Category Archives: 4. Anzac brains

Anzac brains · Prologue

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The Gallipoli campaign was over. On the 22 December 1915, Australians learnt of the successful withdrawal of Australian troops from the Turkish peninsula. Buoyed by the news, Prime Minister Billy Hughes strode into a luncheon at the University of Melbourne like ‘a prize fighter’, ebullient and combative, determined to meet the German menace on every front. 1 Hughes was near the height of his confidence and power. He had replaced Andrew Fisher as head of the Labor government in October, and, under the provisions of the War Precautions Act, ruled the nation almost by decree. The ‘best way to govern Australia’, Hughes remarked, was to have the Solicitor General, Robert Garran, ‘at his elbow, with a fountain pen and a blank sheet of paper, and the War Precautions Act’. 2 Within a few weeks, Hughes was to embark upon a triumphant return to his birthplace, England, where his ‘fiery speeches’ would attract the attention of press and politicians alike. 3

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Notes:

  1. Sir George Currie, and John Graham, The origins of CSIRO: Science and the Commonwealth Government 1901-1926, CSIRO, Melbourne, 1966, p. 30
  2. Quoted in Stuart Macintyre, 1901-1942: The succeeding age, Oxford history of Australia, vol. 4, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1986, p. 162.
  3. ibid., p. 162.

The true ideal of federation

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‘At this late hour of sitting I cannot expect to make very much progress with this motion’, explained Sir John Quick to the House of Representatives, ‘but inasmuch as I have had to consent to its postponement on several occasions, I now desire to take the opportunity to advance it as much as possible…’. 1 It was June 1901, and the Commonwealth parliament was not yet two months old. Newly knighted for his contribution to Federation, and the author, with Robert Garran, of the authoritative Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, Quick had achieved success through determined self-improvement. 2 Education had been his means of advancement, carrying him from the mines of Bendigo to a notable career in law. Now, at the height of his career, he similarly sought to bring knowledge to bear upon the development of the youthful Australian nation. With the business of government barely begun, Quick’s motion, introduced so impatiently, argued for the establishment of a ‘National Department of Agriculture and Productive Industries’ based largely ‘upon scientific knowledge’. 3

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Notes:

  1. CPD, vol. 2, 28 June 1901, p. 1827.
  2. Michele Maslunka, ‘Quick, Sir John (1852-1932)’, in Geoffrey Serle (ed.), Australian dictionary of biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988, pp. 316-7; John Quick, and Robert Randolph Garran, The annotated constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, reprint of 1901 ed., Legal Books, Sydney, 1995.
  3. CPD, vol. 2, 28 June 1901, p. 1828.

An ideal education

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On 23 March 1887, before a large and appreciative audience, the University of Melbourne’s newly-appointed professor of chemistry delivered his inaugural address. David Orme Masson was an energetic young Scot whose skill with language reflected his family’s literary connections. His father was professor of rhetoric and English literature at Edinburgh University, while his mother grew up in a wealthy household, surrounded by poets and writers. In a confident and wide-ranging address, Masson surveyed the relationship between chemistry and industry, reviewed the history of his discipline, and reflected upon the role of the university. He made his ambitions clear. He would not be satisfied with mere technical training, instead he aimed to establish ‘a school of chemistry’, a school that was ‘permeated with the atmosphere of research’. 1 Amongst the audience, a fair-haired law student listened with interest. Littleton Ernest Groom began to ponder the connection between science and society.

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Notes:

  1. Len Weickhardt, Masson of Melbourne: the life and times of David Orme Masson, Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 32-4. See ch. 1 for family details.

In their country, by their country, for their country and the world

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Canberra was in the grip of a heatwave, the longest in its recorded history. After two weeks of hot weather, the temperature once again topped the century, as 800 visitors swarmed into town for the opening of the 1939 congress of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS). All accommodation was booked; delegates were billeted to homes in Canberra and Queanbeyan, and some of the more adventurous took to camping, creating ‘a miniature scientists’ settlement’ on the banks of the Molonglo River. As well as the heat, visitors grappled with the city’s unusual layout. ‘Even members of the geography and astronomical sections lost their bearings’, reported the Canberra Times. 1 But despite the difficulties, the ANZAAS invasion was a ‘signal event’ in the history of ‘the world’s youngest capital city’. 2 Science had come to the nation’s new heart.

