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Newman Hirsh Rosenthal (1898–1986)

by Carole Hooper

This article was published:

Newman Hirsh Rosenthal (1898-1986), educator, historian and writer, was born on 8 August 1898 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest of three children of Mark Rosenthal, pawnbroker and salesman, and his wife Sarah Geitel, née Spielvogel. Both his parents and his maternal grandparents were active members of Ballarat’s strong Jewish community. Within his family orthodox custom was observed.

In 1917, after completing secondary education at Ballarat Agricultural High School, Rosenthal joined the Victorian Education Department and returned to his former school as a junior teacher. The following year he entered Melbourne Teachers’ College, and enrolled in science (education) at the University of Melbourne. After graduation (B.Sc., BA, 1922) he resigned from the department and taught at Xavier College, Kew, where he remained as chemistry master until 1940. On 1 September 1927 at the St Kilda Synagogue he married a fellow teacher, Adelaide Clarice Esther Pizer.

During World War II, on 12 November 1941 Rosenthal was appointed as an education officer, with the rank of flight lieutenant, in the Royal Australian Air Force. Promoted to squadron leader (1942), he headed the Visual Training Section at Albert Park that produced instructional films and film strips. When in July 1946 the section was transferred to the University of Melbourne, he was appointed as director—a position he was to hold until his retirement on 30 April 1966. He was demobilised from the RAAF on 18 September 1946. Later he joined the RAAF Reserve and carried out full-time duty in March-July 1951 and October-December 1952 as an acting wing commander. The university’s visual aids centre continued to produce films and film strips for the armed services, as well as for Australian educational institutions. It began also to investigate the use of new technologies; television particularly interested Rosenthal. From 1955 he directed the university’s television research program and pioneered research into its use in teaching.

While in the RAAF, Rosenthal had visited service and university visual aid centres in the United States of America in 1945 and he had travelled to Britain, Europe and the USA in 1951 to study the educational use of films and television. Throughout his professional life he continued to travel to Europe and North America to undertake investigations and represent the university at international conferences on the use of visual aids for educational purposes. His research focused on audience reaction, especially that of children and adolescents, to films. He believed education should avail itself of new technologies, and advocated high-quality programs and the teaching of critical-viewing skills. His early published work included Films—Their Use and Misuse (1945), Films—A Teachers’ Manual (1947) and Films in Our Lives (1953). Rosenthal’s expertise was recognised by his appointment as foundation president (1950-54) of the Victorian Council for Children’s Films (and Television) and his membership (1948-79) of the State Film Centre Council.

Although scientific pursuits were predominant in his professional life, Rosenthal’s interests extended into the humanities. His attraction to literature was fitting, given the family’s long association with it: his maternal grandfather, Newman Spielvogel, had been a scholar and newspaper correspondent, and his uncle, Nathan Spielvogel, was a writer, historian and teacher of repute. Rosenthal edited the Teachers’ College journal The Trainee in 1919, the Australian Jewish Herald from 1926, and later the Australian Jewish News. He wrote institutional histories and biographies (including of Sir Albert Coates and Sir Charles Lowe), frequently contributed to daily newspapers, and reviewed many books about Jewish history and culture. Much of his writing reflected an interest in the history of Jewish settlement in Australia, and in Jewish customs and faith generally. His published work on Victorian Jewish history included Look Back with Pride (1971), a study of the Hebrew congregation at St Kilda, and Formula for Survival (1979), an account of the Ballarat Hebrew congregation.

Rosenthal had wide-ranging concerns. He recognised that Australia needed to develop social and cultural ties with Asia (he was founding honorary secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian-Asian Association from 1956 to 1961); he realised the importance of protecting civil rights (he helped to found the Freedom to Read Committee when Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group was banned in Victoria); and he cared for the environment (writing about such matters as pollution and water conservation). He was appointed MBE in 1979. Predeceased by his wife (d.1983) and survived by their son and daughter, Rosenthal died on 31 January 1986 at Kew and was buried in Chevra Kadisha Cemetery, Springvale.

Select Bibliography

  • University Gazette (University of Melbourne), vol 2, no 8, 1946, p 1, vol 22, no 4, 1966, p 6
  • A12372, item O35368 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Education Department records (Public Records Office, Vic)
  • Rosenthal, Newman, no 66/1, Australian Council for Children’s Film and Television, no 90/154 (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Carole Hooper, 'Rosenthal, Newman Hirsh (1898–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 August, 1898
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


31 January, 1986 (aged 87)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.