Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kenneth Hurtle Wanganeen (1948–1990)

by Philip A. Clarke

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Kenneth Hurtle Wanganeen (1948-1990), public servant, was born on 8 August 1948 at Rose Park, Adelaide, only child of Gavin Wilfred Kenneth Wanganeen and Jessie Camilla Harris, née Sansbury, both born at Point Pearce Aboriginal Station, South Australia. Ken grew up at Point Pearce. He was a great-nephew of the community leader Robert Wanganeen. While most of Ken’s ancestors belonged to the Narungga people of Yorke Peninsula, it is believed that his great-great-grandfather James Wanganeen was from the Murray River region of South Australia.

Encouraged to leave Point Pearce when the Commonwealth government was promoting the policy of assimilation, Wanganeen moved to Adelaide. A foundation student (1966) of the Flinders University of South Australia (BA Hons, 1973), he was active in student politics and became Australia’s first Aboriginal honours graduate: his politics thesis was ‘Australian Attitude to the Australian-Japanese Agreement on Commerce, 1957-1963’. On 13 January 1973 at Flinders University he married with Methodist forms a fellow-student, Carolyn Beth Bignall. That month he joined the Office of the Commonwealth Public Service Board in Canberra as an administrative trainee. The Harkness fellowship that he won in 1978 enabled him to travel in the United States of America, study anthropology for one year towards a masters degree at Northern Arizona University, stay in a Native American community, and work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington, DC.

Returning to Australia in 1980, Wanganeen worked in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. A deputy-registrar of Aboriginal Corporations (1981-82, 1984), he was in 1982 the department’s director of the south-eastern region and a member of the National Aboriginal Employment Development Committee; he served in 1982-83 on the Aboriginal Development Commission. He was the acting-registrar (1987) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations and was secretary (1988) of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party.

At Flinders University Wanganeen had played Australian rules football for its club, the ‘Crabs’ (president 1972), and was a member of the A5 reserves ‘people’s’ team. In 1989, after attending a game in Adelaide, he donated $500 towards a perpetual trophy, known as the K. H. Wanganeen shield, for the ‘best club man’. Resigning from the Public Service that year, he set up a management consultancy for Indigenous people, Nunga Way Pty Ltd.

Tall and heavily built, Wanganeen was a practical man, who liked to set a goal and work to achieve it. With an outgoing personality he made friends easily and believed that respect was earned by showing respect. Survived by his wife and their two sons and two daughters, he died of congestive cardiac failure on 31 March 1990 at Garran, Canberra, and was cremated after a Salvation Army service. A university friend, Bruno Yvanovich, described him as ‘a great leader [who] committed his life to being a bridge and a healer between cultures’. In 1994 Flinders University established the Ken Wanganeen medal and in 2001 the Australian National University, Canberra, initiated the Ken Wanganeen scholarship. Wanganeen Avenue, Ngunnawal, Canberra, is named for him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Kartinyeri, The Wanganeen Family Genealogy (1985) and Narungga Nation (2002)
  • C. Mattingley and K. Hampton, Survival in Our Own Land (1998)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1978, p 27
  • Canberra Times, 7 Apr 1990, p 6
  • private information.

Citation details

Philip A. Clarke, 'Wanganeen, Kenneth Hurtle (1948–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 April 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, 1948
Rose Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


31 March, 1990 (aged 41)
Garran, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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