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The story behind the Coral Thomas Fellowship

The Foundation works with partners to create new fellowships and scholarships.

The Coral Thomas Fellowship is a prestigious new research Fellowship offered through the NSW State Library. It came about through a very generous endowment of one million dollars made by the President of the Library Council, Rob Thomas AM, his wife Kyrenia Thomas and the Thomas family.

This financial gift to the Library honours Coral Kirkwood Thomas née Patrick (1920-1996) and is the most significant Fellowship offered by the Library. The Fellowship aims to encourage research and discussion into Australian culture and history.

Mr Thomas has been involved with the State Library since 2005 as a significant supporter and has been on the Library Council since 2006. He was appointed President of the Library Council in 2007 and he has been a generous supporter the State Library and its staff. This year marks the end of this tenure as President of the Library Council. The Coral Thomas Fellowship is named in honour of his mother who was a Librarian and a strong influence in his life and his passion for libraries.

“The support of Rob Thomas AM and his family has been tremendous for the State Library over the years. His farsightedness and extraordinary generosity in establishing the Coral Thomas Fellowship, another extraordinary person, is a significant gesture that will foster major contributions to Australian scholarship,” says Alex Byrne, State Librarian & Chief Executive, State Library of NSW.

Coral Thomas was born in Scotland 1920. Mrs Thomas was an intellectual woman, awarded the THOW Scholarship in Civil, Constitutional and Public Law, and the Muirhead Prize for Law whilst attending Edinburgh University. Her academic career was curtailed during the War and in 1942 she joined the Foreign Office where she was employed in code and cipher work. During a posting to the British Embassy in Washington she met Fred Thomas, Group Captain of the RAAF Mission. They were married in May 1944.

According to Mr Thomas: "The Fellow will receive $75,000 and the research will be appropriately supported by the Library. This is the largest sum the Library has ever received for a fellowship. The first Coral Thomas Fellowship will be offered in 2015 and biennially from then on."

This Fellowship is particularly welcome as it helps to promote not only research of Australian society and history but helps to grows the international reputation of the Library.  

What is the Fellowship?

The Coral Thomas Fellowship will:

  • Encourage deep and focused research into Australian culture, history and society, drawing on Australian and international research collections.
  • Promote discussion on Australian history and culture through research which informs and engages contemporary discourse.
  • Enhance the national and international reputation of the State Library of New South Wales as an institution of major research significance.
  • Actively promote the research experiences and research outcomes of the Fellowship during their tenure as Fellow as well as at its conclusion.

The Coral Thomas Fellowship supports research into major questions in the humanities. Cross cultural and interdisciplinary applications are welcome. Projects proposed for the Coral Thomas Fellowship need not be limited to archival research but may also employ emerging methodologies in the digital humanities.