NT education and arts communities mourn loss of pioneer 

Nan Giese in 2011 at the opening of the student art gallery, which was named in her honour, on CDU’s Casuarina campus
Charles Darwin University was saddened by the passing this week of one of the great champions of education and the arts in the Northern Territory, Nancy (Nan) Giese AO OBE MBE Doctor of Education, honoris causa.

Mrs Giese, who was aged 90, had a pivotal role in carving out of the Top End’s harsh environment a community that had access to higher education and a vibrant cultural life.

The Vice-Chancellor of CDU, Professor Barney Glover, said Mrs Giese had been relentless for almost 60 years in working for a better, stronger Territory.

“From the time she arrived in Darwin in 1954 Nan was dedicated to building our community and she achieved an enormous amount for the people of the NT,” Professor Glover said.

“Nan spent almost six decades working tirelessly as a pioneering spirit in a fledgling community. It is the framework she contributed to building on which Darwin has flourished.”

Mrs Giese was a member of the founding committee and later President of the Arts Council of the NT, a founding committee member of the Museums and Art Galleries Board NT, a member of the Darwin Hospital Advisory Board, President of the National Council of Women NT, committee member and later Director of the Darwin Performing Arts Centre Board, and Federal Vice-President of the Australia Council for the Arts.

But perhaps the former teacher’s most significant contributions were in the field of education.

When she arrived in Darwin, Mrs Giese found that the residents were forced to send their children to southern or eastern states to complete their schooling to matriculation level. At the time Darwin was also without any higher education facilities.

She saw that the lack of education opportunities on the ground in Darwin was forcing many of the Territory’s best and brightest to leave and perhaps never to return.

As a result she became deeply involved in establishing and growing an education sector in Darwin. Mrs Giese was a committee member of the Darwin Community College and a member of its Interim Council, Chair of the Darwin Community College Council, and Commissioner of the NT Vocational Training Commission.

Importantly, following a period as Chair of the Council of the Darwin Institute of Technology in the 1980s, Mrs Giese was appointed the inaugural Deputy Chancellor of the Northern Territory University. In 1993 she succeeded The Hon Austin Asche AO to become the second Chancellor of the Northern Territory University (which became Charles Darwin University in 2003). She served as Chancellor for 10 years. During this period of development of the Territory’s new university she was instrumental in guiding the establishment of the university’s extensive art collection and fostering its musical life, among many other achievements.

Mrs Giese was also Chair of the University Foundation that raised funds for research and teaching projects. In 2009 the University Council bestowed upon her the title Emeritus Chancellor in recognition of her long service in university governance.

 The extent of her contributions to the Northern Territory are also reflected in the honours she received:
In 1970 Mrs Giese was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, in 1977 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, in 1997 appointed Officer of the Order of Australia, in 2003 received the Centenary Medal and the Administrator’s Medal, and in 2004 was awarded a Doctor of Education, honoris causa from the university.

“Nan remained vitally involved in the life of the university right up until her unexpected death this week. There are very few people who could match her in terms of dedication to creating a strong community in the Territory,” Professor Glover said.

“She not only was a person who has left an invaluable legacy for this community, but was also a truly delightful woman and an inspiration to so many. She will be deeply missed.”

Professor Glover said the university would in the near future consider the most appropriate way to recognise the enormous contribution of Nan Giese. The student art gallery on the Casuarina campus of the university is already named in her honour.