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Marie Olive Reay was born in Maitland, New South Wales and began her career in anthropology at Sydney University, where she studied for an MA and undertook fieldwork in Indigenous communities in western New South Wales (Walgett, Bourke, Moree, Coonabarabran and others) in the 1940s. She later extended her fieldwork with Indigenous communities to Borroloola in the Northern Territory. From 1953, as a doctoral student supervised by WE Stanner in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in the Research School of Pacific Studies at Australian National University, she began field research in the Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, with the Kuma. Reay's PhD thesis was published as The Kuma: Freedom and Conformity in the New Guinea Highlands in 1959, the same year she was appointed to a research fellowship in the Department of Anthropology, ANU. Working at ANU for the next 30 years and retiring in 1988, Reay died in Booragul, New South Wales on 16 September 2004.

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