Guide to the Papers of Isobel Bennett


MS 9348

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Isobel Bennett
Papers of Isobel Bennett
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 9348
1.85 metres (12 boxes)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The papers document many aspects of Isobel Bennett's career as a marine biologist, including her fieldwork, writings and participation in a number of scientific expeditions. They include correspondence, personal documents, biographical references, field notebooks, typescripts of most of her books, reviews and other cuttings, photographs, reprints, reports and other publications. Particular strengths of the collection are the records of her research on the coasts of eastern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef and Macquarie Island.

The earliest papers date from 1944, when Bennett was 35. There are, however, a number of autobiographical and biographical writings that provide information about her family and childhood and her early years in the Department of Zoology at the University of Sydney.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Isobel Bennett, National Library of Australia, MS 9348, [box number and series and/or file number]'.


The papers were donated by Dr Bennett to the National Library under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme in 1996 and 1997. A further consignment was received in September 2000.

A collection of 556 colour transparencies, assembled by Isobel Bennett for the 1987 edition of Australian seashores, is held in the Pictorial Section of the Library.


Although the general arrangement of the papers has been imposed by the Library, all files created by Bennett have been kept intact.

Biographical Note

Isobel Bennett was born in Brisbane on 9 July 1909. She was educated at Somerville House, Brisbane. She left school at the age of 16 and enrolled in a business college. She worked at a patent attorney's office and, when her family moved to Sydney in 1928, she spent four years on the staff of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

In 1933 Bennett joined the staff of the Zoology Department of the University of Sydney. Until 1943 she was the secretary, librarian, demonstrator and research assistant to Professor W.J. Dakin. From 1945 to 1948 she was research assistant to Professor Dakin and, after his death, she was research assistant to Professor P.D.F. Murray. From 1950 onwards she regularly led parties of students to the Heron Island and Lizard Island Research Stations in the Great Barrier Reef and in the 1950s did field work on the Victorian and Tasmanian coasts. In 1959 she made her first visit to Macquarie Island with the ANARE relief ship and she returned in 1960, 1965 and 1968. In 1963 she was Dean of Women on the Stanford University research ship Te Vega, which sailed from San Diego to Singapore. She was a delegate to the 11th Pacific Science Congress in Tokyo in 1966.

Since her retirement from Sydney University in 1971, Isobel Bennett has maintained an active life of research and writing. In 1973 she attended the 2nd International Symposium on Coral Reefs. She carried out surveys of the coastal rock platforms at Jervis Bay and Ulladulla in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and did fieldwork on the coasts of Lord Howe Island in 1974, Norfolk Island in 1980 and Flinders Island in 1981. She continued to visit Heron Island until 1995.

In 1963 Bennett was awarded the first Honorary Master of Science degree at Sydney University. In 1982 she was awarded the Mueller Medal by the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science and in 1984 she became an Officer of the Order of Australia. In 1995 she was made a Doctor of Science by the University of New South Wales.

Bennett assisted W.J. Dakin on the research for his book Australian seashores (1952). She was co-author of the revised editions of 1960, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1976 and 1980 and sole author of the 1987 and 1992 editions. Her other books are The fringe of the sea (1966), On the seashore (1969), Shores of Macquarie Island (1971), The Great Barrier Reef (1971 and later editions), A coral reef handbook (1978 and later editions), Discovering Lord Howe Island (1979), Discovering Norfolk Island (1983) and Australia's Great Barrier Reef (1987).

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Biographical and personal documents, 1948-2000

This series comprises two albums of cuttings, letters and photographs and a large number of looses cuttings about Bennett, curricula vitae, lists of publications and entries in biographical reference works. Among the more substantial biographical pieces are an autobiographical essay published in Against the odds, edited by Madge Dawson and Heather Radi (1984) and essays about Bennett by Margaret Spencer (1969) and Nessy Allen (1993). There are also documents relating to the conferral of her Master's degree (1962) and doctorate (1995) and the Order of Australia investiture (1984).

