Alexander Boden 1913-1993

Written by I.G. Ross

Alex Boden was a manufacturing chemist who succeeded in that most difficult of industries; through his texts, he was an exceptionally successful educational author; and he was a publisher who relished editing, a man of some privacy and reticence who made deep and continuing friendships across the world, a singularly devoted husband, parent and grandparent, and a philanthropist in an age when philanthropy had almost dropped out of sight. His life was one of remarkable richness, variety, originality and generosity. It is unlikely that there has been another Australian of his kind.

His election to the Australian Academy of Science was on the nomination of Professor John Swan, who has recalled:

Alex Boden was a man of remarkable talents, pconcealed by a modest, even humble, exterior. I never saw him angry. He was greatly admired as a man who had achieved much in life but whose ambition was to contribute to family, social and community welfare, to give rather than take, to be supportive of others, and above all to foster the advancement of science.

One can wonder of how many, not professionally engaged in scientific research, it could be said that the voluntary side of their life was 'Above all, to foster the advancement of science'. Or that, as was the case, that they enjoyed no social contacts more than the company of scientists.

In writing this memoir I have depended on much help from Alex's family and former business associates, but I have also relied at times on my own recollections. We first met in 1942 in a manner so typical of Alex's style that it should strike a suitable note for appreciation of the longer narrative.

I was in Dymock's bookshop in Sydney looking at an enticing shelf of chemistry texts. There was a young, suited man beside me, and he asked me - I was in school uniform - what books I used at school. Idrew down two favourite English texts. He said: 'What about this one?' and he picked out Boden's Handbook of Chemistry. 'Oh', I said, 'it's our set text but it's no good'. 'Oh, I'm sorry,' he said. 'I wrote it'. The next day I sent him a letter detailing my reasons for that embarrassing verdict. They were actually only nitpicking ones. In response Alex bravely offered me my first job, at £2 a week, to work through the vacation at the Hardman Research Laboratory on revisions of the Handbook for the next edition. I accepted.

Early years

Alexander Boden was born on 28 May 1913, shortly after William and Helena Boden arrived in Australia from Northern Ireland. They established a drapery business in the main shopping centre of the Sydney suburb of Chatswood. He was the only son; there were two sisters.

His father, William Boden, was born in Ballinasloe on the border of counties Galway and Roscommon, but went in his youth to join his uncle in the latter's evidently prosperous drapery story in Magherafelt, Co. Derry. A surviving photograph of the staff of the store is impressive: some fifty men and women in starched collars and prim blouses stand in well-ordered ranks. The move to Australia in 1913 followed the emigration of two brothers and a sister. His mother, formerly Helena Isabella Hutchinson, a schoolteacher, came from Knockboy, near Broughshane, Co. Antrim, of a family of schoolteachers and clerics.

Alex Boden's education was at Willoughby Public School and North Sydney Boys High School. His father's premises were owned by the pharmacists Washington H. Soul, Pattinson and Co. and one day, while the young Alex was still at school, his father asked his landlord what was the best career for a boy. 'Buyin' and sellin'' was DrPattinson's counsel. In a greatly expanded sense it could be said that Alex Boden followed this advice.

The student

In 1929 Alex passed the Leaving Certificate with honours in Mathematics and Chemistry. An exhibition took him to the University of Sydney, where he enrolled in science to which he, like many before and after him, had been drawn by school chemical experiments:

I can trace my interest in chemistry to my first chemical experiment in school, changing the colour of litmus paper. I took some paper home and spent an exciting afternoon changing it from pink to blue with vinegar and washing soda. This was something I could do without instruction or interference from others. [1]

The last sentence is revealing: self-reliance was to be the hallmark of his life.

He made ample time for extracurricular activity, and set a possible record in ecumenism through his simultaneous membership of the Student Christian Movement (he had been a Sunday school teacher at Willoughby Presbyterian church), of Professor John Anderson's notoriously subversive Freethought Society, and the Sydney University Regiment (Corporal 1931). He became a highly-qualified Boy Scout leader. He spoke at the Sydney University Union's parliamentary-style Union Night debates, and engaged in hockey and wrestling.

