IN MEMORIAM – Professor Peter Hill

Professor PETER HILL (Perth, 16th October 1945 – Canberra, 19th June 2022)

In 10 days apart two great men, two pioneers in Croatian Studies in the early 1980s, and two pillars of Croatian Studies have passed away: Fr Gracijan Biršić and Professor Peter Hill. Just as I was finishing In Memoriam for Fr Gracijan, a sad news came about Peter Hill’s premature death.

Professor Peter Hill was born in Perth, WA, he attended The Christ Church Grammar School where he studied French and Ancient Greek among other things. He went on to study German and Russian at the University of Melbourne , where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1966 and a master’s degree in 1971. In 1972 he did his doctorate at the University of Hamburg and took up a position as an assistant, where he was later appointed Professor of Slavonic languages. He took leave from Hamburg from 1982–1985 and was appointed a lecturer in 1982 at Macquarie University, together with John Besemeres, to set up the program in Slavonic Studies.

The program, offering Croatian, Polish and Serbian language courses as well as courses on comparative Slavonic linguistics, Slavonic societies and contemporary Polish politics, began in February 1983. The Macedonian and Ukrainian languages were added in 1984. Russian was introduced in 1988 and the Slovenian language  was also added to the Slavonic Studies in 1989. While at Macquarie, as specialist in comparative South Slavonic linguistics and Macedonian, he initially convened Croatian and Serbian and did some teaching in both at introductory level and prepared introduction of Macedonian.

Together with Fr Gracijan and myself, Professor Hill was instrumental in setting up Croatian Studies Foundation (CSF) in 1984. He was Foundation’s first Vice-President. As the Head of Slavonic Studies he was often accused and even provoked by Yugoslav diplomats and authorities for separating the artificial hybrid form of their official or state language of the equally artficial country. But Peter, extremely well knowledgeable and versed in South Slavonic linguistics, was always able to repel those attacks with much ease. He was a firm believer that Croatian and Serbian were indeed socio-linguistically and historically different and separate languages despite all their similarities. I remember Peter always carrying a few notes of Yugoslav paper currency (dinar) in his wallet on which the amount was written in four languages (Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian and Slovenian). On such occasions Peter would take the notes out of his wallet, show them to his provocateurs and then in his very calm voice ask: What does this say? What languages is this written in? Do you really think that I did it?

Professor Hill left Slavonic Studies at Macquarie University in 1985 and went back to Hamburg University. From 1991-1995 he was on leave again from Hamburg and worked at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. After that four-year appointment at ANU he returned to Hamburg once again, then retired in 2000 and returned back to Australia. His position now was that of Visiting Fellow, Russian, in School and/or Centres: School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, at ANU, as well as researcher at the College of Arts and Social Sciences.

His key research interests were initially on questions of lexicology in South Slavonic languages; from the 1980s he specialized in the Macedonian language, he then broadend his interests to Central and Eastern European Languages (including Russian), Language in culture and society (sociolinguistics). Professor Hill was a founding member of the Slavic Konstanzer Kreis.

Professor Peter Hill will be remembered as one of the leading Australian Slavists. His scholarly research and numerous publications—and their quality—are the best legacy of his professional career. His contributions to the field(s) of his speciality will be recognized and hopefully acknowledged by generations to come. We owe Professor Peter Hill our sincere gratitude for his academic achievements and legacy but also for being a sincere and honest man, great colleague, and a friend. Our sincere condolences to his family, his beloved partner Alex in particular. May his body and soul rest in peace.

Luka Budak