Album of cuttings and photographs, 1952-76 including reviews of Australian seashores and photographs of the 1963 graduation ceremony (File 1) - Box 10

Album of cuttings, letters and photographs, 1971-84, including reviews of The Great Barrier Reef (File 2) - Box 10

Reference, awards and citations, 1948-95 (File 3) - Box 1

Autobiographical and biographical writings about Bennett, 1969-93 (File 4) - Box 1

Miscellaneous articles, cuttings and photocopies, 1961-95 (File 5) - Box 1

Rebecca Warren and Mary Thompson, The scientist within you: women scientists from seven continents (Eugene, Oregon, 1995) (File 6) - Box 1

Edited transcript of interview for the Australian Academy of Science (May 2000), and newspaper cuttings, 1999-2000 (File 7) - Box 1

Series 2. Correspondence, 1962-2000

The correspondence kept in these files by Bennett mostly dates from the 1970s onwards. The subjects include the identification of fauna and flora, fauna of sand lakes, sand mining, the Great Barrier Reef, the Raine Island beacon, proposed publications and talks by Bennett. Among the correspondents are Peter Harrison, Bruce Thom, Professor A.F. O'Farrell, Sir Garfield Barwick, Patricia Mather (Queensland Museum), Graham Shirley, Nessy Allen, Hugh Lavery, Professor A.J. Underwood and Ruth Lane (National Museum of Australia).

Correspondence, 1962-87 (File 1) - Box 1

Correspondence, 1988-93 (File 2) - Box 1

Correspondence, 1994-2000 (File 3) - Box 1

Series 3. Field notes, 1944-79

The notebooks in this series document in particular Bennett's early fieldwork on the shores and estuaries of New South Wales in 1944-47. Three of the notebooks cover her later work, including research in the Great Barrier Reef and Macquarie Island.

Small notebook, Nov. 1944-Dec. 1945 (File 1) - Box 1

Notes of fieldwork at Gerringong, Harbord, Newport, Mona Vale, Shellharbour, Seven Mile Beach, Pittwater, Moreton Bay, Currumbra Rocks, The Entrance

Small notebook, Oct. 1944-Nov. 1961 (File 2) - Box 1

Notes of fieldwork at Pittwater, Gerringong, Harbord, Newport, Long Reef, Botany Bay, Heron Island, Port Sorell, Maroubra, Gunnamatta Bay, Nowra, Fairlight, Narooma, Hobart, Macquarie Island

Report of a South Coast collecting trip, Jan. 1946 (File 3) - Box 2

Typescript report of a trip by Bennett, Elizabeth Pope (Australian Museum) and Helen Newton Turner (CSIR) along the coast from Shellharbour to Eden, NSW. Includes maps and photographs.

Exercise book, Feb. 1946-March 1947 (File 4) - Box 2

Notes of fieldwork at Tuggerah Lake, Toukley and The Entrance

Large notebook, Aug.-Sept. 1946 (File 5) - Box 2

Two typescript reports, one by Elizabeth Pope, of fieldwork on the North Coast of NSW.

Small notebook, Feb. 1962-June 1973 (File 6) - Box 2

Notes of fieldwork at Long Reef, Botany Bay, Heron Island, Port Stephens, Myall Lakes, Harbord, Lake Illawarra, Jervis Bay, Macquarie Island

Small notebook, May 1973-Dec. 1979 (File 7) - Box 2

Notes of fieldwork at Jervis Bay, Ulladulla, Plantation Point

Series 4. Australian seashores, 1948-92

From 1944 onwards Isobel Bennett carried out research for W.J. Dakin on the animals and plants of the Australian seashores. She was often accompanied by her friend Elizabeth Pope of the Australian Museum. In 1948 Angus and Robertson accepted the manuscript of Australian seashores, but it was not published until 1952, two years after Dakin's death. Bennett saw it through the press and was responsible for all the reprintings and new editions in the next forty years.

Reviews of Australian seashores are contained in an album in Series 1, item 1.

