Richard Gardiner Casey 1890-1976

Written by F.W.G. White.


Richard Gardiner Casey was elected to the fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1966 in recognition of his conspicuous service to the cause of science.

Initially trained as an engineer, he began, upon his return from the 1914-18 War, to practise the profession of mining geologist. Early in his life he was diverted from this occupation and, after a short period as a political representative of the Australian government in London, entered Federal politics as a member of Parliament.

First as a representative of the United Australia Party, and later as a Liberal, he held important portfolios. He resigned from political life in 1960.

As his last active post he was appointed Governor-General of Australia at the age of 75 years.

Early in his career he began to be interested in the influence of science and technology on national and international progress and development. His undergraduate days at Cambridge may have provided the initial stimulus; the Department of Engineering there was large and very active in research and teaching, led by the young Professor Bertrand Hopkinson (1). Casey acquired a mature understanding of and sympathy with science and scientists through his prolific reading, his natural curiosity of the world around him, and from the ever increasing number of scientists who became his friends.

This biographical memoir will record his remarkable life-long interest in and influence on scientific progress in Australia and internationally. It will be for others to write a fuller biography of the achievements in Australian and international political life of this distinguished statesman.

Early life

R.G. Casey was born in Brisbane on 29 August 1890. His father, also Richard Gardiner Casey, spent the first part of his life in the pastoral industry, particularly in Queensland (2), where he was the member for the Warrego electorate in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. He later became associated with extensive mining interests in Western Australia and later with the Goldsbrough Mort & Co. pastoral company and the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company. His son inherited from his father not only considerable wealth, but also a mature and deep understanding of Australian affairs.

The young Casey was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1906-1908). Following a year in Engineering at the University of Melbourne, he entered the University of Cambridge as a student at Trinity College (1910) and, having obtained a Second Class Degree in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos (Engineering), was awarded a BA in 1913 and his MA in 1919.

War service 1914-1919

With the outbreak of the war he enlisted on 14 September 1914 and was made Orderly Officer to General Bridges who was commanding the 1st Australian Division. He sailed from Melbourne in the Orvieto in October 1914. The Emden was sunk while the convoy was in the vicinity of the Cocos Islands; Captain von Müller of the Emden and surviving officers and men were transferred to the Orvieto; Casey, who spoke German, took charge of them until they reached Suez. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was with General Bridges when the latter was fatally wounded about three weeks later. Early in 1916 Casey was one of a small group sent to France to find out about the conditions the AIF would encounter. He later became GSO III to the 1st Australian Division in France and subsequently Brigade Major to the 8th Australian Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General Tivey. Some months after the Armistice he was returned to England and demobilised; he returned to Australia in June 1919 via America (3).

Mining-political career

In his youth Casey aimed at a career in the mining industry. While at the University of Melbourne he was admitted (April 1910) as a student member of the Australian Institute of Mining Engineers and later, when this Institute became that of Mining and Metallurgy, his application as an Associate Member was approved (November 1920). In applying (4) he referred to an inspectional trip to the USA (November 1913-May 1914) for the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company Ltd. and to geological surveys at Mount Morgan and at the Laloki Copper Mine in New Guinea. He made a further visit to the USA for the Mount Morgan Company in 1919-20.

Mining, however, was not to be his destiny. When Governor-General and replying to the President of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Sir Maurice Mawby, who in 1968 presented him with Honorary Membership, he said:

It was S.M. Bruce, as he was then, who weaned me away from your profession in the early 1920s and side-tracked me into the Public Service and then into politics from which I've only extracted myself not very long ago (5).

He was referring to his appointment to the Public Service in September 1924 and to having been sent to London in December to be the personal representative of the Prime Minister, S.M. Bruce, with the British Government.

There are two versions as to how this came about. Casey's version is a quite straightforward account but that of Bruce, who was then Prime Minister and already a personal friend, but much senior to Casey, is more revealing:

When I arrived back in Australia, our Richard Casey (later Lord Casey) – who was a very rich young man and on the boards of several important companies – came to see me one night as a personal friend. While I was talking to him I said I had the perfect job for him and outlined the proposal for a liaison officer in London. He left, saying the job sounded very attractive, but of course it would be quite impossible for him to consider it. The next morning when I arrived at the office, Richard was on the doorstep and told me that if I had been serious the night before he was prepared to drop everything and take on the job.

I appointed him and walked into one of the best political storms we had to meet. The appointment was attacked as being a social venture, it was said that Richard's mother had been intriguing to get it for him; that Richard had his position on Field-Marshal Birdwood's staff because his father had given a Rolls-Royce to Birdwood, and all the other unpleasant insinuations that the Labor Party was capable of propagating. Anyway, we weathered it and Richard went to London. We managed to get him into Hankey's Cabinet Secretarial Office instead of the Foreign Office. There he saw and knew everything that was going on, and the regular personal letters he used to write to me presented probably the best picture that exists of the political and international situation at that time.

When I was sacked as Prime Minister in 1929 I went to London. I told Richard it was time he got out, otherwise he would become just an ordinary civil servant, and that he ought to go back to Australia and get into politics. He did – and now accuses me of being the author of all his trials and tribulations since. (Casey became Federal Treasurer and later Minister for External Affairs.) (6).

As Casey himself explained later (7), what Bruce was mainly concerned with 'was the point in time at which consultation (between Britain and Australia) took place. He wanted to have information from London about any matter that concerned Australia in its earliest stages....'

Casey reached London in December 1924 and began working in the office of Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the Cabinet and of the Committee of Imperial Defence. This posting lasted, with one brief return to Australia in 1927, until he returned home, won the seat of Corio for the United Australia Party (December 1931) and thus began his career as a Member of the Federal Parliament.

He was appointed Assistant Minister attached to the Treasury in 1933 in the United Australia Party (UAP) government of Prime Minister J.A. Lyons. He became Treasurer of the Commonwealth in 1935 after the formation, under Lyons as Prime Minister, of the UAP-Country Party (CP) coalition government. Lyons died in 1939 and Earle Page retained Casey as Treasurer of the CP-UAP government that followed. When R.G. Menzies first became Prime Minister in April 1939, leading a UAP government, Casey was given the portfolio of Supply and Development. He was also a member of the War Cabinet until he resigned his parliamentary seat (26 January 1940) to become the first Australian Minister to the United States (1940-1942) (8).

There then followed his appointments by Winston Churchill as British Minister of State Resident in the Middle East and Member of the War Cabinet of the UK (1942-1943), and as Governor of Bengal (1944-1946).

He re-entered Australian politics when elected as the Liberal Member for La Trobe in December 1949. In the period from December 1951 until his final resignation from Parliament in February 1960, Casey was Minister for External Affairs in the Liberal-Country Party government of which Menzies was the Prime Minister. For limited periods, he also held the portfolios of External Territories (December 1949-March 1950), Works and Housing (December 1949-May 1951), and National Development (March 1950-May 1951).

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) were originally, under their Acts, responsible to the Prime Minister and frequently reported to him (9). It was customary practice, however, for the Prime Minister to appoint a Minister-in-Charge and in this capacity Casey first served from 6 December 1937 to 11 October 1939. His lengthy period as Minister for External Affairs coincided with his second period as Minister-in-Charge of CSIRO from 23 March 1950 to 10 February 1960.

Casey's friend and mentor, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, had, as Prime Minister, played a leading part in the founding of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1926 (10). Casey was its Minister-in-Charge before the war, but he returned to politics in 1949 to find this institution transformed by the Labor Government into the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (11).

In 1959, within two months of the death of the Chairman of CSIRO, Ian Clunies Ross, and of my appointment to succeed him, the only other full-time member, Stewart Bastow, went into hospital with a severe heart condition. I told Casey I considered the task of managing the rapidly growing CSIRO too arduous for only three full-time Executive members. I recommended an amendment of the Act to increase the number to four in addition to the Chairman with four part-time members. This was approved by the Government.

While this change was being made the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, told me that Casey, who was then nearly 70 years old, wished to retire from Parliament. He asked for my reaction to Casey being appointed a part-time member. I warmly welcomed this and Casey was appointed to the Executive on 14 March 1960 (12) where he remained until he became Governor-General on 22 September 1965; he served as Governor-General until 30 April 1969, when he was 78 years of age.

