She was born Gwendoline Fay Gilding in Balaklava, South Australia, to Jasper and Kathleen Gilding. Her father was a Methodist minister. Professor Gale was the first honours graduate in geography of the University of Adelaide. Professor Gale is notable for many academic works including the first-ever PHD to focus on Part Aboriginal people and address issues of assimilation. Her thesis A Study of Assimilation: Part Aborigines in South Australia was published in Adelaide in 1960 and republished in 1964 after becoming widely set as an anthropology text in numerous universities. She is widely revered for her contributions to academia and the role of women in academia.
In 1989, she was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia for "her services to social science, particularly in the fields of geography and Aboriginal studies". In 1978, she became the first woman to be appointed as professor at the University of Adelaide, in geography. In 1988, she became pro vice chancellor at the University of Adelaide and, in 1990, vice chancellor of the University of Western Australia. In 1997, she was appointed president of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the first woman to hold that position.
Gale was greatly influenced by her relationship with her foster-sister Edna Walker, a member of the Stolen Generation and was an early speaker and activist for change in the treatment of Aboriginal people. When she married Milton Gale in 1957 her two bridesmaids were Aboriginal women, Gladys Long and Linda Vale. Her early research activity amongst Aboriginal communities represents in many cases the only written records of some people. The research was part of a body of work relied upon by Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission in making its determination. This led to criticism by others of the veracity of the material. Rod Lucas discusses this treatment in 'The Failure of Anthropology'
During her time at The University of Western Australia Gale was instrumental in developing significant advances in gender equity.
In 1972 Gale was a visiting lecturer in the Geography School at Oxford University, having been awarded the Catherine Helen Spence Scholarship to travel overseas. In 1978 she was a visiting professor at the University of Washington.
Gale considered Dame Roma Mitchell one of her key mentors.
She was the first woman pro-vice-chancellor, University of Adelaide, and the first vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia. This was the first appointment of a woman in WA and the second in Australia, but it was the first to either a sandstone or Group of Eight university. She was the first woman elected president of the Institute of Australian Geographers and the first woman elected president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. She was the first woman elected president of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, having been elected Fellow in 1978. She was the first woman chair of the Festival of Perth Board. She was also the first woman elected to the council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the first woman elected president of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils. She was also the first woman elected patron of the Association of Tertiary Education Management, Australia and New Zealand.
The University of Western Australia offers a fellowship for academics wishing to study overseas in her name – Fay Gale Fellowships. The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia has instituted (2008) The Fay Gale Annual Lecture which provides for a public lecture honouring a distinguished woman social scientist from among the Academy Fellows.
Her son is Silicon Valley-based investor Michael Gale.
Gale was involved in considerable controversy in the early to mid-1990s over activities in the anthropology department that became known as the "Rindos Affair" and ultimately made what The Times called "state history" by leading to an enquiry by the Legislative Council. As the university's first female vice chancellor, who was also single, Gale was the subject of considerable interest, and the elements of the case, involving academic rivalry and sexual exploits, captured the imagination of the press, with well over 100 news items being published. The background controversy was concerned with preferential homosexual and lesbian engagement between staff and selected students; and more generally over the disruption to their studies caused by radical changes wrought by the then Hawke Labor Government. Gale received both support and criticism from the academic staff.
- President of the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee;
- Vice-Chancellor of The University of Western Australia;
- President of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (1998–2000)
- President of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils;
- Patron of Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (2001–2003);
- Chair of the Festival of Perth Board of Management;
- Chair of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Advisory Board;
- member of the council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities;
- member of the Australian Research Council;
- member of the Prime Ministers Science, Technology and Innovation Council;
- Commissioner with the Australian Heritage Commission;
- member of the National Committee of UNESCO;
- Consultant Australian National Parks and Wild Life Service, NSW National Parks;
- Consultant National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions Advisory Group, Department of Health and Ageing (Australia).
