Music Australia News

Remembering Hans Hoegh-Guldberg – an extraordinary contributor to Australian music

Dick Letts
| March 1, 2016

When Music Australia life member and noted cultural economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg passed away in February 2016, Australian music lost a remarkable contributor. Founder Dick Letts pays tribute to Hans’ many achievements and his service to music. letts

Hans died on February 23 just shy of his 84th birthday. Australia has lost a unique contributor to its musical and cultural life: Hans, in his later years, devoted his time to the arts as a cultural economist, one of two Australians (with Prof. David Throsby) to make his mark in that field.

Hans was born and grew up in Denmark. He finished his university education there and in 1959 emigrated to Australia with Isobel Gay (of Robertson, NSW), his new Australian wife. He worked as an economist with three consultancy firms in Sydney and then as an executive in a manufacturing company. In 1984 he struck out to set up his own economics consultancy firm, Economic Strategies.

Its first job was a consultancy with the Music Board of the Australia Council to write an economic survey of the music sector. Usually, in such analyses the music sector was taken to be the recording industry. This study was an innovation: it took in the entire sector including for instance music education at all levels, tourism, non-profit performing organisations, community music development and so on. From that time onwards, Hans took the broad view.

To Hans’s cultural interests, ecological economics was added in 2000. Hans noted that “The two areas have many similarities, epitomised through the relatively low priority of natural and cultural assets in government policy-making, which is dominated by short-term annual accounts and budgets.” A few years ago, he completed a major international study of marine ecology with his famous marine scientist son, Ove.

Dick Letts, who as Director of the Music Board had invited Hans to carry out the study of the music sector in 1985, proposed him as a member of the Music Council of Australia (precursor of Music Australia). Hans joined in 2005 and became a very important member. Dick instigated the MCA database, intended as a comprehensive source of information about music in Australia. Hans became its editor and under his editorship, the database quickly evolved into the Music in Australia Knowledge Base (2007), an online source of information intended to describe the entire Australian music sector: facts, figures and futures.

In a parallel effort, Hans with Dick took on another first, A Scoping Study for a Statistical Framework for the Music Sector (2005), in a contract for the Cultural Ministers’ Council. In its comprehensiveness, this was another first. Alas, having funded this basic work, the governments never supported the collection of the statistical data. In fact, there has been a slow and steady decline in government support to cultural data collection. The industry and governments are to an extent flying blind without this fundamental knowledge. Hans’s work had consequently become increasingly important.

The Knowledge Base grew steadily as music sector people wrote papers describing their piece of the action. Hans concentrated especially on the numerical data, analysing surveys from government and industry sources and some written especially for the Knowledge Base.

When Dick Letts left the Music Council in 2013, it was agreed that he would continue to care for the Knowledge Base. Hans came with him and continued as editor.

In the last couple of years, Hans threw himself into Knowledge Base work, especially in undertaking and publishing his own work. His last big project, totally self-generated, is a 14-chapter study of possible scenarios for the development of the music sector to the year 2035. There are four scenarios ranging from optimistic to pessimistic and all, said Hans, equally possible. They are the result of enormous world-wide economic forces and perhaps beyond our manipulation. He connected this to Dick’s work on complex adaptive systems. Hans believed that these analyses are unique and world-firsts.

Cultural economics probably is not going to be a lucrative career path! A cultural economist probably needs to be motivated much as artists are, working above all because of a belief in the importance of the arts, founded partly on the deep and joyful experience of the arts in his or her own life. That certainly sounds like Hans Hoegh-Guldberg.


By Dr Richard Letts AM, Director The Music Trust, and founder and former Executive Director Music Australia


  1. Mike Tyler

    I was unaware of this sad news. in the relatively short period I knew Hans I found an extraordinary mind and true gentleman. A great loss to the industry. My deepest sympathies to all who knew him.

  2. Sara Hood

    Oh how sad. Such a lovely gentleman and his contributions to cultural economics and just the niceties of life will be much missed. I always valued the time we spent with him at each year’s MCA (now Music Australia) Assembly. Such a wise head. Lots of sympathy to his family who were always very close.

  3. Elsa and Henrik B Jeppesen

    Hans and Isobel was known to us as long term members of the Danish Church in Australia – been to a function in their home in Tryon Road, Lindfield. Always a gentleman and with his wife Isobel a much respected couple, after moving to their beloved Oberon property in their retirement their visit became less frequent.

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