The Antarctic (13)

The war of 1914-18 did not dampen the ardour of the Australians for further adventures in the Antarctic.

Douglas Mawson's heroic Australian Antarctic Expedition in the SY Aurora (Captain J.K. Davis) arrived back in Adelaide on 26 February 1914 with a wealth of scientific data and having claimed for the Crown a large sector of the continent. Mawson's own terrible experiences in his sledging journeys, the loss of his two companions and the difficulties of the final relief of the Expedition, excited great public interest. Although the war intervened, the Expedition was not forgotten, and Mawson and his supporters were ready in the immediate post-war era to campaign for a further Australian enterprise.

In June 1927 the Australian National Research Council set up an Antarctic Committee to assist the Government in implementing the decisions of the 1926 Imperial Conference at which the questions of further exploration and research in those areas claimed by the British were reviewed. Sir David Orme Masson was Chairman while Sir Douglas Mawson, Captain J.K. Davis and Professor A.C.D. Rivett (who had recently become Chief Executive Officer of the new CSIR) were members.

After considerable discussion and some controversy the Bruce Government, supported by the Opposition, announced on 21 February 1929 that it would organise and equip an expedition to Antarctica, that Britain had agreed to make the RRS Discovery available, and that New Zealand would be asked to co-operate.

Casey, who was by then in London as the Prime Minister's representative, arranged with the British Government for the loan of the Discovery. He assisted her captain, J.K. Davis, with the fitting out of the vessel and with her despatch to Cape Town. Mawson and his companions went to meet the Discovery there and to begin the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE).

Casey's part is generously acknowledged in a letter from Mawson to Senator J.J. Daly, Chairman of the Antarctic Committee (14 July 1930) in which he said he 'could not emphasize too strongly the important part played by Major Casey in London and Dr Henderson in Australia in the inception and the continuance of the expedition. Major Casey's intimate association with the Dominions Office activities in whaling and fisheries had made him indispensable in watching Australia's interests.' (14).

Following the affirmation by Britain of her sovereign right to that part of the Antarctic territory explored and claimed in the name of the Crown mainly by Australians, the Commonwealth Government was asked to accept formal responsibility for what later became known as the Australian Sector. When as a result the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Bill (15) was debated in 1933, Casey, speaking in support, said it was 'the culminating point of twenty years of continuous and concerted effort on the part of Australians to consolidate their interests in the Antarctic'. He gave three reasons for acceptance: territorial, economic and the use of the region for long-range weather forecasting of great value to pastoral and agricultural interests.

As Chairman of the Polar Committee of the Imperial Conference in 1937, Casey emphasised the importance of setting up permanent meteorological stations in the Antarctic for accurate recording of climatic data.

In 1947, after a second interval of preoccupation with war, the Minister for External Affairs, Dr H.V. Evatt, announced the establishment of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (16). Major decisions were taken by the Executive Planning Committee of which Mawson was a member (17). Expeditions, first under the command of Group Captain Stuart Campbell, RAAF, and later under Dr Phillip Law, went to Heard Island and Macquarie Island between 1947 and 1953. The Menzies Government was returned to power in December 1949 and Casey became Minister for External Affairs in 1951. In 1953 the government announced its intention to send an expedition to the mainland of Antarctica in the following summer. Casey made, in the Parliament, a major statement of the important reasons for this policy (18) and was supported by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr H.V. Evatt. Casey's personal knowledge and enthusiasm for this new venture is clearly apparent from this statement of the government's policy. He said:

The Australian Antarctic Sector is of vital importance to Australia. For strategic reasons it is important that this area, lying as it does so close to Australia's back door, shall remain under Australian control. Meteorologically the region is of great value, for weather forecasts in Australia's southern States can be improved by the collection of meteorological data from this region. In such a vast area there must be great mineral wealth – in fact huge deposits of coal have already been found and many valuable and useful minerals are known to exist. The possibility of finding uranium in this region must be borne in mind because of the geological similarity between parts of Australia's Antarctic Territory and those parts of southern Australia where uranium has been found. In the future it is possible that aircraft flying between South America or South Africa and Australia will take the short route over the Antarctic Continent. The Antarctic is of the greatest interest to scientists, and specialists in many fields of research are anxious to receive results from this desolate and uninhabited region. Great food resources in the form of whales, fish, seals, birds and plankton are awaiting exploitation in the prolific seas which surround Antarctica and the world may soon be forced to turn to this source of supply as a consequence of the continual worsening of the world food position. In short, we cannot afford to neglect this important region, for no one can predict what importance it may assume in the next fifty years.

Not all his optimism has seen practical realisation, but much of what he forecast has been achieved by the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions since that time.

He was not content simply to administer policy remotely but gave himself a direct role; he assumed the chairmanship of the ANARE Executive Planning Committee and stimulated everyone with his suggestions and support. With ships chartered from Denmark the three stations on the mainland were established by Phillip Law, at that time leader of the Antarctic Division of the Department of External Affairs. The flag was raised and Mawson Station named on 13 February 1954; Davis Station followed on 13 January 1957. On 4 February 1959 the US Antarctic Station at Wilkes was taken over by Australia. In 1969 the Minister for Supply, Senator Anderson, announced that the new station to replace the old American Wilkes Station occupied by Australian expeditions since 1959, was to be named 'Casey'. The Minister said 'The Government considers it most appropriate that the Station should be named after Lord Casey because of his long and close association with – and deep interest in – Antarctic affairs'.

In 1958 the President of the United States, General Eisenhower, invited Australia and the other countries that had participated in the International Geophysical Year in Antarctica to confer on the desirability of ensuring continuation of the useful international scientific co-operation which had been occurring in the Antarctic (19).

Casey immediately stated that these suggestions had the warm support of the Australian Government and paid tribute to the initiative taken by the United States.

Casey led the Australian delegation to the following Conference which opened on 15 October 1959. He welcomed the signature of the Treaty which would enter into force when ratified by the twelve countries that took part in the Conference. He said he believed the application of the Treaty would serve Australia's interests well as it would fulfill the three major objectives he had put forward:

  1. That there should be the widest possible scientific co-operation in the Antarctic and the fullest exchange of scientific information.
  2. That the Antarctic should be declared a completely demilitarized zone.
  3. That the issue of territorial claims should be put aside for the duration of the Treaty.

All these aspirations have already been achieved.

Casey's enthusiasm for Antarctic exploration and scientific research was typical of many of the men of his day. In his youth there occurred the heroic adventures of Mawson, Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and others. He knew, personally, many of those who led, or took part in these early expeditions and he became, as he grew older, the personal friend of such leaders as Mawson, J.K. Davis, Edgeworth David, and John Rymill.

Dr Phillip Law, who so effectively led the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions for many years, probably saw more of Casey at his most active period in Antarctic affairs than anyone else. Phillip Law attributes much of the success of these expeditions to Casey's enthusiasm and interest. He states, in a personal communication:

The period in which Lord Casey served as Minister for External Affairs can be seen, in retrospect, to have been quite different from the term of any other Minister so far as the Antarctic Division was concerned. Lord Casey was interested and enthusiastic and, as well, accessible. His office was in Melbourne and I was able to call on him regularly to discuss aspects of our Antarctic work. Over quite long periods I would be seeing him about once a fortnight, which contrasts markedly with my experience of other ministers, whom I saw perhaps once every few months or, in some cases, only once or twice during their whole terms of office! As a result, the administrative difficulties to which I have alluded were, during Lord Casey's period as Minister, very considerably less than during the term of any other minister.

Casey's first period as Minister-in-Charge of the CSIR

Although Casey was elected to Parliament in 1931 and became Federal Treasurer in 1935 it was not until December 1937 that he became the Minister responsible for CSIR. Until he resigned to go to Washington early in 1940, he played his part for the first time in the affairs of CSIR-CSIRO. He was involved in three events of consequence. These were the entry of CSIR into research for secondary industry and, of more immediate significance at the time, the beginning of the Australian work on Radio Direction Finding – 'RDF' as it was then called: CSIR undertook radar investigations for the fighting services as a major contribution to the war. He also personally initiated the commencement of tribophysics – the science of rubbing surfaces – in CSIR.