Alterations and corrections, 1952-69 (File 1) - Box 2

Includes list of mollusca of Sydney district, 1948

1980 edition: corrections, index, correspondence with Angus and Robertson, 1976-79 (File 2) - Box 2

1987 edition: manuscript notes (File 3) - Box 2

1987 edition: reprints and correspondence with museums and others, 1985-86 (File 4) - Box 3

1987 edition: articles and notes (File 5-6) - Box 3

1987 edition: lists of revisions, corrected index (File 7) - Box 3

1987 edition: maps, lists of illustrations (File 8) - Box 3

Copy of Australian seashores (1980) with manuscript corrections for 1987 edition (File 9) - Box 3

1992 edition: galley proofs (File 10-11) - Box 3, 4

1992 edition: typescript preface, galleys and correspondence with Collins Angus and Robertson, 1992 (File 12) - Box 4

Two copies of Australian seashores (1952 and 1987) markup up for the 1987 and 1991 revised editions (File 13) - Box 11

Series 5. Other publications, 1966-81

The first of Bennett's own books, Fringe of the sea, was published in 1966. She went on to write books on the Great Barrier Reef, Macquarie Island, Norfolk Island, Lord Howe Island and coral reefs. The manuscripts of some of these works can be found in series 5-7.

Fringe of the sea (1966): typescript with manuscript amendments (File 1) - Box 4

On the seashore (1969): typescript with manuscript amendments (File 2) - Box 4

Fringe of the sea: correspondence with J.R. Ottaway about a new edition 1980-81, typescript index, review (File 3) - Box 4

Series 6. Great Barrier Reef, 1950-96

Isobel Bennett first visited the Great Barrier Reef in 1946. Between 1950 and 1995 she made 23 field trips to the Heron Island Research Station, usually in charge of groups of students from Sydney University. She also made visits to the reefs and research station at Lizard Island. In 1954 she took part in a resurvey of Low Isles for comparison with the survey made in 1929. She later carried out research in the northern part of the Reef and in Torres Strait in preparation for her book The Great Barrier Reef, which was published in 1971.

The Great Barrier Reef (1971): typescript (File 1-2) - Box 4, 5

Australia's Great Barrier Reef (1987): typescript, correspondence, 1985 (File 3) - Box 5

Australia's Great Barrier Reef (1987): galley proofs (File 4) - Box 5

Album of reviews of The Great Barrier Reef (File 5)

Typescript article for BHP Journal and correspondence, 1981-82 (File 6) - Box 5

Notes made on trip on MV Cape Moreton, Sept.-Dec. 1969, together with notes of an address by Norman Rogers (1962) and a list of trips made by Bennett to the Great Barrier Reef, 1946-95 (File 7) - Box 5

Great Barrier Reef Foundation: correspondence and strategic plan, 1995-96 (File 8) - Box 5

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: Far Northern Section zoning plan, 1985 (File 9) - Box 5

Heron Island: notes on marine plants and zoology, notes by Peter Ogilvie on history of Heron Island (1843-1951), typescript on coral reefs and atolls and ecology of coral reef flats (File 10) - Box 5

Heron Island: three field notebooks and loose notes, 1950-81, and notebook containing manuscript and typescript notes on ecology, geology and botany of Heron Island (File 11) - Box 6

Heron Island: typescripts on marine plants, zonation and flora and fauna, bibliographies, leaflets, 1969-84 (File 12) - Box 6

Heron Island: correspondence, 1978-85, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park regulations, leaflets on Bird Week and Reef Week, description of Heron Island, 1975-85 (File 13) - Box 6

2nd International Symposium on Coral Reefs, 1973: papers on Low Isles, vegetation of Low Isles Reef, and terrestrial flora of Lizard Island, Low Isles and Heron Island (File 14) - Box 6

Marine birds: typescript and photographs (File 15) - Box 6

Marine plants: manuscript and typescript notes (File 16) - Box 6

Raine Island Corporation: publications and correspondence with Hugh Lavery, 1988 (File 17) - Box 6

Miscellaneous articles and cuttings, 1967-95 (File 18) - Box 6

Miscellaneous articles and cuttings, 1970-96 (File 19) - Box 6

Miscellaneous papers (File 20) - Box 7

Series 7. Macquarie Island, 1959-96

Isobel Bennett was one of the first four women to visit the Australian base at Macquarie Island. She was a member of the ANARE expeditions that sailed on the Thala Dan (1959), Magda Dan (1960) and Nella Dan (1965 and 1968). In 1971 Rigby published her book Shores of Macquarie Island. In February 1995 Bennett was a passenger on a Qantas flight to the Antarctic.

