History of ANU

The University Archives provides advice to ANU staff about the history of the University, its site and buildings, and specific events. The Archives can help locate and make available records such as reports and photographs to assist in celebrations and commemorations on campus. Staff may consult early Central Files, staff records and oral histories relevant to their research projects at the University Archives. The Archives also holds complete runs of Council and Committee minutes and publications such as Annual Reports, faculty handbooks and calendars. The fiftieth-anniversary publication, The Making of the Australian National University 1946-1996 by S G Foster and Margaret M Varghese is a useful reference for general enquiries and is available in the Archives reading room and in the Menzies and Chifley libraries. Online resources including a timeline from 1930 to the present are also available. Please contact the University Archivist on x59602 or at university.archives@anu.edu.au

Published sources

Published histories available at the University Archives in hard copy only include:

  • LT Carron, A Brief History of the Australian Forestry School, AFS Reunion 2000 Inc, 2000
  • Tom Frame and Don Faulkner, Stromlo: An Australian Observatory, Allen & Unwin, 2003
  • TR Ophel, A Tower of Strength: A History of the Department of Nuclear Physics, 1950-1997, Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering, ANU, 1998
  • Patrick Troy, The Urban Research Program 1966-1996, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU, 1997
  • Peter Alexander Vidot, The History of the Australian National University Library 1946-1996, ANU, 1996
  • Jill Waterhouse, University House as They Experienced It: A History 1954-2004, ANU, 2004
  • David Hawking, The History of ANU Computing, David Hawking, 2021
  • ANU Emeritus Faculty Histories, Oral Histories and Obituaries 2021 -

Publications such as the Annual Reports, calendars and faculty handbooks are also useful sources which can be consulted at the University Archives or online.

Online sources

Information about the history of the Australian National University online includes:


The following timeline highlights some of the important moments in the history of the Australian National University. It has been compiled from several sources, including The making of the Australian National University. The timeline is an ongoing project and suggestions for additions are most welcome.

1930: Canberra University College, which later amalgamated with the Australian National University, enrolled its first students. Canberra University College was established with a loose association with the University of Melbourne.

Late 1944 to early 1945: Discussions between intellectuals and administrators, including H C 'Nugget' Coombs, Alfred Conlon, and Roy Douglas 'Pansy' Wright set the scene for the establishment of a National University.

April 1946: H C Coombs meets with prominent academics in England, some of them Australian expatriates, including the medical scientist Sir Howard Florey, the historian W K Hancock and the physicist Mark Oliphant on the proposed Australian National University.

1 August 1946: The Bill establishing the Australian National University is passed by Federal Parliament.

September 1946: The first meeting of the Interim Council of the University takes place in the Senate Committee Room in Parliament House.

Late 1947: Brian Lewis, Professor of Architecture at the University of Melbourne was appointed Consulting Architect to design the University's major buildings.

March 1948: Sir Douglas Copland appointed the first Vice-Chancellor of the University.

Easter 1948: Significant meetings occur between the Interim Council and the Academic Advisory Committee, consisting of Florey, Hancock, Oliphant and the anthropologist Raymond Firth on the shape the national university was to take. The meetings took place in the Institute of Anatomy Building, which now houses ScreenSound Australia, the National Screen and Sound Archive.

1948: The University's first librarian, A L G McDonald, was appointed to begin gathering together the University Library's collections.

24 October 1949: Foundation stones for the John Curtin School of Medical Research, the Research School of Physical Sciences and University House laid by Ben Chifley, Prime Minister and John Dedman, Minister for Post-War Reconstruction.

Early 1950: The first academic staff members arrive to take up their appointments at ANU. At this time, there were few buildings to house them.

12 July 1951: First meeting of the ANU Council, which succeeded the Interim Council appointed in 1946.

July-September 1951: A series of seminars on science, Commonwealth-State relations and federalism held to mark 50 years of Federation.

7 December 1951: ANU confers its first degree of an Honorary Doctor of Laws on Sir Robert Garran, one of the authors of the Australian Constitution and a long-time advocate of university education in Canberra.

1952: The laboratories for the Research School of Physical Sciences, the University's first permanent buildings, are opened.

1952: The University's first Chancellor, Lord Bruce, is installed.

1953: Noel Butlin, an economic historian in the Research School of Social Sciences, begins collecting Australian business records, which come to form the basis of the University's Archives of Business and Labour (now the Noel Butlin Archives Centre).