Standards and testing

In the early years the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had as its policy that the resources it commanded – small in today's terms – would be devoted mainly to the primary industries which contributed most, at that time, to the national economy. By about 1936 the growing industrial sector was clamouring for attention. Moreover there was already indication of an impending war in which Australia would be involved, and industrial and political leaders were influenced by the necessity to have Australian industry able to play its role if war did come. Sir George Julius, the part-time Chairman of CSIR, played the leading role with the Governments, both Commonwealth and State, and with industry in discussions of a new role for CSIR in industrial science.

On 7 July 1936 the Prime Minister, Joseph A. Lyons (UAP), announced that the Government contemplated an extension of the activities of the CSIR to 'embrace the problems of secondary industry' and named Julius as the Chairman of the 'Secondary Industry Testing and Research Committee' (20). After extensive investigations, the Committee recommended the passing of legislation by the Commonwealth Parliament to provide for legal standards of measurement of physical quantities, for the founding of the National Standards Laboratory, and, after receiving a special report from H.E. Wimperis (formerly Director of Research of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough), for the establishment of the CSIR Division of Aeronautics.

There was also provision for Testing Laboratories, Exploratory and Development Work for Industrial Development, a 'Research Service' and a general 'Information Service'.

The acceptance of these recommendations by the Government was soon followed by a special appropriation in June 1938 of £500,000 for establishment charges.

Although Senator the Hon. A.J. McLachlan was the Minister-in-Charge, Casey was the Treasurer throughout this period and, with Cabinet colleagues, not only supported this advance in CSIR's activities but helped to overcome the financial difficulties of a country just emerging from the depression.

After Casey became Minister-in-Charge he approved the proposed policy for Commonwealth legislation on Weights and Measures and sponsored the foundation of the National Standards Commission to be responsible for advice to the Minister on the legal units of measurement of physical quantities and for liaison with the States on weights and measures matters (21).


Casey in 1962 recalled how Australia was first made aware of the remarkable development of radar (RDF) by Watson-Watt and his colleagues (22). He said:

Early in 1939 Mr Bruce, then Australian High Commissioner in London (now Viscount Bruce of Melbourne), wrote me an enigmatic letter about some new and highly secret and important scientific device that was being developed in England, of which he had got wind. He did not know what it was, but he knew it was of the highest importance and said that in due course he would telegraph us to send an Australian scientist to England to be indoctrinated. I was then Minister-in-Charge of the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. I had no notion what all this was about, although one of our Australian radio-research scientists made a shrewd guess in private, which turned out to be surprisingly correct. Early in March 1939, the telegram came from London, and we sent the most appropriate young radio-research scientist post haste to London by air. The scientific development was Radio Direction Finding (RDF – subsequently called Radar) for the detection of aircraft at long range, which was to make a highly important contribution to the winning of the Battle of Britain.

When I was in England in late 1939, I was shown over one of the chain of RDF stations on the East Coast, built to give warning of the approach of hostile aircraft from the North Sea – the nearest thing to a modern miracle that anyone could see.

These statements show his keen interest, but do not reveal the efficient way he dealt with the situation in Australia.

The Prime Minister received the cable from London on 25 February 1939. On 27 February, Casey sent a copy to Sir David Rivett, Chief Executive Officer of CSIR, asking for advice (23). Rivett's immediate reply was to suggest Dr D.F. Martyn (the senior research scientist on the staff of the Radio Research Board) which he did 'without consulting anyone'. Casey, after discussions with Martyn and Madsen (Chairman of the Radio Research Board), and after conferring with the Prime Minister, approved the proposal and Martyn left by flying-boat for London on 14 March 1939.

On Martyn's return in mid-August 1939 a 'Memorandum from Professor J.V.P. Madsen to Sir David Rivett following consultations with Dr D.F. Martyn' was prepared. At a short conference with the Prime Minister, attended by the Minister for Defence, the Postmaster-General, the Minister-in-Charge of CSIR, together with Rivett, Madsen and Martyn, general approval was given to the CSIR proposals and the expenditure involved. The detailed proposals were set out by Rivett on 25 August 1939 and Casey gave them his written approval.

For security reasons, the Radiophysics Laboratory, in which the work was to be undertaken, was built as an extension of the National Standards Laboratory, the early construction of which was already under way. Radiophysics was given priority and finished first.

Lubricants and bearings

Just before he resigned from Parliament to become Australia's Minister in Washington, Casey showed his ability to take his own decisions about CSIR's affairs and to cut through any red tape and prevarication that hindered progress.

The late Dr Phillip Bowden, FRS, had begun in Cambridge the study of rubbing surfaces which was to lead to his fame in the new science of tribophysics. He was visiting his parents' home in Tasmania when the war began, and he approached Sir David Rivett to ask if he could be of use to Australia during the war. He prepared for Rivett a lengthy memorandum describing his work on the testing and improving of lubricating oils, the use of substitute lubricants, the development of bearing materials and the construction and surface finish of bearings. The proposal (24), supported by Mr L.P. Coombes, Officer-in-Charge of the new Aeronautical Laboratory, and by senior members of the University of Melbourne, was that Bowden should undertake this work in Melbourne in premises offered by the University.

There was the implication that this work would undoubtedly be of interest to those concerned with the manufacture of internal combustion engines for the Services.

Rivett was convinced of its value to the war effort but told Casey that 'It is perhaps for the Supply Department and Defence Services (and especially the Air Force) to say whether, from their standpoints, expenditure on lubrication and bearing work would be justified'.

Prevarication and delay followed with qualified expressions of interest from the defence people. It seemed as if the opportunity of retaining Bowden in Australia might be lost.

Casey, who had been kept informed by Rivett, took direct action; he asked Bowden to see him and immediately thereafter sent Rivett a memorandum of approval of the scheme for one year. In this he listed those who had approved, referred to the potential practical results and to his concern at the possible interruption of normal supplies of lubricants for which alternatives might be found and ended with'...I approve of CSIR meeting his salary – probably £1,000 or £1,150 a year – for twelve months'.

Bowden, in writing to Rivett, said:

Mr Casey sent for me on Monday evening to discuss the lubrication work. He seemed strongly in favour of the scheme and got down to brass tacks about ways and means...He has seen the Vice-Chancellor and discussed the question of University collaboration...

This action was typical of Casey. CSIR had made a definite proposal to him as Minister; once convinced by personal enquiry, he cut through the formality of too wide consultations and acted on his own appreciation of CSIR's recommendation.

This began an important association with Phillip Bowden which, in spite of the initial agreement for one year, lasted much longer and eventually led to the Division of Tribophysics for which Casey opened a new building on Thursday, 10 December 1953. In his speech he recalled the origins of this activity, noted that under Dr Walter Boas its emphasis had changed markedly, but in typical fashion said:

However, the work of the Tribophysics Laboratory has been in practice by no means confined to the study of friction and lubrication. It has developed by degrees into fields that have no relationship to this original purpose. I have no quarrel with this.

It is interesting that Casey's part before and early in the war should have been concerned with major new CSIR ventures. Casey left Australia early in 1940 on his way to America as Australian Minister; he passed out of the CSIR scene during the remainder of the period of the war.

America and the Middle East (25)

Late in 1939 Casey, then Minister for Supply and Development, was in London at the head of the Australian delegation to the British Commonwealth Conference on the conduct of the war (Britain entered the war on 3 September 1939). By then the situation in Europe was sufficiently serious for the Australian Government to foresee a major conflict and to appreciate that the strategic position of Australia would call for the most adequate political contacts with the United States of America.

Casey resigned his portfolio as Minister for Supply and Development and from his seat in the Parliament to go to Washington to open the first Australian diplomatic mission in a foreign country.

He made close personal contact with the President, Mr Roosevelt, and with the principal leaders of the United States Administration and Congress. He thus founded a firm political relationship between the USA and his country which was invaluable in the days of the near Japanese invasion of the Australian continent.

During his period as Minister (until April 1942) Western Europe was overwhelmed by the Germans, Pearl Harbor was attacked, the USA entered the war (December 1941) and Singapore fell (February 1942); General McArthur established his headquarters in Australia after the fall of the Philippines.

It was an anxious period for the Australian people and for Prime Minister Curtin, leader of the Labor Party that came into power after defeating in October 1941 the Country Party-United Australia Party coalition under Fadden.

