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Lorna Lippmann (1921–2004)

by Andrew Markus

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Walter Max Lippmann

Walter Max Leopold Lippmann (1919–1993), Jewish and ethnic community leader, and Lorna Sylvia Lippmann (1921–2004), Aboriginal and community rights worker, were husband and wife. Walter was born on 19 September 1919 in Hamburg, Germany, elder son of Franz Berthold Lippmann, businessman, and his wife Olga Charlotte, née Hahlo. Born into a prosperous and distinguished Jewish family, he was educated at Bertram-Schule and Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums, before starting a commercial apprenticeship in 1936. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been leaders in the Jewish community, and his uncle Leo Lippmann, a lawyer, was State councillor overseeing the city’s finances prior to the advent of the Nazi regime. Not seeing any future in Germany, Walter’s father secured entry permits for Australia through a business contact, W. E. McPherson. Walter left for Melbourne in September 1938, followed by his parents, brother, sister, and grandmother in December. He began work as an engineering clerk at McPherson’s Pty Ltd.  

Lippmann soon became active in Jewish affairs in his newly adopted country. In 1942 he was a signatory to a statement calling for democratisation of community organisations. The next year, as president of the Melbourne Jewish Youth Council, he was a delegate to the Victorian Jewish Advisory Board. On 15 February 1945 he married Lorna Matenson at Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda. Lorna had been born in Melbourne on 21 December 1921, second of three daughters of Russian-born Philip Matenson, medical practitioner, and his locally born wife Pauline Mathilda, née Aarons. A recent graduate of the University of Melbourne (BA, 1943), she was working as a clerk and had been previously educated at Vaucluse convent, Richmond.

After World War II, Walter established with his father the electrical fittings businesses Meteor Lighting Pty Ltd and F. B. Lippmann and Son Pty Ltd. He served as managing director, juggling his business responsibilities with community work. On a visit to Germany in 1947 he witnessed the devastation of the war and heard the ‘unbelievable’ testimony of Holocaust survivors (Lippmann Papers). In 1948 he was appointed honorary secretary of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a position he would hold almost continuously until 1960. He also took on various roles in the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies, including president (1969–72). In 1957 he joined the executive of the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society (president 1960–77), the only member not of Polish background. Under his leadership, the organisation shifted its primary focus from immigrant resettlement to welfare, and made the transition from a reliance on volunteers to hired staff and professionally trained social workers.

In keeping with his belief in an inclusive, coordinated approach, Lippmann worked to bring disparate Jewish organisations under one banner, although not always with success and he was often at loggerheads with factional and conservative leaders. In 1959 he organised the first Jewish Social Services Convention and was inaugural chairman of the Victorian Jewish Social Service Council. As executive vice-president (1966–91) of the Federation of Australian Jewish Welfare Societies, he negotiated migration matters with successive immigration ministers and senior government officials, and he secured tax exemption for restitution payments from the German government to Holocaust survivors.

Lippmann was concerned to ensure that Jewish values and ways of life were transmitted to succeeding generations. He continued to press for democratic organisational structures, which he saw as essential for securing broad community involvement, and planning based on studies of Australian Jewry. To this end he undertook pioneering demographic research and corresponded with leading scholars, including Charles Price and George Zubrzycki of the Australian National University. His work was published in the Jewish Journal of Sociology and he wrote the entry on ‘Australia: Contemporary Jewry’ for the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971). 

Described as a ‘huge intellect cloaked in elegance and charm’ (Bullen 2004, 137), Lorna matched her husband’s commitment to community causes with a focus on Indigenous issues. In 1957 she had been shocked by (Sir) Douglas Nicholls and William Grayden’s film revealing the appalling living conditions of Aboriginal people in Western Australia’s Warburton Ranges. She joined the Victorian Aboriginal Advancement League (vice-president 1959–68) and in 1964 became the convenor of the legislative reform committee of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In these roles she campaigned for the removal of discriminatory clauses in State and Federal laws. Her knowledge of Indigenous matters led to her employment as a research fellow (1964–75) at Monash University’s centre for research into Aboriginal affairs, and adviser (1973–74) to the Federal minister for Aboriginal affairs, Gordon Bryant. A renowned educator and author of books on Aboriginal topics, she wrote to inform a general readership of the impact of British settlement and to combat racial prejudice and bigotry. Her most significant publications were Words or Blows: Racial Attitudes in Australia (1973) and Generations of Resistance: The Aboriginal Struggle for Justice (1981).

