Fry, Dr Henry Kenneth

Archive Collections / Fry, Dr Henry Kenneth
Born : 25 May, 1886
Died : 22 July, 1959

Henry Kenneth Fry, anthropologist and medical practitioner, was born on 25 May 1886 in North Adelaide, fourth child of Henry Thomas Fry, Warehouseman, and his wife Margaret hannah, nee Phillips. Kenneth was educated at Prince Alfred College and the University of Adelaide (BSc 1905; MB, BS 1908; MD 1934); as South Australian Rhodes scholar for 1908, he proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, where in 1912 he obtained another BSc and diplomas in public health and anthropology. Next year he succeeded Herbert Basedow as chief medical inspector of Aborigines, based in Darwin. Fry made several trips to remote localities to assess Aboriginal health. He kept a journal of his expedition to Melville and Bathurst Islands in which he described a Tiwi pukumani burial ceremony; in 1914 he sent thirty-four ethnographic objects, including a canoe and four burial poles, to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Appointed captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 20 August 1914, Fry sailed for the Middle East with the 3rd Field Ambulance. He was at Gallipoli in 1915 before being sent to France in March 1916 as deputy assistant director of medical services, 2nd Division. For supervising the evacuation of the wounded while under constant shell fire at Pozieres and Sausage Valley in July-August, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In October 1917 he was promoted lieutenant colonel and given command of the 13th Field Ambulance. Returning to Adelaide, on 21 October 1918 he married Dorothy Editha Deeley with Anglican rites at the Church of the Epiphany, Crafers. By January 1919 he was back in France as temporary colonel and ADMS, 6th Division. His AIF appointment terminated on 26 December. He was thrice mentioned in dispatches.

At Eastwood, Adelaide, Fry established a private practice in a house of his own design which incorporated a surgery, laboratory and one of the first X-ray units in the state. From 1920 he lectured in materia medica and therapeutics in the neurology department at the University. He was also an honorary physician at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and an official visitor to Parkside Mental Hospital. A member and president of the Royal Society of South Australia, he was a founding fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. With Archibald Watson (see AA 354), Sir John Cleland (see AA 60), Robert Pulleine (see AA 259), Frederic Wood Jones (see AA 379) and Thomas Draper Campbell (see AA 52), Fry had formed the Board for Anthropological Research (BAR, see AA 346) in 1925.

In August 1929, at the height of a major drought, he travelled by train to Alice Springs and, at Hermannsburg, joined the board's fifth expedition to Central Australia. Medical members of the team successfully treated the Aborigines for scurvy and received tribal status which facilitated their future research in the region. Fry assisted the ethnologist Dr Norman Tindale (see AA 338) in taking unique film records and in gathering sociological data, and conducted psychological and sensory tests. He devised a succinct but flexible framework to record Aboriginal classificatory kinship systems. Termed the Fry Framework by Tindale, it enabled the documentation of varying kinship structures across Aboriginal Australia. Tindale's Fry Frameworks for two hundred Aboriginal groups are held in the South Australian Museum, as are Fry's anthropological notebooks. Fry accompanied the board's expeditions to MacDonald Downs 1930, Cockatoo Creek 1931, Mt Liebig 1932, Ernabella 1933, Diamantina 1934, the Granites 1936 and Nepabunna 1937. In the 1930s he also helped Tindale to record Aboriginal sites on the Coorong with the Tangane elder, Milerum.
The first Oxford trained anthropologist to work in Australia, in 1930-57 Fry published over twenty scientific papers on Aboriginal Kinship, psychology and mythology. In London in 1931 he lectured to the Royal Anthropological Insitute and in Great Britain and Ireland. His contributions to Oceania impressed AP Elkin (see AA 86) who in 1935 urged the Federal minister for the interior, Thomas Paterson to appoint Fry as a medical anthropologist to the Aborigines of Central Australia. Fry decided, however, that he could not work under CE Cook, the chief protector of Aborigines then in Darwin.

From 1938 Fry was a part time public health officer for the City of Adelaide; soon after taking up his post, he formulated plans for the mass radiological examination of South Australians. In 1937 he had moved to Crafers in the Adelaide Hills where he devoted much of his time to the care of a reserve native vegetation which now bears his name. The clear skies enabled him to pursue his hobby of astronomy. He continued to write about Aborigines and in 1951 joined the last of the board's major expeditions, to Yuendumu in Central Australia. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 22 July 1959 at Stirling and was cremated.

Previously Accessions: AD57.

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