George Bertrand Silberbauer was born on the 19th of March 1931 in Pretoria, South Africa. His father was a farmer who had studied agriculture at Cambridge. He was an only child and did his schooling in Pretoria. He studied at the University of Stellenbosh, doing forestry followed by majors in Zulu, Sotho and African Law and minors in anthropology and Roman Dutch Law. He began military service with the South African Air Force in 1950, first as a navigator and then a pilot flying fighters (including Spitfires) and then moved to a maritime squadron flying Venturas, Sunderlands and Dakotas for 3 years. Leaving the air force he joined the British Colonial Service and was posted to the Bechuanaland Protectorate after a year of training in London. He was sent to Maun in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) as District Officer for 3 years before being promoted to District Commissioner. He was sent to the University of the Witwatersrand to do honours in social anthropology (with Max Marwick) and linguistics (with Des Cole) preparatory to beginning the great Bushman survey which formed the basis of his most important contribution to anthropology. For the duration of the survey he was based in Ghanzi but travelled extensively throughout the central Kalahari Desert. The survey wound up in 1967 and he started a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand supervised by John Blacking. The focus of his thesis (hunter gatherer socioecology) grew out of his interaction with the Bushmen over more than a decade of the survey and his work as a District Commissioner. The PhD was completed at Monash University with Max Marwick supervising after he took a job as senior lecturer in anthropology at Monash. He told me he got the job when a telegram from Marwick arrived saying “You have been appointed as senior lecturer. Please apply!” He came to Monash in 1967 and bought a house in Vermont. He lectured on the Bushman and kinship, politics and religion. He and his family which now included two young daughters moved to Upper Beaconsfield in 1972. George joined the local fire brigade when he arrived at Upper Beaconsfield (during the second world war he had trained as an auxiliary fire fighter and was involved in fighting grass and forest fires in South Africa). In a tragic and ironic twist the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 razed the family home in Upper Beaconsfield. He retired from Monash in 1996 at the age 65. He continued to be involved with the Country Fire Authority and worked as fire fighter and consultant (his particular interest was the investigation of big bush fires). He moved to a house in the country near Korumburra in South Gippsland in 1993 and lived alone there surrounded by his books and in the company of successive eccentric cats. He died on the 29th of August 2013 at the age of 82. He is survived by his daughters Letitia, Victoria and Celeste, and his granddaughters Sophia and Claire. George Silberbauer's contribution to anthropology in general and to Bushman Studies in particular was significant and multi-faceted and this is not the place for a broad assessment. Let me conclude then with this quote from Alan Barnard's book on Anthropology and the Bushman: “It is hard to know what makes a great ethnography. Bushman studies have been blessed with many, but Silberbauer's (1981) Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert remains my own favourite.”

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Comment by John McCreery on November 14, 2013 at 11:34am

Blessed are those whose work can be called great ethnography.

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