Anthropologist priest and renowned Gringai man awarded Honorary Doctorates

Australian Catholic University (ACU) has conferred a Doctor of the University (Honoris Causa) to a priest who has dedicated his life to anthropology, and a respected Koori historian and researcher.

Fr Gerald Arbuckle SM, who is originally from New Zealand but a member of the Marist Fathers’ Hunters Hill community, and Uncle James Wilson-Miller, were awarded Honorary Doctorates in separate ceremonies on May 18.

In receiving the Honorary Doctorates, both men reflected on the individuals who most influenced their future endeavours.

For Fr Arbuckle, who will be 89 this year, it was his congregation’s superior who encouraged him to study social science. This led the New Zealander to being the only priest studying cultural anthropology at Cambridge University.

“When I first started anthropology, people were enormously surprised. It was a little known discipline even in Cambridge in those days. It was considered a fringe subject, of little use to economists, investors, and others in the modern world. But not now,” Fr Arbuckle said.

“Its cultural insights assist people to understand hidden forces shaping their daily life, no matter what their role is in society. This doctorate acknowledges the helpful role cultural anthropology now plays in the study of society and the Church. I am most encouraged that this has happened.”

Today, as he approaches 89, Fr Arbuckle is working on his 26th book, an exploration of the dangers of conspiracy theories.

For Mr Wilson-Miller, the Honorary Doctorate is a humble tribute to three women in his life, including his grandmother Jean. Despite having her own seven children traumatically stolen from her, she raised Mr Wilson-Miller as her own.

“Even as limited as she was in education, she certainly made sure I could read and write by encouraging me to go to school,” Mr Wilson-Miller said.

“I doubt that I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t listened.”

Born in Sydney in 1949, Mr Wilson-Miller has established himself as a respected Koori historian and researcher, an experienced Aboriginal tertiary educator, and award-winning author of Koori: A Will to Win – The Heroic Resistance, Survival and Triumph of Black Australia.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Zlatko Skrbis, congratulated both Fr Arbuckle and Mr Wilson-Miller on being awarded ACU’s highest honour.

“Fr Gerarld Arbuckle is a distinguished anthropologist, theologian and scholar with an international reputation. An original thinker within Catholic scholarship, his extensive ministry as a scholarly researcher exemplifies the mission of the Australian Catholic University to pursue knowledge for the common good,” Professor Skrbis said.

“Likewise, James has dedicated his life to serving his Aboriginal people through preserving the history of the Gringai Clan as a cultural curator and historian and seeking ways to educate the wider community about the concerns of First Nations people,” Professor Skrbis said.

“I commend both Gerald and James on their contribution to the Australian and global community.”

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