Douglas Pike was the founding editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Douglas Pike was the founding editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Prime Ministers, actors and thieves

For half a century, the most important people in Australia's history have been charted through innovative and influential volumes of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB).

Whether you're a prime minister, an actor, an historian, an anthropologist or a criminal, if you made an important impact on Australia's national psyche, your story will be in the ADB.

And more than 60 million hits a year on its website shows these are stories people are interested in.

Scholars and authors across the country collaborate with the ADB, based at the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, to write concise, informative, and fascinating descriptions of people's lives.

More than 13,000 lives have been charted so far, says ADB General Editor Professor Melanie Nolan.

"Its beginnings go back to 1954 when a Biographical Register was started in the ANU history department," Nolan says.

"Biographical information on thousands of people was systematically recorded on catalogue cards. By the early 1980s, that register contained more than 300,000 citations.

"This paper database was the hub of the project; the main source for working parties when choosing subjects for inclusion in the ADB."