Two notebooks referring to Macquarie Island can be found in Series 3.

Shores of Macquarie Island (1971): typescript with manuscript amendments (File 1-2) - Box 7

Original maps and photographs used in Shores of Macquarie Island (File 3) - Box 10

Notebook containing typescript notes on Macquarie Island and its botany and zoology (File 4) - Box 7

Typescript notes on Macquarie Island, reprints, cuttings, maps (File 5) - Box 7

Notes on intertidal zonation (Dec. 1959), typescript on history of Macquarie Island, photograph, cuttings, reprints (File 6) - Box 7

1995 Antarctic flight: ANARE publications, booklets, leaflets, map, photographs, cuttings (File 7) - Box 7

Box containing about 250 colour transparencies, 1959-95, grouped under such subjects as ships, Antarctic flight, Green Gorge (Macquarie Island), camp buildings, personnel, Dumont d'Urville (French Antarctic base), elephant seals, invertebrate fauna, fish, albatross, cormorants, penguins (File 8) - Box 10

Series 8. Galathea Expedition, 1951-68

The Royal Danish Deep Sea Expedition, led by Anton Bruun, left Plymouth on the Galathea in October 1950. Bennett joined the expedition in December 1951 for three weeks while it was in Australian waters. She was the only woman among a crew of 113.

Typescript notes for talks by Bennett, reprints, cuttings, letters from other members of the expedition, photographs and publications dealing with Danish maritime exploration (File 1) - Box 7

Series 9. Te Vega Expedition, 1963-73

Rolf Bolin, Professor of Marine Biology and Oceanography at Stanford University, acquired the German ship Te Vega in 1962 and converted it into a floating laboratory and classroom. The ship sailed from San Diego in July 1963 and participated in the International Indian Ocean Expedition in 1964. During the first leg of the expedition, Bennett was Dean of Women and lectured on tropical marine ecology and coral reefs. She left the ship at Singapore in October 1963, but continued to correspond with Bolin for several years.

General narrative of the expedition, July 1963-Sept. 1965 (roneoed) (File 1) - Box 8

Diary kept by Bennett, June-Oct. 1963, describing journey from San Francisco and San Diego to Hawaii, Samoa, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Irian Jaya, Indonesia and Singapore (File 2) - Box 8

Photograph of Te Vega, list of barnacles collected, biography of Rolf Bolin, letters of Bennett (Dec. 1963), letters of Bolin (1963-70), crew list, photographs and cuttings (File 3) - Box 8

Album of cuttings, leaflets, cards, letters and photographs, 1963-67 (File 4) - Box 10

Series 10. Subject files, 1966-96

This series comprises a short sequence of subject files maintained by Bennett.

Norfolk Island: notes, photographs, correspondence with Carden Wallace and others, 1980-82 (File 1) - Box 8

New Guinea Biological Foundation: typescript report by Bennett on marine fauna in vicinity of Kieta, Bougainville Island (1966), publications, reports of the Foundation (1972-77), cuttings, research review (1994) (File 2) - Box 8

Nemerteans: reprints of articles by Ray Gibson (1974-79), letters of Gibson (1976-79), description of Bennettiainsularis collected by Gibson at Heron Island in 1975 (File 3) - Box 8

Rock platforms: cuttings, articles, copies of Bennett's letters, 1991-96 (File 4-6) - Box 8, 9

Turtle research: correspondence with Colin Limpus, 1980-81, cuttings, publications, 1980-96 (File 7) - Box 9

Series 11. Photographs

Photographs of Isobel Bennett have been placed in Series 1 and photographs can also be found in Series 3, 6,7, 8, 9 and 10.

Photographs of marine fauna, such as nematocysts and plesiastrea. There are also photographs for a publication on injuries caused by marine invertebrates in the Australian region, 1965 (File 1-3) - Box 9

Series 12. Miscellaneous publications

Directory of marine scientists in Australia, 1977 (File 1) - Box 9

Australian Society for Limnology, Membership directory, 1979 (File 2) - Box 9

Abstracts of Joint Scientific Conference on Science, Management and Sustainability of Marine Habitats in the 21st Century, Townsville, July 1994