- Sole woman professor, University of Adelaide, for almost a decade
- Youth in Transition: The Challenges of Generational Change in Asia.; with Fahey, S.; Proceedings of the Biennial General Conference of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils; Canberra, 2005
- Endurance ofAboriginal Women in Australia Habitus: A Sense of Place; Ashgate Pub, 2002
- Making Space: Women and education at St Aloysius College, Adelaide, 1880–2000; editor; Wakefield Press, 2000
- President's Column - Dialogue, Dialogue, 1999 
- Where does Australian higher education need to go from here? University of New England, 1997
- Tourism and the Protection of Aboriginal Cultural Sites with Jacobs, J.M.; Australian Heritage Commission, Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra, 1994
- Cultural Geographies with Anderson, K.; Longman, 1992
- Juvenile Justice: Debating the Issues with Naffine, N.; Wundersitz, J.; St. Leonards, Allen & Unwin, 1993
- Inventing Places with Anderson, K.; Melbourne; Longman Cheshire; New York: Wiley, Halstead Press, 1992
- Reforming the Law: Idealism versus Pragmatism with Naffine, N.; Wundersitz, J.; Adel. L. Rev., 1991
- Aboriginal Youth and the Criminal Justice System: The Injustice of Justice with Bailey-Harris, R.J.; Wundersitz, J., Cambridge University Press, 1990
- Aboriginal Youth and Juvenile Justice in South Australia with Wundersitz,J.; Bailey-Harris, R.J.; Aboriginal Law Bulletin, 1990 [permanent dead link]
- Testing The Nexus: Crime, Gender and Unemployment with Ngaire, N.; The British Journal of Criminology 29:144–156, Centre for Crime & Justice Studies. 1989
- Women in the Academic Search for Excellence with Lindemann, S.; Australian Universities, 1989
- Chivalry, Justice or Paternalism?: The Female Offender in the Juvenile Justice System with Wundersitz, J. and Naffine N.; Journal of Sociology, 1988
- Tourists and the national estate : procedures to protect Australia's heritage with Jacobs, J.M.; Canberra, AGPS, 1987
- Identifying high-risk visitors at Aboriginal art sites in Australia with Jacobs, J.M.; Melbourne; Archaeological Publications, 1987
- Aborigines and Europeans; Space and society, 1987
- Aboriginal art - Australia's neglected inheritance with Jacobs, J.M.; World Archaeology, 1987
- Disadvantage and Discretion: The Results for Aboriginal Youth in Relation to the Adjournment with Wundersitz,J.; Adelaide; Adel. L. Rev., 1987
- Aboriginal Visibility in the 'System' with Wundersitz, J.; Australian Social Work, 1986
- Rural and Urban Crime Rates Amongst Aboriginal Youth: Patterns of Different Locational Opportunity with Wundersitz, J.; Blackwell Synergy, 1986
- Monitoring visitor behaviour at rock art sites Rock art research Volume Number: 2, Issue Number: 2, 1985
- Kids & Court: The Increasing Costs of Legal Representation for Young Offenders with Wundersitz, J.; Aboriginal Law Bulletin, 1985 [permanent dead link]
- Report, Alice Springs Recreation Lake Vol. 1 with Lloyd,R.; Sitzler, M. Alice Springs, Board of Inquiry into Alice Springs..., 1984
- The protection of aboriginal rock art from tourists at Ubirr, Kakadu National Park; Visitors to aboriginal sites: access, control and management: proceedings of the 1983 Kakadu workshop, Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service; Canberra,1984
- We are Bosses Ourselves: The Status and Role of Aboriginal Today ; Australian Institute of Aboriginal Research; 1983
- Adelaide Aborigines: A Case Study of Urban Life, 1966–1981 with Wundersitz, J.; Australian National University. Development Studies Centre, Development Studies Centre, Australian National University: distributed by ANU Press, 1982
- Academic Staffing: The Search for Excellence; Vestes Volume 23, Issue 1 pp 3–8, 1980 
- A social geography of Aboriginal Australia; Australia: A Geography, 1978
- Race Relations in Australia: The Aborigines with Brookman, A.; McGraw-Hill, 1975
- Woman's Role in Aboriginal Society,Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies,1974
- Urban Aborigines with Brookman, A.;Social Science Research Council of Australia Australian National University Press, 1972
- The Impact of Urbanization on Aboriginal Marriage Patterns;University of Western Australia Press, 1970
- Settlement & Encounter: Geographical Studies Presented to Sir Grenfell Price with Lawton, G.H.; Oxford University Press, 1969
- Foster Homes for Aboriginal Children Australian Social Work, Volume 21, Issue 1 March 1968, pages 8–14
- Patterns of Post-European Aboriginal Migration, Proceedings-Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. South Australian Branch, 1966
- Some Studies of Aborigines with Extensive European Associations ; Australian Aboriginal Studies: A Symposium of Papers ..., – Published for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1963
- A study of assimilation: Part Aborigines in South Australia [PhD Thesis] University of Adelaide, 1960; Libraries Board of S.A., 1964