Notable survivals of that time are notebooks in which Alex recorded in carefully marshalled tables the books he had read and his opinions of them. Thus in his first university year he records reading, wholly or in part, about a hundred books. Representative entries from that year include Better Ballroom Dancing by Scott (75% read) with a note 'Correction of mistakes etc.'; Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (all read) 'Good realistic. No censoring of language'; Handbook of Photography by Sinclair (most read) 'Pretty good but a bit old-fashioned'; Religion and Science, by Draper (all read) 'V. readable'; English Regal Copper Coins, by Bamah (most read); 'Coins 1672­1860. No pics. may be good for reference'; La Vie des Abeilles by Maeterlinck (2/3 read) 'V.g. Hard French. Interesting and novel'; Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels (all read) 'Quite fair. Rather old but still interesting'. This remarkable reading programme continued, with unabated assiduity and eclecticism, right through to the end of his fourth year - 400 titles, all similarly noted.

He graduated with honours in the bleak year of 1933. While this account must shortly take up his business career, it will be convenient here to carry on with one of his subsequent extra-professional interests - the theatre. He joined The Playmakers and in 1934 made his debut in Crime Made Legal. Advance publicity noted that 'Alex Boden is a newcomer to the Society and is making his first appearance in the important part of Inspector Burke. His fine speaking voice and confident bearing are sure to find favour.' It must be assumed that they did, for he made at least a dozen subsequent appearances, mostly with Sydney's oldest repertory company, The Sydney Players. His notices were generally flattering, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream: 'As Theseus, Alex Boden was easily the most competent of last night's performers. He alone gave real dignity to his lines.'

After 1936, however, the store of programmes and press clippings stops. Life had acquired other dimensions. He wrote in his notebook:

Aged twenty four and watching now the last grains of 1937 run through our fingers. A book [his Handbook of Chemistry] was born in January. Perhaps it will be worthy of rebirth. Almost a beginning on another. Finances are dull but they have been smoothed sufficiently to give a little takeoff for 1938. Sentiments not entirely controlled and showing no practical advance.

1937 was the year of a blundering young chemist in ignorant virtuous lazy search for better things (what better things?). The need is for better blending of gravitas and j[oie] de v[ivre]. The morning is ripening rapidly.

The manufacturing chemist

Boden's business career took two paths that need to be traced separately. One, his career in science and chemical manufacture, follows naturally at this point. Later, there will be an account of his parallel career as publisher and author.

His first job (1934) was a nine-month temporary appointment as an assistant biochemist at Royal North Shore Hospital. This was the only time he worked for a salary. While searching for a next job at the depths of the depression, his eyes were clearly on the commercial world. On 28 June 1935 there was registered the Pastoral Products Company for 'the manufacture and sale of chemical products etc.', proprietors Alexander Boden (then just 22) and Douglas J. Bush. Of this venture nothing has been found but a letterhead with a mid-city address describing the company as 'manufacturers and distributors of accessories for the man on the land'.

He did however make another more durable move the same year through an advertisement for a position with a Hardman Research Laboratory, at 103­5 Bourke Road, Waterloo. The owner, name unknown, was 'an oldish bachelor' who wanted to build a business for a protégé, Kethel Hardman. Dr Len Atkins, a life-long friend, remembers Hardman as a youngish man, not a technologist, who had set up a business based on contract analytical work supplemented by the recycling of 35 mm movie film, recovering nitrocellulose and silver. The business lacked a chemical director. Alex wrote: 'I knew so little that I thought I knew everything and fitted in immediately'. The Waterloo premises included a modest laboratory. Alex expanded the recycling business to the reprocessing of X-ray plates, the recovery of silver from spent fixing fluids from photographic processors, and of lead from toothpaste tubes.