In March 1942 Casey accepted an invitation from the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to become Minister of State Resident in the Middle East and a Member of the War Cabinet of the UK. Casey acted in this capacity until, in November 1943, Churchill offered him the Governorship of Bengal. This he accepted and he served there until he returned to Australia in 1946.

Bengal and India

The two years as Governor of Bengal (January 1944 to February 1946) presented a challenge that Casey found stimulating. He said later:

Never having been in India before, I had no preconceived ideas to hamper me. I took people and things as I found them. My circumstances, and background, and those of my wife were wholly different from those of the Governors who had preceded me, in broad and in detail...It was an unusual situation for an Australian, resented at first but accepted before long.

In an effort to learn the problems of the people he wrote 400 closely typed pages in the diary of his first six months.

The wide incidence of infectious disease and of famine were major problems that he tackled with determination. By politically backing the Director of Public Health he launched a major drive to vaccinate and inoculate practically all of the 65,000,000 people of Bengal against smallpox and cholera. The Bengal Government and its agents took over the whole rice trade of the province as well as handling other things in short supply – wheat, sugar, salt, kerosene, mustard, oil and cloth.

When he asked for statistics of the province he was told that they were not very reliable. In 'Personal Experiences 1939-46' Casey recounts his meeting with the distinguished Indian statistician Mahalanobis:

However, there was a distinguished statistician in Calcutta, Professor Prasanta Mahalanobis who had evolved a method called 'random sampling'. He told me what he could do, which was to provide statistics to an acceptable degree of accuracy and in an incredibly short time. I sighed with relief and got the Bengal Government to enlist his aid, to our great benefit. We very quickly had facts and figures to go on, which were kept up to date.

In 1956 when Dr M. Thacker, then head of the Indian CSIR, visited Australia, Casey recalled 'having dealings with him' about the nationalisation of the Calcutta Electricity Corporation.

He was to visit India on future occasions after he became Minister for External Affairs and with his diplomatic visits combined visits to scientists. In 1955 he was at the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi, and when invited to speak gave them 'a broad overall picture of the work of CSIRO in Australia with particular emphasis on matters that I thought would be of interest to them...' This he could do with emphasis and accuracy.

In reflecting on his experience in the Middle East and Bengal he said 'My two-year apprenticeship in a typical part of Asia was to stand me in good stead later. All three posts enabled me to get the myth of racial superiority out of my system'.

CSIRO – post-war growth

Casey, in the years between 1950 and 1960, became a patron and advocate for CSIRO to a degree quite beyond that normally to be expected of a Minister.

In the intervening war years CSIR had been transformed to CSIRO (26), the old Executive Committee and Council had gone to be replaced by the Executive as the governing body with an Advisory Council. Many new ventures, initiated in the immediate pre-war period, had grown extensively. The National Standards Laboratory and the Radiophysics Laboratory were well established. The Divisions of Industrial Chemistry and Tribophysics, each of which had been started just prior to or during the war, were in full flight. Many post-war ventures were to grow in strength during this period together with those that were begun before the war. These included Meteorological Physics, Land Research, Wildlife Research, Dairy, Wool, Textile, Coal and Building Research. The older activities concerned with the pastoral and agricultural industries, food, forestry, minerals and fisheries were still very active and were to grow extensively.

The staff number grew from 3,333 to 4,146 and the total expenditure from $5.88m to $19.54m.

The political climate of that period was propitious. R.G. Menzies, the Prime Minister of the Liberal-Country Party Government, was himself a political patron of scholarship and science. Other members of this Government, Earle Page, for example, were traditionally CSIRO supporters and had been from the early days of CSIR. This must have been helpful to Casey but it was not the crucial factor in his success in winning support for this great growth. Casey's own conviction of the need for an effective contribution from science to national affairs, his understanding of science itself and his ability to hold frank and informed discussions with the Executive and senior scientists were important factors. He welcomed frequent discussion involving a penetrating inquiry on his part into the details of any activity or proposal of the Executive. As a result, he was always able to describe the work of CSIRO, in his own words but accurately to his political colleagues and to his many acquaintances and friends in the rural and manufacturing industries.

It is a common practice of Ministers to make statements to the press prepared by the officers of their departments. Releases made in this way were made by Casey, but to a far greater degree than is normal he prepared his own, giving them a personal twist and writing in the first person. For example, in 1956, he starts an article thus:

Since the 'Farmer and Settler' was good enough to ask me for an article on CSIRO work on pastures, I have consulted the Division of Plant Industry and have had their advice on which I have based the following account.

In opening the Research Section of the Wool Promotion Exhibition at David Jones Ltd. in Sydney in 1959, he said, in part:

I mentioned the four principal partners in the wool business – the grower, the manufacturer, the research scientist, and the retailer. I want to say something today about the research scientist and the part he plays in the production chain. He sets out to help the wool grower on the one hand, and the woollen textile manufacturer on the other – each with the aim of producing better and cheaper wool and woollen goods.

Even to Casey the task of gaining the ever increasing funds from the Treasury presented a challenge for which he devised his own tactics. To gain the interest of his fellow members of Parliament he frequently wrote to them personally inviting them to visit CSIRO activities and particularly those in or near their own electorates. When the CSIRO Estimates were debated in the House, he was well equipped to speak convincingly and did so with personal conviction. In the Supply Debate of June 1956 he said:

I should like to occupy the committee for ten minutes in speaking of governmental scientific research in Australia. My reason for doing so is the results that have been obtained in this field. The CSIRO, which is the Government's principal agent in scientific research, has, in the thirty years of its existence, cost Australia £33,000,000. At present the annual dividend to the Australian people as a result of the work during the last generation of the organization is, on a very modest estimate, well over £100,000,000 a year. Indeed the figure could quite easily, and legitimately, be cast at something like £150,000,000, which is between three and five times the total cost of the organization.

I realize very well that the past is the past, and that what we are concerned about is the future. I should like to consider for a few moments the prospects for CSIRO and the Australian people as a result of scientific research, intelligently directed, in the years that lie ahead. I have discussed this matter a good deal with senior officers of the CSIRO in recent years, and have asked them to say, with their hands on their hearts, whether they believe that the experience of the past generation is likely to be repeated in the years to come. They have unanimously told me that they believe this to be a reasonable thing to assume. In other words, it is believed that every unit of £5,000,000 – the approximate present annual cost of operating CSIRO – spent on scientific research in the course of the next ten or fifteen years is likely to return annual dividends of many times that amount. That is not an exaggerated forecast based on our experience of the past, but, in fact, I believe that it will turn out to be a modest estimate.

These figures came from a personally prepared assessment he made, with some help from CSIRO, entitled 'Rewards from CSIRO Research'; he used such figures frequently in his speeches and loved making up such balance sheets to demonstrate the tremendous dividends arising from investment in CSIRO and science generally.

The arrangement for an officer of the Treasury to be a part-time member of CSIRO Executive was made at the time of the new 1949 Act; Casey, with his previous experience as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, certainly approved. Even when he agreed to the change to such an officer attending meetings but not as a member, he constantly advocated keeping the Treasury fully informed. Thus the full facts about the CSIRO budget proposals were submitted to the Treasurer by his own officers and, even if not always fully supported, were such as to avoid confusion of purpose in Casey's advocacy in Cabinet. In the case of the large capital sums voted for the Radiotelescope at Parkes and the Phytotron, the Treasury officers who knew of these projects at first hand must also be given full credit for their help.

Many examples could be given where Casey's personal interest and intervention at the Cabinet level brought support and success to CSIRO ventures. The few selected examples that follow will give ample evidence of this. But quite apart from such particular cases, his overall enthusiasm and support for CSIRO in Cabinet, in Parliament, and in public were of tremendous value in establishing the role of science in the national scene.


Every Australian of Casey's generation with rural interests was, from his earliest years, acutely conscious of the 'rabbit problem'.

In writing his biography, Casey recalled that his father, then managing Kilfera station in western New South Wales, advised the owners in 1880 to sell the property because of the ever increasing rabbit numbers (27). In 1881 his father wrote 'I must tell you again that the rabbits are, to me, an ever-present menace. I am finding signs of the brutes every day in fresh quarters of the run. I believe, do what we can in this style of country, in three or four years they will be in possession and the place virtually unsaleable.'

