarian and naturalist, was born on 29 June 1923 at Meldreth (Brooklyn) Park, Adelaide, eldest child of South Australian-born parents John Buick, motor painter, and his wife Clarice Ruby, née Wilson. Educated at Adelaide High School, George began work at 15 in a printer’s shop. He gained a position as a junior library assistant at the Public Library of South Australia in 1940 and studied part time for matriculation. For nine months in 1944-45 he was librarian at the Adelaide Chemical & Fertilizer Co. Ltd; in July 1945 he was reappointed to the public library as a library assistant.

On 14 September that year Buick completed the registration examination of the Australian Institute of Librarians (from 1949 the Library Association of Australia). He had been active in the State branch of the association from 1943, first as a student member and then as an associate. Despite a slight speech impediment due to a harelip (generally concealed by a moustache), he addressed meetings, and gave his first paper, on postwar library planning, in 1944. After serving as branch secretary-treasurer from 1946 he was elected president in 1950. In his presidential address next year he spoke on `Regional Planning and the Future of Libraries in South Australia’. At that time no local authority in South Australia was responsible for running a public library; Buick argued that a State-wide library service could be established, based on the regions identified in a 1946 report of the South Australian regional planning committee. His speech was published in 1952 in the Australian Library Journal.

In 1948-60 Buick was librarian-in-charge of the public library’s country lending service. During this time he was a part-time student at the University of Adelaide (BA, 1956). On 13 September 1952 he married Barbara Laughton, a fellow librarian, in a civil ceremony at her Leabrook home. Awarded fellowships by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the University of Chicago, United States of America, in 1957-58 he took a year’s leave to study at the latter’s graduate library school. He was awarded a master of arts degree in 1960 and, back in Adelaide, was promoted to assistant-principal librarian. The Libraries Board of South Australia published his thesis, Population and Governmental Studies for the Provision of Public Libraries in South Australia (1965).

Buick was appointed associate-librarian at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, in 1965. Still active in the LAA, he became a branch councillor, and representative (1965-66) for the Australian Capital Territory division on the general council. In 1966 he took up the post of librarian at the new University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. He was inaugural president (1968-69) of the Papua and New Guinea branch of the LAA. A life member of the association from 1952, he was made a fellow in 1971. He left the Territory that year, having built up the university library’s collection to over 100,000 volumes. Appointed (1972) founding librarian at Murdoch University, Perth, he again set about the task of establishing a university library from scratch, overseeing the construction of a new building and developing a collection of over 250,000 items. Throughout his career he had supported and promoted his profession; in addition to his committee work he served (1962-64) as an examiner for the LAA. He believed in fair play and social justice, opposed censorship, and thought that libraries should be freely accessible to all.

A keen naturalist, in 1969 Buick had produced a booklet on the indigenous flowers of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Over many years he pursued an interest in molluscs, forming a comprehensive collection and compiling a definitive citation index. He was a member of the Malacological Society of Australia and of the Royal Society of Western Australia, and president (1975-77) of the Western Australian Shell Club. In 1984 he retired from Murdoch in poor health and began work as a volunteer at the Western Australian Museum; in recognition of his efforts a new species of mollusc, Splendrillia buicki, was named after him in 1990. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died of cancer on 8 December that year at Shenton Park and was cremated. He bequeathed his collection and his bibliographic records to the museum. In 1991 Curtin University named an award for academic excellence in a higher degree course after him. His wife Barbara, a founding member (1972) of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, sat on the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Tribunal in 1985-94.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Shell News, Jan/Apr 1982, p 7
  • Murdoch University News, 24 Feb 1984, p 2
  • Journal of the Malacological Society of Australia, 30 Nov 1990, p 92
  • Library Association of Australia, Incite, 11 Feb 1991, p 5.

Citation details

G. A. Stafford, 'Buick, William George (1923–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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