When Dr. Dorothy Hill enrolled at the University of Queensland she intended to study chemistry, only taking geology as an elective–this choice would soon be the driving force of much of her distinguished career.
Graduating with a First Class Honours degree in Geology in 1928 she became the first woman to be awarded the University’s Gold Medal for Outstanding Merit. Staying on at the school as a fellow working on her Masters of Science, she conducted research on the stratigraphy of shales around the town of Esk. Stratigraphy is a branch of geology that studies the strata, or rock layers, and stratification that is used to help determine the time relationships between the layers and correlating units of the sequence with rock strata elsewhere. She also began collecting coral fossils at this time–finding them in the local limestone far from the current coastline.
Receiving scholarships and fellowships, Hill traveled to Cambridge to work on doctoral studies and she explored her hypothesis based on the fossil corals she had collected that Australia had once been covered from north to south by an inland sea. While in England she published important papers trying to systemize the terminology for describing the structure and morphology of Rugose corals. Returning, she undertook the daunting task of dating the limestone coral faunas of Australia and using them to outline wide-ranging stratigraphy. She produced papers on the coral faunas of much of the continent and her work on coral set the worldwide standard.
During World War II, she joined the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service where her first assignment involved checking to see if mines had exploded, but with more training she began doing cipher work and coding earning the rank of 2nd operations officer in the division.
After the war she returned to UQ as a lecturer and would be promoted many time until being named a full professor in 1960. Eleven years later she would be named President of the Professorial Board of the University of Queensland, the first woman to be so recognized.
Written by Angela Goad