photographer and anthropologist, was born on the family property, Cressbrook, at Toogolawah, Queensland, on 27 October 1888, fifth of the ten children of James Henry McConnel and Mary Elizabeth, née Kent, of Jondaryn on the Darling Downs. Her aunt Mary Bundock, later Mrs Murray-Prior (daughter of Ellen Bundock, q.v.), was a significant early collector of Aboriginal artefacts from the Richmond River district of New South Wales and may have encouraged Ursula in developing a professional interest in the Aboriginal people of Queensland.

After school at Somerville House, Brisbane and the New England Girls Grammar School, Armidale (NSW), Ursula went to London with her sister Beatrice. Both enrolled in non-matriculation courses in the Women’s Department of King’s College (1904-5). Deciding on a career instead of marriage, Ursula enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1913. After graduating BA with first class honours in 1918, she was appointed honorary demonstrator in the Philosophy Department where her brother-in-law, Elton Mayo, was professor. During this time she became interested in psychoanalysis, particularly dream symbolism, and through this was probably led to study anthropology. In 1922 she returned to London and enrolled as a PhD student in cultural anthropology at University College, London.

McConnel’s career as an anthropologist is well covered by O’Gorman. It began in 1926, when she abandoned her thesis and returned to Australia to commence fieldwork among Aboriginal Australians in North Queensland with Professor Radcliffe-Brown of Sydney University. She stayed at the Presbyterian Mission at Aurukun as the guest of Reverend William and Geraldine (Gerry) Mackenzie, the friends and helpers of Frances Derham . McConnel, however, was publicly critical of the mission, and as a result she and other anthropologists were banned from it. In 1930 she received a grant from the Australian National Research Council and went to Cairns. From there, she and her friend Margaret Spence returned on horseback to Cape York, despite mission opposition. Although she published scholarly articles in Oceania and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Yale in 1931, she was excluded from academic employment (which she bitterly resented) and denied a PhD on the grounds of insufficient publications. When research and fieldwork funding also dried up in the late 1930s, McConnel went into semi-retirement. She purchased a house at Eagle Heights (Qld) in the late 1940s and continued to write up her field data on the Wik-Mungkana for publication, producing her book, Myths of the Munkan , with help from her friend the poet Judith Wright, in the year of her death. She died in Brisbane on 6 November 1957.

Kerr, Joan
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