From the 1960s, the Lippmanns broadened their interests to include the place of ethnic minorities in Australian society. Walter became an influential critic of assimilation policy and a proponent of multiculturalism. His left-of-centre politics and Australian Labor Party membership saw his influence at its greatest during periods of Labor administration, when he could draw on personal friendships, including with Bob Hawke. He was a member of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council (1967–74), chairing its committee on community relations (1973–75), and was a member of the committee to review the Special Broadcasting Service (1983–84). He helped to establish and became chairman (1974–83) of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), and held senior positions in the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils. He was appointed MBE (1971) and AM (1987). From 1975 Lorna had begun working as project officer and Victorian director for the Office of the Commissioner for Community Relations. One of her main roles was to investigate complaints of racial discrimination. In the 1980s she became community education officer attached to the Human Rights Commission. She also served as the chairperson (1987) of the Ecumenical Migration Centre and as a member of Victoria’s Immigration Review Panel.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Walter had experienced first-hand the disintegration of civil society; he never forgot that he been given a second chance and endeavoured to enhance conditions in the country that had provided him with shelter and the opportunity to prosper. He recognised the vital role ethnic organisations played in supporting the integration of recent immigrants. He believed that without constructive engagement with the ‘ethnic dimension’ Australia would find itself ‘polarized into a collection of antagonistic, separate subcultural groups’ ([1978], 3). Following a two-year battle with cancer, he died on 27 July 1993 at Caulfield South and was cremated. An effective lobbyist and networker, he was remembered for the logic and clarity of his arguments, for his energy, compassion, and generous humanity, and for his commitment to general, not sectional, interests. Ron Taft, a long-time friend, spoke of his ‘rare combination of high intelligence, wide-reading, vision, and practicality. He was a man of both conviction and action’ (1993). In 2011 the ECCV launched an annual Walter Lippmann memorial lecture in his honour.

Lorna continued to write and during the 1990s her Discussion Notes on Indigenous biographies were published by the Council of Adult Education. Survived by her two daughters, she died on 16 June 2004 at Canterbury. In the following year the Lorna Lippmann memorial scholarship was established for Indigenous students at Monash University.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Benjamin, Rodney. ‘A Serious Influx of Jews’: A History of Jewish Welfare in Victoria. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998
  • Bullen, Margaret. ‘Lorna Lippmann: 21 December 1921-16 June 2004.’ Australian Aboriginal Studies, no. 2 (2004): 137–38
  • Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums, Hamburg. Personal communication
  • Lippmann, Kurt. Our Lippmann Family: A Chronicle Spanning Three Centuries and Three Continents. Caulfield, Vic.: Kurt Lippmann, [1996]
  • Lippmann, Lorna. Interview by Helen Belle Curzon-Siggers, 25 August 1999. Bringing them Home Oral History Project. National Library of Australia
  • Lippmann Papers. Private collection
  • Lippmann, Walter M. ‘The Importance of Ethnically-Based Agencies to Immigrant Families.’ Multicultural Australia Papers, no. 1 [1978]: 1–14
  • Lopez, Mark. The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 19451975. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2000
  • Markus, Andrew, and Margaret Taft. ‘Walter Lippmann, Transformative Leader.’ Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal 23, part 1 (2016): 93–110
  • Markus, Andrew, and Margaret Taft, eds. Walter Lippmann, Ethnic Communities Leader: ‘Creative Thinker, Dogged Worker, the Kindest of Men.’ Caulfield, Vic.: Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, 2016
  • National Archives of Australia. A12508, 21/2597
  • National Archives of Australia. A435, 1944/4/558
  • Rubinstein, Hilary L. The Jews in Australia: A Thematic History. Vol. 1, 1788-1945. Port Melbourne, Vic.: William Heinemann Australia, 1991
  • Taft, Ronald. Speech given at Walter Lippmann Memorial Evening, 6 September 1993. Copy held by author

Additional Resources

Citation details

Andrew Markus, 'Lippmann, Lorna (1921–2004)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Matenson, Lorna

21 December, 1921
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


16 June, 2004 (aged 82)
Canterbury, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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