The arrangement with Hardman was presumably, since it was not salaried, of a commission or profit-sharing kind. In any event, it was unharmonious and short-lived and Hardman left. There was then a fire in the celluloid film plant which the owner had insured well. He told Alex that once he had the insurance money, Alex could have the business. Thus Alex, by then a Registered Analyst, acquired the Hardman business and chose to retain the name. He moved to a laboratory situated above a furrier's overlooking Hyde Park. The analytical services were transferred to premises in Crown Street, Surry Hills, under the name of Sydney Testing Laboratories Pty Ltd. Alex began to buy, repackage and sell chemicals. His products included 'Lotus Bloom' face powder, price 6d, advertised, with a portrait, by Woolworths in the Sydney Sun, 25 May 1939:

Chemist triumphs. For months and months Mr A. Boden B.Sc., skilled analyst, has been testing and comparing expensive world famous powders ... Read these amazing facts: 27 Actual tests were necessary before Lotus Bloom was perfected ...

Shortly after graduation Alex had been in friendly association with another chemist, who had found employment with a shoe factory and was formulating shoe finishes: dyes, waxes, latexes, adhesives. Having thus learnt about these arcane matters, Alex in 1939 suggested to a hockey team-mate, Max Carson, that they go into business to supply such products to the trade. The operation was conducted, as Shirley Finishes Pty Ltd, from a garage in Crown Street, later in Chippendale. In due course the adhesives side of the business, initially based on formulations of natural rubber but later moving to synthetics, became the dominant one. In the mid-1950s, Carson acquired Alex's interests.

In parallel (1940) with another partner, Ray Russell, Alex embarked on actual chemical manufacture in Enmore, an inner suburb. A new company, Alex Minter & Co., was formed: the name was invented. A meat chemist, George Levack, suggested the first product: glyceryl monostearate, an emulsifier used, for example, in hair creams, and made by heating hydrogenated stearine with glycerol. Other trademarked products were copper oleate as a waterproofing agent, and products for hardening paints and metal welding fluxes. Alex Minter & Co. later moved to a seven-acre site in Northmead, manufacturing products for water treatment, preservation of textiles and various agricultural applications: aluminium sulphate and aluminium hydroxide gel, copper 'naphthanate' (hexahydrobenzoate), and metal stearates. Alex Minter was sold in 1961 to Chemical Materials Ltd.

Meanwhile in 1948 Alex founded Hardman Chemicals Pty Ltd and in 1953 he moved this operation to the site of a former army warehouse in Marrickville, on a residuum of which Boden Books (owner of Science Press) and a later company, Bioclone Australia, now operate. He embarked on a new venture based on reacting chlorine gas with ethanol and with benzene, a development that came about indirectly through one of his clients, a carpet manufacturing company. The technical director, Dr Egon Grauaug, was interested in making certain wetting agents used in wool scouring and hence in carpet manufacture. They were based on epichlorhydrin which can be made from glycerol and hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen chloride is readily made as a byproduct of organic chlorination reactions.

A product requiring chlorination chemistry is DDT (p,p'-dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), the demand for which was just developing. The original intent was thus to use the manufacture of DDT as a source of hydrogen chloride for the manufacture of epichlorhydrin. In fact that objective was abandoned quite early in favour of the manufacture of DDT in quantity much greater than the demand for a speciality wetting agent would justify. Alex carried out the initial experiments at home, where a pilot chlorination plant was built, supervised during the day by his wife. Primary products of the chlorination of alcohol and benzene are trichloracetaldehyde ('chloral', an hypnotic) and chlorobenzene (plus higher chlorinated benzenes: markets were established for p-dichlorobenzene as an insecticide and as a counter-odorant, and for o-dichlorobenzene as a solvent and cleanser). Condensed together in the presence of cold fuming sulphuric acid, chloral and chlorobenzene produce DDT which separates as a waxy solid.

