The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 30









List of papers








Article originally published in Online Currents December 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 

“Although individuals are no longer regarded as the main influence in the making of history, as was the fashion fifty and more years ago,”  DH Borchardt and Julie Marshall asserted in their 1988 essay Biography, “people have retained their curiosity about the lives of individual Australians of note.”

Who’s Who in Australia, the leaping off point for many wider business, historical and genealogical investigations, has served this curiosity for nearly a century.

First published in 1906 as Johns’s Notable Australians: Who They Are and What They Do, Fred Johns, the original compiler, set out to "issue a popular work affording a means of ready reference to the careers of notable living men and women …who have rendered signal service to Commonwealth and State, or have otherwise achieved distinction in national and individual activity."

Johns continued with the painstaking task of producing subsequent editions until the day of his death on 3 December 1932.  The name Who’s Who in Australia was adopted for the 7th edition of the work in 1927-28.  From 1935 to 1988 it was published by the Herald and Weekly Times.  A rival publication, also called Who’s Who in Australia, published by the International Press Service Association, was issued from 1922 to 1935.

Johns noted in the preface of the first edition that it consisted of “only verifiable facts, entirely free from eulogy or flattery, comment or expression of opinion…It never has been and never will be a medium to advertise any individual, his trade or profession, or one in which a person is allowed to gratify his vanity to spreading himself in print.”

Borchardt and Marshall note adherence to this policy in their 1988 essay.  “Of the numerous biographical directories that deal with the living…Who’s Who in Australia is the best known and most reliable.  A series of responsible editors has ensured, over the years, that the criteria for inclusion would measure up to a national consensus regarding the importance of those listed.  Data are supplied on a standardised form by those included and there seems to be some check on details.”

The current publisher, Crown Content, has now launched an online version called Who’s Who in Australia Live! (WWIA), along with an online companion, Who’s Who in Business in Australia (WWIB), following CD ROM versions of both titles produced in the last few years.  Crown Content also publishes print and online versions of Margaret Gee’s Australian Media Guide, Directory of Australian Associations, National Guide to Government, The Australian Local Government Guide, and the print and email newsletters Occupational Health & Safety Bulletin, Benchmarking HR, Environmental Science Update, Business Law Update, Chartac Accountancy News, Inside Canberra, Leadership Letter and The Business Improver.


In the early editions of the work Johns acknowledged the difficulty of making selections. “To pretend that it is perfect in perspective would be to claim the impossible.”

The honour role in the early editions included names now firmly etched in our national memory: Jules Archibald, Julian Ashton, George Coppin, Alfred Dampier, George Darrell, Henry Lawson, Madame Melba, JC Williamson, Nellie Stewart and Ethel Turner.  Sports men and women, however, were notable omissions.  “I should have liked to include our notable cricketers” Johns wrote, “but the domain of athletics has not been entered…in view of fleeting popularity and for fear of invidious distinctions.”

WWIA no longer baulks at gladiators and it now includes the likes of Robert Allenby, Aaron Baddeley, Cathy Freeman, Brad Fittler, John Eales, Leighton Hewitt, Wally Massur, Ken Rosewell, Sarah Fitz-Gerald, Sir Jack Brabham, Richie Benaud, Neil Harvey, Keith Miller, Ian Thorpe and Lionel Rose.  Aboriginal leaders and artists include Galarrway and Mandawuy Yunupingu.  Business is represented by the likes of John Singleton, James Wolfensohn, Kerry Packer and Rodney Adler.  Journalists and broadcasters include Phillip Adams, Piers Akerman, Paul Barry, Maxine McKew, Paul McGeogh, Ray Martin and Kerry O’Brien.  The arts and entertainment community is represented by, among others, Tina Arena, Robyn Archer, Margreta Elkins, Tommy Tycho, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Rachel Griffiths, Simone Young, Billy Thorpe and Jimmy Barnes.

It is easier to be notable in 2003.  Out of 20 million living Australians, about 13,000 – 0.065% - now appear in Who’s Who in Australia.  The 1906 edition, beginning with an entry for William Abbott of Murrilla, Wingen, President of the Pastoralists Union of NSW, included about 2000 people – or 0.005% of the population.  WWIA says it remains faithful to Fred Johns's vision of representing "the personality of a potent nation in the making."  The selection panel takes into account positions of leadership, noteworthy achievement in the creative and sports arenas, and contributions to the Australian community.  

Omissions can generally be attributed to the fact that some people prefer not to be included (a request that is sometimes overridden by the selection panel) or because the task of drawing the line is a tall order.  There’s an entry for Murray Rose, but not John Konrads.  One-Tel’s Jodee Rich is included, but not HIH’s Ray Williams.  Sue Masters appears as part of the media contingent, but not her siblings Chris Masters and Roy Masters; Peter FitzSimons, Alan Ramsey and Paul Kelly are also absent.  There’s an entry for Sydney Symphony principal cellist Nathan Waks, but not its past and present concertmasters, John Harding, Michael Dauth and Dene Olding.


