It was a shock, but in some senses not really a surprise, to hear that Fabian Hutchinson had died of an asthma attack in Darwin in August. Fabian had been working as the contract archivist for the Central Lands Council since 1991 and had become deeply committed to helping that community develop records management and archival systems that would enable them to function efficiently and effectively. His knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the issues surrounding the meshing of established archival practice and the needs of the Aboriginal community had brought him to the fore in this field. However, his archival work spanned many other areas including science, technology and medicine.
Fabian was born in Tasmania in 1950. He was diminutive, almost frail, in appearance but with wispy jet black hair and a bubbling enthusiasm that more than compensated for his physique. I know little of childhood, which I assume was spent in Tasmania, but his tertiary education brought him to the University of Melbourne where he graduated, BA (Hons.), in Australian history in 1979, including studies in magic and witchcraft. During his studies he worked on the Local History Project at the City of South Melbourne (1976-80) developing resource kits, indexes and conducting interviews. He resigned this position to move to England where he studied for the Graduate Diploma of Archives Administration at the University of London which he completed in 1981.
On his return to Australia Fabian embarked on his extraordinary archival career which was characterised by the short-term or temporary nature of the projects he took on. I never questioned him closely on this but it was clearly a choice that he had taken consciously. As he himself noted:
I enjoy project-based work (and, ... I've committed myself to limited-term development work, as I believe that it is most important in the Australian contexts).His list of completed projects includes: the Janet Clarke Hall archive, University of Melbourne (1990); Kingdom of Tonga, archives and library development (1990); UNESCO: Pacific Archives in Australia (published on microfiche, 1989); Australian Physiotherapists' Association, feasibility study and archives report (1988-89); City of Fitzroy part-time archival consultant (1987-88); Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria, project archivist employed by the Australian Science Archives Project (1986-87); University of Melbourne, research bibliographer (1984-86);Deakin University. foundation archivist (1983-84); CBA (Victorian Bank), foundation archivist (1981-83); and the ANA Friendly Society, archival consultant and researcher (1981).
In 1992, Fabian took leave from the Central Lands Council to spend a year or so in Canberra pulling together the various strands that went to make up the AIDS Education Documentation Project. His natural zeal not only enabled him to complete the task in front of him but to consider the broader issues that came out of the project and seek solutions that brought in archivists from around the country in a cooperative way. Fabian always looked beyond parochial issues to the bigger picture and was never possessive of the archives or information he handled. He epitomised the archivist as the servant of the wider community, indeed, as seen in his work for UNESCO, he took a global view of his archival responsibilities. Perhaps this is why he always had a soft spot for the records of science and medicine, which have value beyond geographic boundaries and are of interest to researchers all over the world.
Fabian has left a significant legacy, which for the ASAP includes a detailed guide to the E.V. Keogh personal collection and the archives (still going strong) of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria. In the two months before he died he was in the process of formulating plans to set up a cooperative venture with ASAP to establish an archive to preserve and make accessible records dealing with health and medicine in Central Australia - as always he was a ferment of ideas and plans.
I will miss Fabian and he will be missed by many others at the archival and records management conferences which he attended regularly. However, he will be appreciated by countless researchers in the future who will use the records he has helped to preserve.
- Gavan McCarthy, Australian Science Archives Project