His father saw the early rabbit invasion of pastoral Australia. By the time of the founding of CSIR in 1926 the rabbit had become the greatest pastoral pest and the reduction of the plague a pressing and difficult problem for the scientist. Casey, although not personally engaged in the pastoral industry, had sufficiently close contact through his relations and friends fully to appreciate the situation.

Control of the rabbit before the war depended on methods which were only feebly effective, and so labour intensive. When Casey re-entered political life in 1949, the men who had met the rabbit at home had been called to a greater war, and he saw the plight of the rural industry as perilous.

Late in 1949, the late Francis Ratcliffe, then in charge of a new CSIRO Wildlife Section, at the instigation of Ian Clunies Ross, Chairman of CSIRO, decided to repeat the pre-war experiments of Bull and others of the Division of Animal Health and Nutrition with the virus disease myxomatosis that had, apparently, failed the pre-war trials.

Casey became Minister-in-Charge a year before the remarkable and unexpected success of this new attempt began to show itself in January 1951 (28). By then, reports of extensive killings by myxomatosis were coming in from along the Murray, Murrumbidgee, the Lachlan and up the Darling. Casey found this event exciting and interesting; it was certainly stimulating to the Executive, after the dismal controversy about Communism and the change in the Act in 1949, to have a Minister with an intelligent understanding of CSIRO's work.

In 1952 and 1953, the Minister spoke on the radio and to the press on those aspects of this epizootic that interested him most. These statements carried conviction for, although based on data from CSIRO, they were prepared by Casey himself.

Always interested in figures, he attempted the seemingly hopeless task of estimating the rabbit population of Australia and from estimated percentage kills, the gain that would accrue to the wool grower. He said:

It is believed that the pasture destroyed by eight rabbits is about equal on the average to that needed to maintain one sheep. So that myxomatosis has destroyed sufficient rabbits for at least four million more sheep to be carried – and even possibly as much as fifteen or twenty millions.

He joined CSIRO actively in advocating graziers not to rely solely on myxomatosis and said 'It would be wrong to believe that myxomatosis can do the whole job. It obviously cannot. But myxomatosis, backed up by every other form of rabbit extermination, can rid wide areas of the rabbit curse'.

Radioastronomy and the Parkes telescope

The story of the exciting novel observations of electromagnetic radiation from extra-terrestrial sources made by Dr J.L. Pawsey and his colleagues of the Radiophysics Laboratory in the immediate post-war period is now well-known and forms part of the history of original Australian scientific discovery (29).

By 1950 when Casey became Minister-in-Charge, the Radiophysics group was already established in a leading international position, rivalled only by a group in Cambridge, in this new science of radioastronomy. This outstanding achievement had initially depended for equipment on the modified radar aerials and receivers remaining from this Laboratory's wartime radar activity.

Dr E.G. Bowen, Chief of the Radiophysics Laboratory began, about 1952, to contemplate the possibility of building an aerial system of large dimensions in the form of a dish which could be used for a variety of different observations on different receiver frequencies. This new possibility attracted the approval of the Executive and the Minister although it was far from clear as to where to look for the large funds that would be needed.

Hope began to ride high when the Carnegie Corporation of New York offered $250,000 (US) towards this project. The early success of the Australians in radioastronomy had attracted the attention of Dr Vannevar Bush, then President of the Corporation, and Dr Alfred Loomis, a Trustee. Both knew Dr Bowen through wartime friendships and admired his drive and enthusiasm.

The Executive invited Casey, as Minister, to be chairman of a Trust to hold this money and to serve as a depository for further funds. The other members of the Trust were Sir Walter Bassett and Dr F.W.G. White.

Dr Bowen in a personal letter recalls Casey's interest:

As Chairman, Casey took a tremendous interest in the scientific objectives of the proposed telescope, and with Walter Bassett was keenly interested in the engineering problems. Between them they were most helpful on contractual matters.

The next sizeable grant was another $250,000 (US) from the Rockefeller Foundation, a condition of which was that the Australian Government should contribute on a 50:50 basis. Again Casey was most helpful in two respects:

(i) The fact that he was Chairman of the Trust and well-known to Dean Rusk who was then President of the Rockefeller Foundation facilitated matters considerably;
(ii) He made strong representations to Menzies to secure the 50:50 arrangement.

Indeed Casey took full advantage of knowing Dean Rusk. Two diary entries made during his visit to the USA in 1955 show this clearly.

16.9.55 – Had an hour with Dean Rusk [President, Rockefeller Foundation ] at Rockefeller Center about the Giant Radio Telescope. Subsequently wrote Jack Spicer [Senator Spicer, Acting Minister in Casey's absence] with copies to RGM [the Prime Minister]. At the end of an hour's discussion on the subject, Dean Rusk told me that he was personally sympathetic to the idea of a contribution from the Rockefeller Foundation although it would be an "unusual" type of enterprise for Rockefeller Foundation to contribute to. He said that he and his friends were "very interested" due course he said that the amount that he had in mind as a contribution from the Rockefeller Foundation was $250,000 – i.e. the same as that of the Carnegie Foundation [sic].

17.12.55 – Good news yesterday – Rockefeller people came across with $250,000 for G.R.T.

7.10.57 (N.Y.) – I went to see Dean Rusk early...I told him the present state of the G.R.T. project and that the diameter looked like coming out at something like 210 feet (and not 250 feet as originally contemplated). He asked (I thought a little significantly) if this reduced diameter would put the project at any anticipated scientific disadvantage. I said I could not answer this but that I would get him the answer. The unstated inference was that if there was scientific disadvantage in the reduced diameter, more money might be forthcoming.

The diameter of 210 feet proved to be adequate, and no further approach was made to Dean Rusk.

At the ceremony of inauguration of the radio-telescope at Parkes, NSW on 31 August 1961, Casey said:

Large financial contributions to the very considerable cost of this great piece of equipment were most generously made by the Rockefeller Foundation and by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Mr Dean Rusk, the distinguished Secretary of State of the United States, was President of the Rockefeller Foundation at the time and was most sympathetic and generous with his support. Indeed I think it might be said that without the generosity of these two great Institutions – Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation – this radiotelescope might not have come into existence. In addition, there were also many local Australian contributions from companies and individuals – as well of course, as a very substantial contribution from the Commonwealth Government which matched all other contributions on a £ for £ basis.

It need hardly be said that the support of the Government was due mainly to Casey's advocacy. But it must be emphasised, too, that he and Sir Walter Bassett, as members of the Radioastronomy Trust, kept constantly in touch vith Dr Bowen and played a considerable role in the choice of site and in the letting of the large contracts in Australia, England and Germany.

Casey's enthusiastic support for Australian research in radio science had already been expressed at the Inaugural Session of the meeting of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) in Sydney in 1952, the first time such a Union had met in Australia. His remarks, made in the presence of Sir Edward Appleton, FRS, President of URSI, are worth repeating:

But in my other capacity, that of Minister-in-Charge of CSIRO, I am glad to know that one of the reasons you have been good enough to come so far is to see at first-hand the work being done in radio science in Australia. This country is large, and remote from the great centres of population of the world. We are, in consequence, radio-conscious. We have not been content to copy and use the radio techniques developed in other countries. We have felt that we should endeavour to contribute to the development of radio on a scale comparable with our special needs. For a quarter of a century we have fostered scientific research in CSIRO and in our universities and we are modestly proud of the recognition our efforts have received in your countries.

The phytotron

In March 1958 a letter was sent to the Minister, R.G. Casey, by the Chairman of CSIRO, Sir Ian Clunies Ross, asking his support to an appeal to the Government for £350,000 as part of the sum of £500,000 needed to build the 'phytotron' for the Division of Plant Industry in Canberra. This letter said (30), in part: has become apparent that the greatest impediment to plant physiology, plant breeding and genetics and plant introduction is the inability of the research worker to control and understand the interaction of climatic variables such as light, temperature and humidity. Such control and understanding can be achieved in what has come to be known as a "phytotron". This consists of a large series of cabinets or rooms in which plants can be grown under any predetermined intensity and duration of light, temperature and humidity or in short, under conditions simulating the climatic and seasonal characteristics of any environment, whether temperate or tropical, arid or humid.