The WWIA offers four search options: People Search, Full Text Search (on any part of the biography), Variable Search (with Boolean operators), and Education Search (on the education field of every biography).

The use of People Search generally leads to the person you are seeking, although apparent omissions sometimes compel experimentation.  Clive James, for example, does not attract a hit using People Search and Full Text Search, but ‘James, (Clive) Vivian Leopold’ is retrieved using Variable Text Search.  The same difficulty occurs with ‘Norman, (Greg) Gregory’, ‘Gosper (Kevan) Richard Kevan’ and ‘Greig (Tony) Anthony William’.  Crown Content is planning to address this glitch before the year is out.

If you want to find names associated with particular themes, occupations and other concepts, WWIA does not provide the range of choice offered by, say, Marquis’ Who’s Who on the Web, which has 13 search criteria, including last name, first name, middle name, city of mailing list, occupation, gender, age, geography, college and university, degrees, year of graduation, hobbies and interests, political affiliation, religion, and keyword search.

However, you can work around this limitation by using the full text or variable search options in WWIA, an approach that sometimes produces unexpected results.

The word ‘librarian’ in the full text option produces nearly 70 names, including those no longer earning an income from the profession – such as Rhonda Bignall (CEO, St John’s Ambulance), Alison Crook (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Resources, Monash University), Neville Davis (Surgeon), Janet Turner Hospital (author), and Judy Maddigan (Speaker Victorian Legislative Assembly).  The word ‘information’ produces 130 hits, including retired Sydney University Librarian Harrison Bryan and the gardener, Don Burke.  A search on ‘journalist’ produces about 40 hits, including Paul Barry, Ita Buttrose, Jennifer Byrne, Ian Chappell, Max Cullen, David Marr, Ray Martin, Molly Meldrum, John Pilger, Steve Price, Bud Tingwell, Jim Whaley and Michael Willessee.  Maxine McKew and PP McGuinness, however, appear in a list of writers, not the list of journalists.

If you are organising a talk on the subject ‘beauty’, why not invite those apparently connected to this term in WWIA - Richard Bonynge, Ita Buttrose, Hugh Jackman, Clive James, Bert Newton, Toni Lamond and Stan Zemanek?

There is currently no browse option.


Biographical entries consist of the familiar elements: name, honours, educational qualifications, career highlights, family details, publications, awards, committees, recreation and hobbies.

The length of the entries varies considerably, based on the achievements and preferences of the subject, among other factors.  Ian Thorpe, possibly the youngest entry, has what appears to be the longest entry of about 70 lines.  Gough Whitlam, with a string of foreign awards like the Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy and the Greek Grand Commander of the Order of Honour, occupies double the space of both Paul Keating and John Howard, who have about 20 lines.  Pat Dodson has five lines.

Off-duty preoccupations give hints on personality.  In WWIA, we find that Michael Kirby’s recreation is work, Paul Keating relaxes by swimming as well as listening to Mahler, John Pilger satisfies himself by ‘swimming, sunning, reading and mulling’, while Pat Dodson, Mick Dodson and Gough Whitlam have no apparent recreations.  If you are feeling the need for a fishing or golfing partner, WWIA will produce a long list of prospects.

The new field of work ethic complements career highlights.  Composer George Dreyfus’s motto is “life is too serious to be taken seriously.”  Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Prue Goward, works on the assumption that “if you make a rational case you can’t lose.”  AMA past president Kerryn Phelps urges us to take risk: “feel the fear and do it anyway.”  Director of Learning at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London, Cheryl Kernot, says “structural reforms are the most meaningful.” And artist, poet and playwright, Rod Milgate, operates on the sensory: “in art as in life, an awareness of the intense and undeniable interrelationship of things.”

Photographs have also been introduced.  There are just over 1,000 photographs at present.  John Howard, Mark Latham, Russell Crowe, Rachel Griffiths and Roger Woodward have one, but Paul Keating and Bob Hawke don’t.  Crown Content says that everyone in Who's Who in Australia has been invited to send in a photo. New ones are added every week.  It expects to ask people featured in Who's Who in Business to submit their photographs soon.

Given the reputation of WWIA and its method of compilation, we can assume that errors are minimal.  One of the few appears in the entry for Jørn Utzon, which gives the dates of his first association with the Sydney Opera House as 1957-1973 instead of 1957-1966 and does not yet acknowledge Utzon’s new contract with Sydney Opera House beginning in 1999. Crown Content has already taken steps to rectify this.

Who’s Who in Business in Australia

WWIB has over 24,000 biographies, 8,000 companies and listings of 12,000 key staff.

Company entries include, when known, contact details, company and Australian business numbers, Internet address, bankers, auditors, solicitors, insurers, number of staff, turnover, trading and brand names, parent company, activities and key staff.

Entries on individuals are in the same format as those appearing in WWIA, although the level of detail in many entries, for obvious reasons, tends to be more sketchy.

WWIB has extra search features, including searches by company, people, category, full text, variable text, education and company activities.

