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December 2006 Issue
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Jerzy Jaroslaw (George) Smolicz AM 1935-2006

 Obituary

Professor J J (George) Smolicz was a member of the Department of Education at the University of Adelaide for 39 years, the last 17 as Professor of Education. From his pioneering research into cultural and linguistic diversity in Australia, he developed a theory of multiculturalism which became the basis of policy for state and federal governments. He advocated that immigrants and their children should have the opportunity to contribute to Australian society by maintaining the core values of their home languages and cultures, while adopting overarching Australian values, such as the English language, democratic government, religious tolerance and the sharing of cultural diversity.

George's research and commitment to multiculturalism stemmed from his childhood experiences as a Polish refugee travelling though many countries. At the beginning of World War II, he and his family were deported from their home in eastern Poland. He and his mother were sent to a collective farm in Kazakhstan, his father to a concentration camp. When Russia joined the Allies, the family was freed and travelled through Central Asia, across the Caspian Sea to Persia. George's earliest education was in a Polish refugee school in Tehran. His primary schooling was in French, after the family moved to Beirut. At the end of the war, the family settled in the north of Scotland, rather than return to Communist Poland. Here George completed his secondary education in a new language, English. He went on to graduate with a PhD in Chemistry from Edinburgh University, followed by a Research Fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford.

In 1965, George was appointed Lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of Adelaide and began researching the experiences of minority ethnic children in Australian schools. The humanistic sociological approach he adopted made it evident that many children of minority cultural background deeply regretted that they were losing their home language because the school provided no opportunity for them to gain literacy in it. This also meant that Australian society was losing the language resources which immigrants brought into the country.

With his research students, he extended his investigations to include a wide range of ethnic groups and published the results in more than 230 book chapters and articles in leading academic journals in Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe. He elaborated the theory derived from this research in six books, as well as a number of shorter monographs. He also presented papers at international conferences in many parts of the world. His research and publication record led to his election as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (1976), his appointment to a Personal Chair in Education (1987), and the award of the inaugural UNESCO Linguapax Prize for research on language policy (2002).

George was also a member of a number of government committees and community organisations working to implement multicultural and languages education policy. He was a Senior Consultant on Multiculturalism to the Fraser government and in South Australia chaired the 1984 Task Force to Investigate Multiculturalism in Education. As a result of its recommendations, English plus another language became part of the education of all primary school children in this state and opportunities to study minority ethnic languages were extended. He was Chair of the Multicultural Education Committee for 20 years and Director of CISME, the University's Centre for Intercultural Studies and Multicultural Education for almost as long. In 1988 he was awarded an AM for his services to Australian multiculturalism.

For George, the focal point of life was his family. He cared devotedly for his parents and was deeply committed to the welfare and education of his children. His young grandchildren were one of the delights of his last years. He was a most loyal, generous and hospitable friend and always sought to include his friends in the family circle. His strong Catholic beliefs were reflected in his membership of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta.

He is survived by his daughter Camilla, his son Christopher, and two grandchildren, Jeremy and Olenka.

Contributed by Margaret Secombe and the Smolicz family

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Jerzy Jaroslaw (George) Smolicz AM 1935-2006

Jerzy Jaroslaw (George) Smolicz AM 1935-2006
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