Eric Willmot was for many years an authority on the life and times of Pemulwuy. When it was first published, this novel, Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior, was a landmark publication, a bestseller, and was included in secondary and tertiary education curricula across Australia.
A visionary and a dreamer. A scholar, educator, inventor and engineer, Eric was born in Queensland and spent his childhood on an island (Crib Island) which no longer exists. He spent his youth as a drover, working in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. At the age of twenty, Eric was seriously injured in a rodeo accident and spent a year in hospital. During that period he studied for his matriculation, won a scholarship, and attended the University of Newcastle, where he took his first degree in science.
After working for a time in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Papua New Guinea, Eric returned to Australia in the 1970s and followed a career in academia and public service. He was a lecturer at the University of Canberra, a Director of Research at the Australian National University, Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, and Deputy Secretary in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
Eric was one of Australia’s leading educationists and was honoured by the Australian government for his contributions in that field with an AM. He became increasingly interested in Indigenous education, which he viewed as the most important and intriguing part of Australian education. In 1980, he found that there were less than one hundred university graduates of Indigenous descent in Australia. Eric is known in Australian Aboriginal society as the main architect of the national education program begun in 1979, which aimed to produce 1000 graduates by 1990. In 1990, that program had produced 1800 graduates and transformed the society significantly.
Eric was Professor of Education and Head of the School of Education at James Cook University of North Queensland. He was then appointed Head of the ACT Schools Authority and later became the ACT Secretary (CEO) of the new Department of Education. In the early 1990s he was appointed Director General of Education in South Australia. He was a prominent member of the Australian Aboriginal community and served as chairman of the management committee for Aboriginal education programs at both the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle in New South Wales.
Eric took a renaissance approach to his career. He was also an engineer and prolific inventor. During his lifetime, he held over ninety international patents. These covered a range of technology from a continuously variable ratio transmission system to a helical skewer. In 1981, Eric was named Australian Inventor of the Year, and twice won the Médaille d’Or Genève of the Salon des Inventions in Geneva, Switzerland.
Eric occupied positions on the boards of numerous statutory authorities and companies, and was a member of the Australian National Commission to UNESCO. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Melbourne University and a Doctorate Letters from Newcastle University.