A list of 450 categories serves as a guide to the range of companies in the directory and to current gaps in particular sectors.  The structure and terminology of the categories list need more work.  The arts, for example, are represented by several alphabetically separated categories - architecture (3), arts (12), creative arts (2 entries), performing art venues (1), and services to the arts (20), - a small proportion of companies in the sector.  The 20 companies listed in Services to the Arts include the Victorian Arts Centre, but not the Sydney Opera House.  There’s one library listed under ‘Libraries’ (National Library of Australia), one organisation under ‘Libraries, Archives and Museums’ (Art Exhibitions Australia) and 5 entries under ‘Museums’ (Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Australian National Maritime Museum, Australian War Memorial, Museum Victoria and National Museum of Australia).

Over 200 business and professional associations are listed, including the Victorian Wine Industry Association, Australian Bankers Association, Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Association, the Hop Growers Association of Victoria and the Australian Information Industry Association, but not the Australian Library and Information Association.

WWIA intends minimising this patchiness by increasing the number of companies from 8000 to 17,000.


WWIA costs $495, including GST, for a single user subscription within Australia and up to $845 for a 5 user licence. An ‘IP office access’ subscription, allowing unlimited users per site, is $995 and an ‘IP library access’ is for $495. The hard copy sells for $195.

WWIB costs $995 for a single user and up to $1995 for 5 user access and IP office access of $1995. An IP library access subscription is $995. The hard copy, in two volumes, sells for $395.


The online versions of WWIA and WWIB give extra value to organisations with limited shelf space and in need of superior search options.  Some financially impaired libraries will continue to be satisfied by the cheaper printed editions.  The online marketplace is shaped by back file building, expanded linking, integration, simplified access points, customised packages, partnerships, mergers and budgetary pressures.  Based on a glance at other online biographical products, future value, online possibilities and commercial prospects for WWIA would appear to revolve around the following issues.

Inclusion of more people

Self-nominating products like the Web-based International Who’s Who, published by Who’s Who Historical Society on behalf of 70,000 members, are built on a strategy of maximising  membership in exchange for an online listing and other benefits.  Who’s Who in Australia has a different purpose and a reputation based on selectivity.  Although the online environment helps overcome the limitations of the print format, provides flexible ways of manipulating information and encourages fresh thinking, Crown Content has no current plans to substantially increase the number of entries in WWIA.  Information on more people is likely to be produced from the way it packages WWIA with Who’s Who in Business in Australia and its other products.

Inclusion of dead people

Europa’s International Who's Who provides the lead on the retention of entries for deceased people in the form of its online obituary section.  The inclusion of such entries in WWIA would certainly add value to the product and increase the attraction to the online version without increasing the effort required to maintain and develop it.  Although Crown Content intends making available an archive of some 13,000 additional biographies from WWIA editions published since 1990, it seems unlikely that they will add entries from earlier decades.  It is doubtful that an investment in retrospective conversion would increase sales. Moreover, it is anticipated that the Australian Dictionary of Biography will cater for this type of interest when the ANU makes it available on the Internet as a free relational database at the end of 2004.

Adding other features

Some biographical sources - such as American National Biography Online and Gale online biographical online titles - have links to archival and library sources, magazine and newspaper articles, bibliographic citations, and internal hypertext links. The Australian Dictionary of Biography has off-line links to a biographical register containing references to an expanding list of over 300,000 individuals and is planning links to PictureAustralia, the National Bibliographical Database, the Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts, Australian Public Affairs Full Text and the Australian Literature Gateway.

Who’s Who [in the UK] is included in Xreferplus’s integrated digital library of 120 books from 23 publishers. Marquis’ Who’s Who on the Web offers simplified access to its 20 titles and 1 million biographies published in Who’s Who in America, Who Was Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, and its suite of similar publications.

Crown Content intends adding Australian protocol procedures to the information already available in WWIA on the Australian honours system, order of precedence, Nobel Prize winners, Australian and State Government ministers, judges, ACTU officers, foreign diplomatic corps in Australia, Australian representatives abroad, and Order of Australia recipients.

Otherwise, it has no immediate plans to add other features.  There is probably little to be gained from packaging its suite of products with those of another publisher or system vendor.  Stronger business incentive may come from the provision of Web-enabled single step searching across Crown Content’s full range of directories and newsletters and for packaging its online access to meet a range of business and library situations and budgets.


  • Borchardt, DH and Marshall, Julie. Biography in Australians: A guide to Sources;

  • Broadway, NSW: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, 1987 (pp 153-160).

  • Email correspondence with Peter Conway and Ben Graham, Crown Content, October 2003. 

  • American National Biography Online

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Crown Content

  • International Who’s Who (published by Europa)

  • International Who’s Who (published by Who’s Who Historical Society)

  • Marquis Who’s Who on the Web. <>

  • Who’s Who in Australia


 About usWhat's newSite map | Searching  | Managing  | Learning  |  Library |  Research 

  Contact us | Home  

© 2004 The Wolanski Foundation Project

 Email web manager.  URL:

Page last updated: 14 February 2004