February 1954: University House is officially opened (see Reference documents section for a subject guide).

1955: Canberra University College celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary.

1957: Mt Stromlo Observatory formally becomes part of the ANU through association with the Department of Astronomy in the Research School of Physical Sciences.

1960: The ANU amalgamates with Canberra University College. CUC becomes the School of General Studies at the ANU and undergraduates become part of ANU life for the first time.

In 1960 the ANU still had its four central research schools, the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), the Research School of Physical Sciences (RSPhysS), the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) and the Research School of Pacific Studies (RSPaS), while the School of General Studies had Faculties of Arts, Economics, Law and Science.

1961: Bruce Hall, the first residential hall for undergraduate students on campus, is occupied.

1961: The School of General Studies establishes a new faculty, the Faculty of Oriental Studies. In 1970, it became the Faculty of Asian Studies.

1961: The New Guinea Research Unit, part of the Research School of Pacific Studies, begins operations with a small group of support staff and academics located in Canberra and New Guinea. The Unit fostered interdisciplinary work on New Guinea among ANU academics.

1963: The two University Library Buildings are opened, the R G Menzies Building and the J B Chifley Building.

1964: Lake Burley Griffin is flooded, skirting the southern edge of the ANU campus.

1964: Hanna Neumann is appointed the University's first female professor, as Professor of Mathematics in the School of General Studies.

1965: The Australian Forestry School, which had been established in Canberra since 1927, accepted its first students as a department in the University's Faculty of Science.

1967: The Research School of Chemistry (RSC) and the Research School of Biological Sciences (RSBS) are established bringing the number of research schools to six.

1968: The Computer Centre was established, intended to serve users campus wide.

1971: A decision is made to create a separate Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) from departments in the Research School of Physical Sciences.

1972: The Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (CRES) is established, part of a trend to establish what was sometimes referred to as a 'third dimension', namely units and centres within the University.

1973: The North Australia Research Unit (NARU) is established to facilitate research on north Australia.

1974: The Humanities Research Centre (HRC) is established as another important 'centre' in the University.

1976: After extended debate, a separate Women's Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts came into being.

1979: The School of General Studies formally renamed The Faculties.

1984: A new 2.3 metre telescope is opened at the Siding Spring Observatory, which was closely linked with the Department of Astronomy in the Research School of Physical Sciences.

1987: The University purchases a 'Fujitsu FACOM VP50 vector processor' and establishes the ANU Supercomputer Facility to house it.

1989: The ANU Graduate School is established, intended to coordinate graduate teaching and resources across the University and to provide greater cohesion between the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Faculties.

1991: The Research School of Physical Sciences becomes the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering (RSPSE).

1992: The Canberra Institute of the Arts, comprising the Canberra School of Music and the Canberra School of Art, amalgamates with the ANU.

1993: In the Faculties, a new Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology is established.

1994: In the Institute of Advanced Studies, the Research School of Information Sciences and Engineering (RSISE) is established. The Centre for Middle Eastern and Central Asia Sudies (from 1999, the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies) is established in the Faculty of Arts.

1996: ANU celebrates its 50th anniversary with a program of academic and social events.

1998: The University Archives is established. The Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories become the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA). The Asia Pacific School of Economics and Management (later Government) is established.

2001: In June the ANU Council announces a major restructure of University governance including the creation of Deputy Vice-Chancellors for Research and Education and the establishment of twelve virtual National Institutes: Arts, Asia and the Pacific, Bioscience, Economics and Business, Engineering and Information Sciences, Environment, Government and Law (later, Social Sciences and Law), Indigenous Australia, Health and Human Sciences, the Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences (later, Social Sciences and Law).

2003: The Mt Stromlo Observatory and the Weston research facilities are severely damaged by bushfires. The Medical School is accredited by the Australian Medical Council for the first intake of students in 2004. The National Institute of the Humanities and Creative Arts is established, bringing together the National Institutes of Arts and the Humanities. 

2004: The National Institute of the Arts (NITA) amalgamates with the Faculty of Arts.

2006: The formation of seven ANU Colleges, grouping together Research Schools, Faculties and Centres: Arts and Social Sciences (including a Research School of Humanities), Asia and Pacific Studies, Business and Economics, Engineering and Information Technology, Law, Medicine and Health Services, and Science.