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The ANU Ageing and the Family Project was one of several sizeable research projects which moved Australian gerontology beyond earlier pioneering studies primarily on older clients and other specialised samples. The ANU Project - and related studies by the Australian Council on the Ageing and the Department of Community Services (1985), and the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (I986) - reflected the priority in the early 1980s for knowledge on older people living in the community. These studies paralleled investigations on residential care policies by the National Research Institute of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, community care by the Social Welfare Research Centre, and a number of other inquiries by small teams and individuals (National Research Institute of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, 1987). The ANU Project also was part of the international development of life span perspectives and ‘multiple method studies of ageing and families. The Ageing and the Family Project was initiated and primarily funded from within the ANU Research School of Social Sciences. Foreshadowing many of the recent developments under the ‘Dawkins’ plan for tertiary education, the Research School in 1978 undertook to establish several multidisciplinary research projects on applied topics of national importance and of relevance to policy.
The Ageing and the Family Project, one of the first of these School initiatives, commenced in 1980 with the appointment of two and a half academic staff and internal and external advisory committees. The Project was established initially for a three to five year period and was completed in 1986. The first objective in the Project’s research agenda was to fill major gaps in knowledge about the diverse social situations of older people and processes of ageing in Australia. A second objective was to apply findings to the broader development of gerontology and social and health policies. Both priorities required that the research effort be coordinated with other researchers, service providers, and the very few educational programmes in gerontology at the time. The emphasis of ANU-funded posts was on basic research in social gerontology while visitors supported with outside funding contributed more to research on 26 services and policies. Approximately a third of the funding was obtained from grants, contracts, and fellowships provided principally by agencies of the Commonwealth government. External sources of support were pursued when they contributed to research within the scope of the Project’s academic agenda. The Project’s staffing recognised that ageing is a multi-faceted experience which is best understood from the perspective of multiple disciplines and professions. The staff included sociologists, a gerontologist, demographers, psychologists, an anthropologist, an economist, and a political scientist. The understanding of services and the professions was aided by the involvement of social workers, an urban planner, a geriatrician, a nurse, and a lawyer. At any one time, there was an average of five researchers from these diverse fields. Exchanges between these people broadened disciplinary and professional horizons and focussed them on the field of ageing. This interaction increased appreciation of the interdependency between health conditions, social and economic aspects of ageing, and public policies - all of which often are studied separately. A purposeful and integrated research program requires common organising topics and themes. While the investigations ranged widely, the primary research topics addressed the social integration and support of older people through a variety of social institutions ranging from intimate family ties through to the public sector. The development of common questions and vocabulary enabled the project team to inter-relate diverse aspects of ageing and care of older people. This helped in viewing the aged as ‘whole people’ with pasts and futures, instead of as ‘one-off research subjects, clients, and patients. The Ageing and the Family Project aimed to make a specific research contribution appropriate to the priorities for Australian gerontology in the early 1980s. Hal Kendig was director of the project supported by a team which built on the contributions of many individuals. Diane Gibson and Don Rowland played a particularly significant part in setting the research agenda and in serving as Co-Principal Investigators on the 1981 Survey of the Aged In Sydney. John McCallum took on similar leadership responsibilities in policy reviews and the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health (NCEPH) follow-up survey. A more detailed account of staff and their contributions is provided in the Ageing and the Family Project Final Report (1986).