Australian Biography: Professor Helen Hughes


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1996, 26 Minutes

Economist and academic, Professor Helen Hughes was well-known for her strong opinions and was pleased to consider herself a “stirrer” and “boat-rocker”.

Helen was born into a Jewish family of social democrats in a small town in Czech-Bohemia. As a child she witnessed Hitler’s rise to power, watching the German tanks roll into Prague in 1939. Realising they would not survive the Nazis, members of her family bribed an SS officer to provide them with an exit visa. They escaped across the border and in July 1939 arrived in Australia, where they settled in North Brighton, a suburb of Melbourne.  

After Helen’s father died, her mother supported her studies at Melbourne University, where she received an MA (Hons) in 1951. Her dissertation on the history of the Australian steel industry was later published as her first book. She completed her PhD at the London School of Economics, then worked as a lecturer in Economics both at the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland. In 1969 Hughes joined The World Bank, where she rose to the position of Director, Economic Analysis Department (1976-1983).

Professor Hughes returned to Australia to set up the Australian National University’s Development Studies Centre at the Research School of Pacific Studies, where from 1983-1993 she served as both Professor of Economics and Executive Director. After retiring from the ANU, she created the Full Employment Project, through the University of Melbourne. Professor Hughes wrote many books, including Achieving Full Employment, Full Employment Project (1994).

In 1985 Hughes presented the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Boyer Lectures on 'Australia in a Developing World'. During the course of her career she travelled widely, addressing many international conferences and working with the world’s leading economists.

Professor Hughes received many awards throughout her working life, including an Officer of the Order of Australia award (1985) for service to international relations, particularly in the field of economics.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

NB The Australian Biography series (1-11) are only available for sale within the territories of Australia and New Zealand.



Year: 1996

Running Time: 26 Minutes

Classification: G

Curriculum Links: Work and Business Studies (employment relations, ethical and legal issues); Economics; Finance; Globalisation; Economic and Social Research; Public Health; Social Policy; SOSE; Women in Leadership.


Steel City

SKU 199400903
Brand Film Australia

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