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Notes:

  1. Canberra Times, 11 January 1939, p. 4.
  2. ‘Science and people’, Canberra Times, 11 January 1939, p. 4.

For the service of science and the credit of Australia

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Four relays of pallbearers were needed to carry the coffin half a mile along the rocky, winding path to the gravesite atop Mount Stromlo. Standing in the drizzling rain, more than 150 mourners watched as the remains of Walter Geoffrey Duffield were interred beneath a large she-oak. 1 The site had been carefully chosen. Close by were the first buildings of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO), founded by Duffield only a few years earlier. 2 But the gravesite also looked out over the growing city of Canberra, a city whose civic and cultural life had been greatly enriched by the efforts of Duffield and his wife, Doris. Duffield had been ‘a great believer in the capital’, the Canberra Times reported, and ‘one of the best known figures in Canberra’. 3 He would be remembered, the newspaper maintained, as ‘the very antithesis of the scientists which fiction often portrays’, for rather than being isolated and indifferent to the needs of society, ‘no man in Canberra was closer to his fellow man in thought and deed than the citizen who has passed on’. 4

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Notes:

  1. Canberra Times, 6 August 1929, p. 1.
  2. For biographical details see CW Allen, ‘Duffield, Walter Geoffrey (1879-1929)’, in Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1981, pp. 351.
  3. Canberra Times, 2 August 1929, p. 1.
  4. Canberra Times, 6 August 1929, p. 4.

A shrine for investigators

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When Littleton Groom rose to speak on the budget in October 1936, he had been in the House of Representatives for 33 years. Amongst those present, only his friend and former leader, Billy Hughes, had been there longer. They were the last survivors of the nation’s inaugural parliament, a living link to the era of Federation. And it was one of the legacies of Federation that Groom was seeking to address—the future of the capital.

Groom’s passion for education remained undimmed across the years; still he sought in knowledge and learning a key to the nation’s destiny. ‘It is impossible for any one to contemplate a national capital of a great country like Australia without its having a university’, Groom remarked a few months earlier, ‘with all the scientific institutions being developed in the environs of Canberra, it will, undoubtedly, in future be a great cultural centre for the Commonwealth’. 1 Canberra needed a university. The establishment of the capital as an important seat of learning was one of Groom’s ‘dearest dreams’, and it was this topic he returned to in what would be his last substantial contribution to parliament. 2 Canberra needed a university, he reiterated in the budget debate, but a university that was ‘entirely different’ to those in the state capitals. What Canberra needed, what Australia needed, was ‘a university whose activities will be devoted mainly to research’. 3

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Notes:

  1. CPD, vol. 151, 16 September 1936, p.154.
  2. Jessie Groom (ed.), Nation building in Australia, p. 154, 236.
  3. CPD, 13 October 1936, vol. 151, pp. 1033-4.

To speak with authority for science as a whole

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The year 1951 marked the jubilee of Federation. It was also the year that the Australian National University conferred its first degree. Eighty-four year old Robert Garran, veteran of the Federation campaign, was awarded an honorary LLD. 1 He became the first graduate of the institution for which he had so long hoped and argued.

As a further contribution to the jubilee celebrations, the ANU organised two high profile seminars, bringing together eminent thinkers from Australia and overseas. One seminar examined the practice of federalism itself, while the other was intended to ‘review the growth, organisation, achievements and status of scientists in Australia’, and to develop ‘an overall pattern of future scientific policy’. 2 It was, Vice-Chancellor DB Copland suggested, ‘entirely appropriate’ that the ANU should host such a scientific stocktake. ‘As a national University sponsored by the Commonwealth’, he explained, ‘its objective must be not only to pursue its own studies and researches, but to provide facilities for the discussion of common problems among all scientists, and to promote the maximum degree of co-ordination of scientific endeavour’. 3

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Notes:

  1. Parker, ‘Garran, Sir Robert Randolph (1867-1957)’, p. 624.
  2. Canberra Times, 24 July 1951, p. 4.
  3. DB Copland, ‘Foreword’, in MLE Oliphant (ed.), Science in Australia, FW Cheshire, Melbourne, 1952, p. i.

A great beginning

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Prime Minister Robert Menzies pushed the big black button and stirred the reactor into life. ‘This is a very historic occasion for Australia’, Menzies proclaimed at the official opening of the Lucas Heights Research Establishment in April 1958, ‘because we are opening an establishment that is related to something so new in the world’. 1 Lucas Heights was a prominent stop on Menzies’ tour of development opportunities, selling the ‘Australia Unlimited’ message to public, business and investors. 2 The reactor and associated research facilities would enable the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) to keep ‘abreast of scientific research and scientific discovery’, and to train rising generations of scientists in the needs and opportunities of the Atomic Age. Their inauguration marked ‘an epoch in history’, Menzies proudly noted, providing the nation with ‘a great beginning’. 3

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Notes:

  1. SMH, 19 April 1958, p. 1; ‘Prime Minister starts Lucas Heights Reactor’, Atomic Energy, vol. 1, no. 3, June 1958, pp. 4-5. See also ‘Australia’s first reactor’, Commonwealth Today, no. 60, pp. 18-19.
  2. Marian Simms, A Liberal nation: the Liberal Party and Australian politics, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982, p. 58.
  3. ‘Prime Minister starts Lucas Heights Reactor’, p. 5.