The idea of a phytotron was conceived by Professor Fritz Went, who built the first one in California at the end of the forties. By the time the Caltech phytotron was beginning to prove its versatility and value in plant research, Sir Otto Frankel, FRS, Chief of Division, developed, with the late Dr L.A.T. Ballard of the Division of Plant Industry, a proposal that CSIRO should build a phytotron in Canberra. The only other large phytotron under consideration at that time was one being built near Paris to a similar design to that of the Caltech phytotron. By contrast, the Canberra phytotron was to be of a novel design with many original engineering features deriving from the work of Mr R.N. Morse and his colleagues in the Engineering Section, CSIRO, and in close collaboration with Dr L.T. Evans, FRS, as the biologist in charge.

Faced with an estimated expenditure of £500,000 for building the phytotron and believing it impossible to obtain this sum wholly from the Government, Clunies Ross began soliciting aid from non-government sources. A 'Phytotron Trust' was proposed in April 1958 for the purpose of 'promoting and furthering the science of phytotronics'. Appeals for donations from individuals and companies brought in about £27,500 by May 1958 – a sum much less than that needed. The Minister, Casey, agreed with the proposal that Cabinet be asked to contribute £350,000 spread over three years from 1958 to 1961.

In a covering statement to Cabinet, Casey stated that he had for several months been discussing the proposal with the Chairman of CSIRO, and went on to say that he had, while in the USA, made enquiries about the possibility of securing financial support from the large international foundations. The general view expressed, he said, was that as this was the kind of basic scientific facility from which great economic benefits should accrue, the Government might well be expected to provide for it. He mentioned action by France and also by New Zealand to provide such facilities.

In this written statement he supported CSIRO's request for £350,000. It is quite certain, however, that he changed his mind either just before, or even, perhaps, while addressing the Cabinet. In his diary he wrote:

Diary – 29.4.1958.

Cabinet tonight. I got the Phytotron submission through, for the full £500,000. I aired myself at some length on the potentialities of this piece of equipment – and got no opposition – ...

and, on the same day, he wrote to the Chairman of CSIRO saying:

I had sent a copy of the relevant papers to Sir Arthur Fadden previously and had discussed it verbally with him a few weeks ago. Even at that time I had expressed to him my belief that the Phytotron was the sort of thing that I thought we ought to finance wholly ourselves – and not seek to rely on non-Governmental contributions. I got a favourable response from him on this, after I had described to him what it was all about, and its very considerable potential value to the primary industries of Australia.

When I put the submission to Cabinet this evening I told them that you had got promises of something over £28,000 from non-Governmental sources – but that I wished to alter the submission and make the proposal that the whole £500,000 should be found by the Commonwealth Government and that we should not seek funds from non-Governmental sources.

Additional to the material that I put up to Cabinet, I described (I hope and believe accurately) the working of the Phytotron and its potential in popular terms.

Cabinet accepted the project – all the money to be found from the Budget – provided that the project was made part of the Budget and that no announcement on the subject should be made pending the presentation of the Budget.

The money already donated by private persons and companies was returned – a most unusual happening!

The design and building of the phytotron – named Ceres – proceeded; it was completed and officially opened by the Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies on 29 August 1962. By then, Casey had resigned from Parliament and was a part-time member of the Executive.

The Neurological Foundation (31)

The width of Casey's interests, particularly later in his life, is well illustrated by his sponsorship of the Neurological Foundation of Australia. This story is best told in the words of Dr John Game of Melbourne.

The story of Lord Casey's involvement in the Australian Neurological Foundation is really a relatively simple one...I had known him for some years when I invited him towards the end of his term as Governor-General to become President of the Australian Neurological Foundation.

Lord Casey had some knowledge and interest in neurology as a result of our personal association and my own interests in the development of neurology in Australia.

This was fostered by his willingness to be Patron of the Second Asian and Oceanian Congress of Neurology which was held in Australia in 1967. This in turn was linked with his interest and profound personal knowledge and views concerning the Far East and our relationships with the nations of this hemisphere.

In inviting him to be President of the Neurological Foundation we also very much had in mind that the Foundation should be a national institution to try to make a co-ordinated effort to raise and maintain the standards of neurological training and service in a country where there were pockets of population separated by relatively large distances.

With this concept in mind we sought as President a man who was truly a distinguished Australian and not particularly linked with any one State and felt that there was no other person who came anywhere near him in this respect.

He did not accept the post lightly but only after careful reflection and consultation with his advisers. He did not want to become involved in public affairs in a purely nominal way as a figurehead and after consideration told me in accepting that he did so on the grounds that he would make it a particular interest.

This, in fact, he did and he and I frequently met and I received considerable advice based on his discerning judgement and concern to see things done properly. He once said to me that he wanted anything with which he was associated to be a success.

He retained his interest in the Foundation until the very end and has now left us a significant legacy although he had already twice given us substantial donations during his life.

His interest has led The Lady Casey to take a personal interest in continuing activities and in fact she has recently agreed to become a Patron of the Foundation.

The UN and international co-operation in science

Casey was a strong supporter of the United Nations and was an assiduous attender at the meetings of the General Assembly and on other occasions. By 1958 he had had about seven years experience of the UN and had naturally become familiar, not only with its international political role but with the work of the Social and Economic Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency and of the specialised agencies, UNESCO, WHO and FAO.

His lengthy experience, particularly with CSIRO, had confirmed his view of the efficacy of the application of science in improving the social and economic welfare of mankind. His service in the Middle East and India had given him a compassion for the poorer countries which could, in his view, be aided by the application of scientific knowledge.

The action he promoted at the meeting of the General Assembly in 1958 certainly arose from his belief that the UN and its specialised agencies were not directing attention sufficiently to the clearly defined needs of the world community of nations nor were they paying special attention to the application of the knowledge gained by science.

The resolution (No. 1260) (32) that he introduced to the plenary session was based on his personal conviction of the need to stimulate greater scientific activity. In his remarks on that occasion he said in part:

The stage has now been reached when I believe that the General Assembly should request the Economic and Social Council to examine the role of the United Nations and the specialised agencies in relation to the advance of science and to consider methods of stimulating research in the most needed directions and also methods of achieving a wider application, dissemination and understanding of new discoveries taking account of the great unequalities that exist in the scientific resources of various countries.

His resolution, entitled 'Coordination of Results of Scientific Research' was considered by the Third (Special) Committee of the 13th Session of the UN General Assembly on 8 October 1958.

Some of the remarks he made on that occasion must be quoted to reveal the value he placed on the scientific approach and his ardent desire to see the UN as the agent for bringing the benefits of science and technology to the nations and particularly those less developed.

Our proposal is indeed one that should not raise any political antagonisms, for in all countries, whatever their political or economic system, the main hope of economic progress lies in the maximum application of the results of scientific research to the practical problems of production and human welfare. However, natural science is not a political animal. The nature of the physical universe is the same, as the task of understanding it is the same, whatever our political theories and practices. The scientific research that is done in any one country is a contribution to the welfare and advance of mankind and not narrowly confined to its country of origin.

What has been achieved by the application of scientific and technological discovery in recent generations is clear from a consideration of the state of affairs in each one of our countries 50 years ago and now. It is unnecessary to detail the tremendous changes that science and technology have brought about in practically every country of the world. In the last 50 years, the face of most developed nations has changed. The reason for this is not that a hitherto unknown inventive genius has appeared on the face of the earth, or that theoretical science commenced early in the twentieth century. The basis of modern developments depended on the application of publicly known facts or principles of physics and chemistry. In fact, the conditions of modern life are a phenomenon associated with modern technology. Scientific ability and access to technical facts have been shared throughout wide areas of the world. There has been no monopoly by any one nation in the application of discoveries which have produced, amongst many other things, the internal combustion engine, modern agricultural machinery, the synthetic fabrics, television and the modern miracle drugs to combat disease.

What I have said about CSIRO may serve to explain why Australia is so conscious of the need for applied science – for the conscious application of scientific enquiry and of the results of scientific research to the practical problems that lie before us. Such scientific research organisations exist in a number of countries, in addition of course to a vast amount of research carried out by private and public bodies. Scientific research concerns itself in each country and in each organization largely with the problems peculiar to the conditions and environment of the particular country or the particular organization. There is a saying in India "each man oils his own spinning wheel first" – which has relevance to the conduct of scientific research in any country – and of course to much else. But the results of scientific research in any one country or organization seldom have application only in the country or organization that carries out the research. Probably by far the greatest part of scientific achievements have application in a wide field.

