ANU historian John Molony dead at 91

One of Australia’s most celebrated historians, who wrote on subjects as diverse as Rome, Ned Kelly and Australia’s first white Australians, has died aged 91.

John Molony was a former head of the Department of History at the Australian National University, where he began his academic career in the 1960s.

John Molony Photo: Supplied

John Molony Photo: Supplied

Born in Melbourne in 1927, Professor Molony trained as a priest as a young man in Ballarat, and became one of the priesthood’s rising stars in the 1940s, ordained at the Congregation of Propaganda Fide in Rome.

He completed his training in the Vatican, and undertook extensive post-graduate studies in Rome, where he was able to observe the realities of church life on poor communities.

Wanting to start a family, he left the priesthood after returning to his ministry in Ballarat, and began a new academic career at the ANU in 1964 as a research assistant in medieval history in what was then the School of General Studies.

He went on to head up the Department of History and to hold the Manning Clark Chair of Australian History from 1982 until his retirement from the university in 1990.

During this time, he was an enthusiastic member of the ANU’s Australian Football Club, of which he was president in 1978.

He later held posts at University College Dublin and the Australian Catholic University in Canberra until 1996.

He also founded ANU’s Emeritus Faculty, and was a staunch opponent to the amalgamation of the ANU and the University of Canberra.

Along with his family, Professor Molony was a vocal and active supporter of refugees, and remained a friend and active scholar at the ANU until his death, reading entries for the Australian Dictionary of Biography and publishing papers until early this year.

His most recent work was a book about Captain James Cook, published in 2016.