Vale Emeritus Professor Colin Nettelbeck, FAHA (1938-2022)

Emeritus Professor Colin Nettelbeck, FAHA (1938-2022)
Emeritus Professor Colin Nettelbeck, FAHA (1938-2022)


It is with deep sadness that LCNAU announces that one of its most distinguished and greatly loved and respected members has passed away following a long illness. As members of an association that benefitted greatly from Colin’s outstanding leadership—a leadership characterised in equal measure by its strong sense of direction and its warmth, wit, wisdom and good humour—, we at LCNAU can understand in very many ways just how great will be his loss to Carol, to his children, Alexander, Jennifer and Bridget, to his grandchildren and his close-knit family, to whom we send our deep and most heartfelt condolences. However, to temper the acuteness of such a loss, we are also reassured that there will always be those spirit-lifting moments that come with reminiscing fondly on a good life generously and wisely lived.

And there is indeed much to remember from a life dominated by achievement, both personal and professional. It all began in Streaky Bay, South Australia, where Colin was born in 1938. He completed his secondary studies in Adelaide at Prince Alfred College and then enrolled in a BA at the University of Adelaide, graduating with First Class Honours. After obtaining a French government scholarship, he departed for France, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne and commenced the preparation of a doctorat d’université. It was at the Sorbonne that he met Carol, a fellow student, whom he married in 1963, before being awarded his doctorate in 1964, for his thesis on novelist Georges Bernanos. He and Carol then moved to the United States where Colin took up his first academic appointment at the University of California (Berkeley).

After returning to Australia, Colin spent over two decades at Monash University before his appointment to the inaugural A.R. Chisholm Chair of French at the University of Melbourne in 1994. He later became Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics and filled many senior Faculty and University roles before his retirement in 2005, after which he was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor.

During his academic career, he published widely on modern and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with his most noted publications including Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, Melbourne, 2004, Forever French: Exile in the United States 1939-1945, Oxford/New York, 1991, Patrick Modiano: pièces d’identité, Paris 1986 (with P. A. Hueston), Les Personnages de Bernanos romancier Paris 1970.

He co-founded the Institute for the Study of French Australian relations (ISFAR) in 1985, along with its journal, Explorations (now The French Australian Review). He made many and varied contributions to ISFAR from 1985 to 2000, including as its inaugural director and president. He took up the presidency again in 2011 and during this term he focused his attention on the research profile of the Institute, creating a dedicated Research Committee and the French Australian Dictionary of Biography, to which he was a major contributor.

Colin’s connection with LCNAU goes right back to its beginnings and stems from his long association with the issues around languages teaching and research that he pursued within the Australian Academy of the Humanities, to which he was elected as a Fellow in 1994. In 2003, he convened “Marking Our Difference: A Conference on Language Education in Australian and New Zealand Universities”, which proved to be a turning point, drawing in colleagues from different languages and cultures to work together for the greater good of the discipline. In collaboration with the Academy, he was part of the team that received grants to gather data on the state of beginners language courses in universities, and in 2011, he was a team leader for the grant received from the Australian Teaching and Learning Council (for the development of a tertiary languages teachers’ network). Following the establishment of LCNAU in 2012, he was a major contributor to the new committee’s work and to its publishing activities until he stepped down in 2016.

Finally, and not least of all his achievements let us recall that Colin is also a jazz pianist and jazz composer, a talent which he shared with his brother Ted, and his son Alexander, gifted jazz pianists all. His talents were not only well known to Melbourne jazz audiences, but he also performed on many occasions before those who assembled for French Jazz Nights at the Alliance Française de Melbourne.

The professional honours he received were many and varied, but all reflect his strong commitment to collective endeavour in the service of education. He was made a life member of LCNAU, ASFS, ISFAR and also of the Alliance Française de Melbourne, where he served as Vice-President and then President from 1977 to 1984. He was also President of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises en Australie. He was a former Vice-President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, an Officier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques, and a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. He was also awarded a Centenary Medal by the Australian Government.

Various prizes and awards have now been set up in his name by the associations with which he remained closely associated, and which will honour his memory in the tertiary languages sector in perpetuity. LCNAU created the Colin Nettelbeck Lecture, to be delivered for the first time in November 2022, ISFAR instituted a Colin Nettelbeck scholarship in 2021, while ASFS has recently awarded the inaugural Colin Nettelbeck Prize for postgraduate research and travel.

In this way, and in others, yet to be devised and imagined, we know that he will continue to bring his support to budding academics, and inspiration to his colleagues.

Vale Colin Nettelbeck, always one of our own and one of those we hold most dear.