What I have in mind is a more comprehensive study of trends in current research and its application; and consideration whether the United Nations might attempt to give more guidance and impulse to the whole movement of scientific advance and application.

The formal resolution made various requests to the Secretary-General chiefly 'to arrange for a survey to be made of the main trends of enquiry in the field of the natural sciences and the dissemination and application for peaceful ends of such scientific knowledge and on the steps that might be taken by the UN, the specialized agencies and the IAEA towards encouraging the concentration of such efforts upon the most urgent problems, having regard to the needs of the various countries...'

This survey was carried out by UNESCO and the UN under the direction of the distinguished French physicist Pierre Auger and resulted in the so-called 'Auger Report', which in turn, led to the convening of the 1963 Geneva Conference on the 'Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Areas (UNCSAT)'.

Casey, although by then retired from Parliament and no longer Minister for External Affairs, was invited to be the leader of a large Australian delegation. He was a Vice-President of the Conference and took an active part in its formal sessions as well as in the political discussions which were inevitably behind the scenes on such an occasion. He delighted in the opportunity of meeting the scientific leaders of many countries who were present. He was host at a series of daily lunches at which he entertained a skilfully matched selection of delegates from advanced and developing countries and encouraged them to talk about the application of science and technology to development.

This conference undoubtedly stimulated a succession of activities in the UN itself and its agencies concerned with applying science and technology to development. It gave great satisfaction to its author – R.G. Casey – as is well known to his colleagues and friends in Australia. But it was also evident in his remarks at the closing Plenary Session and these again contained wise guidance for future action. It will be sufficient to give the following extract:

This Conference has been one of the greatest expositions of science and technology on a wide front that has ever taken place, and we must be most grateful to all those who have contributed to its success.

Many lessons have emerged for us all. Speaking in the briefest terms made necessary by the time factor, there must be increased co-operation between developed and less developed countries, in an effort more quickly to diminish the economic gap between them.

This calls for an effort on both sides, and by the United Nations and specialized agencies. First, the developing countries should be assisted where necessary, to establish their own scientific and technological organizations in close association with their national planning machinery. They must also be assisted to train their own scientists and technicians. Without this they are unable to take full advantage of what the more developed countries can offer. Secondly, the developed countries must be ready to do still more, and to make more sacrifices to spare highly qualified people. They must also gain a closer understanding of the true needs and special problems of the developing countries. They must avoid imposing preconceived ideas based on their own experience or their own interests.

If Casey had lived he would certainly have wished to be at the second Conference in 1979 to review progress in the intervening years.

Other international activities

Although UNCSAT was a major achievement of his last years as Minister for External Affairs it was by no means the only success in promoting Australia's relations with others in science and technology.

While in the USA, as Australia's first Minister to that country, preoccupation with war diplomacy precluded much attention to science on his part personally. It was in this period however that the 'Tizard' mission was in the USA, revealing to that country the experiences of the British in the design and use of radar. Although the Americans had already gone a limited way to its development they were less advanced and certainly without actual combat experience.

In Australia work on radar had already begun and liaison for the exchange of information confirmed with Britain. It was appreciated in Australia that the massive American effort, particularly in new designs of equipment made possible by the magnetron (designed by M.L. Oliphant and his colleagues in Birmingham) called for increased contact with the USA.

J.P.V. Madsen (soon to be Sir John Madsen) was asked to lead a group of scientists to strengthen the liaison office in London and particularly to found a new liaison centre in the USA. Madsen left Australia on 25 April 1941 to fly to the USA via New Zealand.

America was not at war, for Pearl Harbor was still in the future. Accreditation of Australia with American officials at the highest level was of the utmost importance if a free flow of most secret information was to occur. Casey, in his capacity of Australian Minister to the USA, wrote on 15 May 1941 to Mr Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, offering reciprocity of exchange of radar information. Madsen's mission obtained the necessary recognition and set up an office in the Australian Embassy headed by Dr G.H. Munro, a scientist of the Radio Research Board. Permission was obtained for Dr J.L. Pawsey of the Radiophysics Laboratory to spend time at the Radiation Laboratory, M.I.T., studying microwave techniques.

These arrangements were to prove of exceptional importance to the Australian Forces and indeed to General McArthur's forces when, after retreating from the Philippines, they established headquarters in Australia and began the long campaign of recapturing the south west Pacific from the Japanese. Australia was able to provide the US and Australian Forces with advanced information and special radar equipment.

After the war Casey became a strong supporter of the Colombo Plan. W.R. Crocker, a former Australian Ambassador, says of him (33):

His special achievement (while Minister for External Affairs) was to make Australia aware of Asia and Asia aware of Australia and in both cases with sympathy and respect.

...Although the inception of the Colombo Plan owes much to Sir Percy Spender, it was Casey's drive which had very much to do with keeping the Colombo Plan alive.

In 1959 Casey and his wife visited Japan as guests of the Japanese Government and were accompanied by Mr G.B. Gresford of CSIRO. Remembering the biological interests of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, Casey took with him and presented to the Emperor a complete bound set of the biological scientific journals published by CSIRO. One of his press statements (21 March 1959) he devoted to his interests as Minister-in-Charge of CSIRO and said (34):

Good scientific facilities and a vigorous research effort are part of the life-blood of modern industrial development and, like you, we are increasing our output of high quality scientific work and training increased numbers of skilled scientists.

He went on to review the areas of mutual scientific interest and to issue a general and warm welcome to Japanese scientific visitors to Australia.


When Casey became Governor-General of the Commonwealth at the age of 75 he still had great personal vigour and in the ensuing four years enjoyed the opportunities his office gave of meeting people and discussing the affairs of Australia. He was much sought after on civic and other occasions; he spoke to apprentices, to church leaders, to military gatherings, agricultural shows, at schools and at the opening of buildings of importance to the community. During his tenure of office he spoke on 229 occasions to a great variety of audiences, sometimes speaking on as many as twelve occasions in a month.

He had adequate opportunity to keep his contacts with scientific events. He opened the Civil Engineering Building of the University of New South Wales, a new science block at St Margaret's School, Berwick, the 39th ANZAAS Congress in Melbourne, the WA Laboratories of CSIRO at Floreat Park, Perth, and the Ninth International Congress of Soil Science in Adelaide.

It gave him and his wife particular pleasure to open, although in a deluge of rain, the elegant building erected in Canberra with the money donated to CSIRO by his close friend Mr F.C. Pye; this building is the F.C. Pye Field Environment Laboratory of the Division of Environmental Mechanics at Black Mountain, Canberra.

There were necessarily many occasions for official functions at Government House, but besides these Casey invited a stream of visitors for personal and intense discussion of affairs. Many were scientists or academics from CSIRO or the universities.

To interest his overseas visitors in Australia he arranged for the CSIRO Division of Wildlife Research to maintain a small field station in the grounds of Government House so that native animals were to be seen.

The Australian Academy of Science

Shortly after his appointment as Governor-General and his election to the Fellowship he was invited to address the Academy at its annual dinner in 1966. He expressed a view of the Academy and its future which is of interest in the light of the events of the decade since then. He said (35):

The Australian Academy of Science is a highly important body of important men engaged in the pursuit of practically the whole spectrum of science at its highest level. It has rightly assumed the highest responsibility in respect of science in Australia.

You are in the relatively early years of your existence as an academy. I would hope that as the years go on, you might consider widening your sphere of responsibilities to include representatives of the technologies which I understand is being done to an increasing extent by your older counterpart in Britain, the Royal Society.

This would not mean lowering your sights but, I like to think, rather more broadening your vision and scope. After all, particularly in a young country like Australia, the importance of the technologies cannot be denied.

Also, would it be possible and appropriate for you to consider in due course – dare I suggest it – that you should allow and invite some selected social scientists to enter your doors?

It seems to me that one of the great paradoxes of today is that at a time when the integration of knowledge is surely of the utmost importance, specialisation becomes more and more insistent.


