Collection UQFL489 - Caroline Kelly Papers

Identity area

Reference code



Caroline Kelly Papers


  • ca. 1900-1987 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

11 boxes, 3 albums, 1 parcel

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Emily Caroline Watson was born in Manchester in 1899, she moved to Australia in the 1920s and became involved in the theatre, first in Brisbane and then in Sydney. During this time, she used her mother's maiden name and was known as Carrie Tennant. In 1929, Caroline married Francis Kelly and took his surname. She founded the Community Playhouse, the first theatre in New South Wales devoted to producing Australian drama, in 1929, followed by the Play Society in 1931. She edited The Community Magazine: Official Magazine of the Community Play-house from 1930 to 1931. In the 1930s she enrolled in a Diploma in Anthropology at the University of Sydney and went on to conduct anthropological fieldwork in Aboriginal communities at Fraser Island and Cherbourg in Queensland and at Burnt Bridge in New South Wales. During the Second World War she began a major survey of non-British settlement in Australia for the Commonwealth Government, a project that continued until the late 1940s. Towards the end of her working life, she served as a consulting anthropologist to the State Planning Authority of New South Wales. Caroline Kelly died on 1 September 1989 in Kyogle.

Archival history

When Caroline Kelly died in 1989 in northern New South Wales, her personal papers passed into the hands of her friends Grahame and Stephanie Gooding, who recognised their potential value as historical records and carefully preserved them until 2010. In that year, Kim de Rijke and Anthony Jefferies, two postgraduate students in anthropology at the University of Queensland who were researching Caroline Kelly and her work, advertised in local NSW newspapers seeking anyone who might have known her or have records pertaining to her work. The Goodings responded to their advertisement and gave the papers into their custody. The two postgraduate students contacted James Kelly, Caroline Kelly's son, and told him of the discovery of the papers, of whose existence he was previously unaware. He agreed that the papers should be donated to Fryer Library, which holds an earlier collection of his mother's papers dealing with her theatrical career in Sydney (see UQFL52). Fryer Library is grateful to all three parties involved for allowing this unique and historically important collection to be added to its holdings.
Collection previously titled as: Papers, 1909-1987
Collection alternatively titled as: Caroline Kelly Collection

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited by University of Queensland anthropology graduate students, Kim de Rijke and Anthony Jefferies. Donated by James Kelly.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Personal and professional papers of Caroline Kelly, including correspondence; financial and legal papers; unpublished poetry and stories; theatre records and publications; anthropology field notes, reports and articles; photographs and newspaper cuttings.

Content advice: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are warned that this resource may contain images, transcripts or names of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples now deceased. It may also contain historically and culturally sensitive words, terms, and descriptions.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Arranged into seven series:
Series A - Correspondence.
Series B - Financial and legal papers.
Series C - Other personal papers.
Series D - Theatre papers.
Series E - Anthropology papers.
Series F - Newspaper cuttings.
Series G - Photographs.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Unrestricted access, except Series G Sub-series 3, which contains fragile glass slides; and one handwritten letter in Series E File 19.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright applies. Contact the Fryer Library.

Language of material

  • Australian Language
  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Please refer to Series E - Anthropology Papers, to view the various Aboriginal languages recorded in this collection.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A published guide, as a CD-ROM, to the anthropological material held in this collection was compiled by the University of Queensland Anthropology School prior to donation to Fryer Library:
Kelly, Caroline; Trigger, David S., et al. (2011). The Caroline Tennant-Kelly ethnographic collection : fieldwork accounts of Aboriginal culture in the 1930s. University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For material related to Caroline Kelly's theatrical work, see the Carrie Tennant Papers, UQFL52

Related descriptions

Notes area


Material in this collection may contain culturally sensitive words or descriptions.
This material contains culturally sensitive depictions of Indigenous people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are warned that photographic works may contain images of people now deceased.


In different periods of her life Caroline Kelly was also known as Caroline Watson, Caroline Tennant-Watson, Caroline Tennant, Carrie Tennant or Caroline Tennant Kelly. To avoid confusion Kelly is used throughout this collection description. It was her legal name from 1929 and her preferred public name from 1937.

Alternative identifier(s)

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Description control area

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Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Revised, MSB, 13-Jul-2023.
Revised, Linda Justo, 19-Jun-2023.
Revised, SJB, 18-Nov-2022.
Revised, Linda Justo, 15-Feb-2022. Revised, AM, 19-May-2020.
Migrated from LMS: April 2019, P.A.




Accession area

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Physical storage

  • Box: UQFL489 Box 1
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 2
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 3
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 4
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 5
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 6
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 7
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 8
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 9
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 10
  • Box: UQFL489 Box 11
  • Album: UQFL489 Album 1
  • Album: UQFL489 Album 2
  • Album: UQFL489 Album 3
  • Parcel: UQFL489 Parcel 1