In the period from about 1925 to 1960 four political leaders played leading roles in the establishment and growth of national scientific research and university research and education. It was his conviction of the vital scientific aid needed by Australian industry and agriculture that led Stanley Melbourne Bruce (later Lord Bruce) to found the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1926. Joseph Benedict Chifley, Prime Minister of the Labor Government in 1946 founded the Australian National University which, today, has a leading role in front line scientific research and postgraduate education. Robert Gordon Menzies (now Sir Robert) gained the support of the States to form in 1956 the 'Committee on the Universities' under the Chairmanship of Sir Keith Murray; its recommendations, when accepted by the States, permitted the Commonwealth Government to stimulate extensive university growth.

Casey, particularly from 1950 onwards, had a major and diverse influence. As Minister-in-Charge of the CSIRO and while also active as Minister for External Affairs he had a direct influence on CSIRO, on the ANARE and on international collaboration in science. He later, as a member of the Executive of CSIRO and as Governor-General, continued his influence on science and technology.

All who worked with him in a senior post have a clear appreciation of his qualities. W.R. Crocker says of him (36):

Casey, who qualified as an engineer at Cambridge and who had a gallant war record in 1914-18, looked like a Foreign Minister and behaved like one. His equipment for the role included, besides his impeccable deportment, a voice and diction of distinction, a knowledge of French and German, an uncommon width of experience, and freedom from provincialism, racial or cultural.

Dr E.G. Bowen recently serving as Counsellor (Scientific) at the Australian Embassy in Washington, gives, in a personal letter, the following interesting analysis of Casey's contribution to affairs:

A thing which impressed me greatly about Casey was that as Minister for External Affairs and from the earliest days he was well aware of a fact which is only just being appreciated here in Washington, namely the following.

Many Foreign Affairs and State Department officials like to give the impression there is some deep mystique about diplomatic activities born of long experience and deep involvement at the negotiating table. In point of fact, most of today's international problems – whether dealing with nuclear defence or offence, utilisation of resources, food, population control, space surveillance, law of the sea, etc. – are essentially science based and a complete knowledge of the scientific basis for many of these problems is required to make the correct response at the international level. Many governments have still not realized this, but Casey seemed to know it instinctively from the beginning.

The same instinct led him to play a leading part in the introduction of science and technology as a branch of the work of U.N. Few of us realized how important this would ultimately become, but events have proved him right – witness the importance of subjects like food, climate, climatic control and space activities in U.N. discussions.

Mr G.B. Gresford, at present Senior Science Adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs but formerly Secretary, CSIRO, recalls Casey's extraordinary vigour and energy:

In 1968, when he must have been 78, I went with him on an expedition to the rocket launching complex at Cape Kennedy in Florida. It was a gruelling couple of days, but he was fresher than any of us and still asking questions of our American Air Force hosts right up until the time he got off the plane on returning to New York.

There is a danger that in eulogising Casey's official activities and achievements, his personal charm and the interesting features of his more private life, so attractive to his closer friends, will be obscured. His personality was so vivid and many sided that it is indeed difficult to portray. There was never a dull moment in his company. In conversation he was able to match the variety of interests of his companions of the moment; yet he listened, too, a true virtue on such occasions.

He described his father and grandfather as having cacaoethes scribendi – the itch for writing – and this he certainly inherited. From Gallipoli onwards he kept a daily diary, often dictated to the variety of tape recorder which he found attractive at the time. All these notes were later typed up and filed by his hard working secretary and thus available later for ready reference. They were of great value as an aide-memoire in writing books and speeches, in meeting again in Australia distinguished persons he had met overseas.

It may seem trivial to recall his interest in 'gadgets' but it was quite real and often had a purpose. Perhaps the term should not be used for the 'Crankless engine' patented by the distinguished A.G.M. Michell in 1917. Michell is chiefly remembered for his invention of the thrust bearing which revolutionised the ship designing of the world. Casey has himself related how a small group of colleagues became interested in Michell's engine and how he was asked to go to the USA with the engine and a mechanic to demonstrate it to General Motors and the Ford Company. It proved not to be a sufficient advance for adoption.

Both Casey and his wife became enthusiastic aviators, and had much to do with private flying in Australia. Casey was taught to fly at Point Cook by Squadron Leader Scherger (now Sir Frederick Scherger, Chairman of TAA) in 1938 and in 1939 purchased his Percival Vega Gull aircraft.

On one occasion Casey sent to Dr David Myers, then Professor of Electrical Engineering in Sydney University, a gadget (a lazy-tongs computer) he had devised for marking on a map the expected point to be reached by his aircraft on a given course at a given speed in 10, 20 or 30 minutes. A small instrument was made and, on Casey's initiative, patented as the Casey-Myers Computer. The patent revenue to Myers was eventually about $3.50 – but they both enjoyed the experience.

Both the Caseys flew their Fairchild 24 aircraft in the USA during his official period as Minister. Both had an active licence to fly when Casey became Governor-General. He was persuaded by the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Donald Anderson, not to fly while holding this official post but he did retain his Mini Cooper S and his 1958 Bentley.

Official life wholly occupied Casey's attention for the greater part of his life. He and his wife lived, while in Melbourne, in their small house in Gipps Street, East Melbourne. Both spent whatever time thay could at the farm 'Edrington' at Berwick in Victoria and it was there that Casey spent his last few years.

He died on 17 June 1976 aged 85 years.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.3, no.3/4, 1977. It was written by Sir Frederick White KBE FRS, Chairman of CSIRO, 1960-1970. Elected to the Academy in 1960 (Council, 1974-77; Vice-President, 1976 77).


  • (1) Lord Baker of Windrush, FRS. Personal communication.
  • (2) Lord Casey, Australian father and son, London, Collins, 1956.
  • (3) Lord Casey. Personal papers.
  • (4) Ibid.
  • (5) Ibid.
  • (6) Cecil Edwards, Bruce of Melbourne, London, Heinemann, 1965.
  • (7) Lord Casey, 'The conduct of Australian foreign policy' – the Roy Milne Memorial Lecture for 1965. Current Notes on International Affairs, v.23, no. 9., Department of External Affairs.
  • (8) Australian Parliamentary Handbook, 1973.
  • (9) a) The Science and Industry Research Act, 1926 and b) The Science and Industry Research Act, 1949-68.
  • (10) George Currie and John Graham, The origins of CSIRO, Melbourne, CSIRO, 1966.
  • (11) Sir Frederick White, 'CSIR to CSIRO – the events of 1948-49', Public Administration, v.24, no.4, 1975.
  • (12) By 1961, the Executive had the following members: F.W.G. White (Chairman), S.H. Bastow, R.N. Robertson, C.S. Christian, L.G.H. Huxley, Sir Arthur Coles, R.G. Casey, J. Melville and E.P.S. Roberts.
  • (13) R.A. Swan, Australia in the Antarctic, Melbourne University Press, 1961.
  • (14) A. Grenfell Price, The winning of Australian Antarctica, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1962.
  • (15) The Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act, 1933.
  • (16) Current Notes on International Affairs, V.19, p.74, 1948.
  • (17) The members of the Executive Planning Committee were Sir Douglas Mawson, Commander Oom and representatives of Navy, Air, External Affairs and CSIR.
  • (18) Current Notes on International Affairs, v.22, p.169, 1953.
  • (19) Ibid., v.29, p.30, 1958.
  • (20) 'Secondary industry testing and research – Extension of the activities of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research'. Parliamentary Paper No.3, Feb. 1937.
  • (21) Weights and Measures (National Standards) Act, 1948 and Weights and Measures (National Standards) Act, 1960-66.
  • (22) Lord Casey, Personal experience, 1939-1946, London, Constable, 1962.
  • (23) CSIR Files.
  • (24) Ibid.
  • (25) See ref. 22.
  • (26) See ref. 9 (b)
  • (27) See ref. 2
  • (28) F. Fenner and F.N. Ratcliffe, Myxomatosis, Cambridge University Press, 1965.
  • (29) J.P. Wild, 'The beginning of radio astronomy in Australia', Records of the Australian Academy of Science, v.2, no.3, pp.52-61, 1972.
  • (30) CSIRO files.
  • (31) Dr John Game, personal communication.
  • (32) U.N. General Assembly, Thirteenth Session, 1958. Resolution 1260 (XIII), 'Coordination of the results of scientific research'.
  • (33) W.R. Crocker, Australian ambassador, Melbourne University Press, 1971.
  • (34) See ref. 3.
  • (35) See ref. 3.
  • (36) See ref.33.

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