The accompanying rather dingy picture of the plant is reproduced from Boden's An Introduction to Physics and Chemistry (1959). The chlorination of ethanol was a continuous process. Alex recalled (in speaking notes for a lecture, post-1978) that in the early days he spent nights checking the process, sleeping near the coal-fired boiler to keep warm:

We could not afford to buy good chemical engineering equipment, so we made a lot of it ourselves. Teflon was relatively new then, and we pressed it and made it into gaskets and valves and pumps which worked well. No other plastic construction material was available to resist a mixture of hot solvent, chlorine, and hydrogen chloride.

Elsewhere he wrote:

The condensation of chloral and chlorobenzene is a right messy operation. Handling highly flammable poisonous solvents, corrosive hydrochloric acid and 103% sulphuric acid can hardly be taken as a chemical picnic. We had a keen team of fitters who built new plant as the old fell to pieces. [1]

The copious byproduct hydrogen chloride had to be disposed of. The economic viability of the enterprise was secured through a contract to supply the battery company Eveready, in nearby Rosebery, with drums of zinc chloride solution, made from Hardman's hydrochloric acid and scrap zinc obtained from galvanizing plants. In a reminiscence in 1986, he said:

We made DDT in those days, and when I say we, that meant everybody. We made zinc chloride and packed it into drums, and everybody had to help roll the drums up on to the truck which took them to Rosebery.

The manufacture of zinc chloride extended, using imported ammonium chloride, to zinc ammonium chloride for sale principally to the galvanized pipe division of Stewart and Lloyd, in Newcastle. There followed in the 1960s the establishment of a merchandising department selling eventually sodium fluoride, textile dyes and reflective sheeting. Cash flow was further bolstered by manufacturing, under license, a product for phosphatising steel prior to painting.

The company entered the 1960s with justifiable confidence, but Alex later said

I was fortunate to be involved in the chemical industry in the 1950s when shortages of chemicals meant that one could make a chemical with some hope of selling it. Now competition from overseas supplies and the high cost of labour make a new chemical enterprise expensive and hazardous. [2]

In fact, the 1960s were not easy. The company was short of capital and suffered from liquidity problems. There was a fire in the chlorobenzene plant. Against all Alex's instincts he was at times forced to retrench staff and at other times to ask staff to accept pay cuts.

His turnaround came in the late 1960s through George Levack who had moved to the central coast of New South Wales and had met Owen Chapman, an engineer involved in rutile mining there. Alex joined Chapman in a mining venture, Wyong Rutile Pty Ltd (later Wyong Minerals). For three years, as Coastal Chemicals Pty Ltd based at Wyong, he also manufactured rutile mining equipment in fibreglass. Wyong Minerals was later transformed into a sizeable holding in the then substantial Victorian Antimony Mining (VAM) group. The later timely sale of his interest in VAM was critical to his tenacious preservation of Hardman over the period that it was relocating to Seven Hills and recasting its product lines.

With the capital gained from the VAM transaction Alex further developed the Marrickville site and also built a portfolio of investments in public companies and commercial property developments. He had for many years been a ready and generous donor to causes scientific and individual. The income from these investments led him to think later about the possibility of larger philanthropies, and eventually made them possible.

The end of DDT

When Alex began manufacture in the 1950s, DDT was seen as a magical pesticide. It had saved possibly more lives than any previous man-made product. A change came with the raising of environmental alarms, for which DDT became the scapegoat and icon. Also, concern spread to human health. Alex, who had advanced ideas in regard to health checks for his staff, recalled:

During the years that our company made DDT I had, at various times, fears for my staff who, like myself, were reasonably saturated with the sticky stuff. I visited DDT plants in other parts of the world, and gradually became satisfied that DDT is harmless to man, and that DDT workers were as healthy as the general population. In the DDT plant in Los Angeles, the largest in the world, the workers were found to be average in all health respects except cancer cases which were, surprisingly, nil.

This led to a study of DDT as a cancer inhibitor. DDT was fed, along with a known carcinogen, to female rats. The results indicated that DDT-treated rats had a significantly lower incidence of mammary cancer, and a lower number of tumour sites than the control group. The work was not pursued because of the impossibility of experiments on humans, but it might have shown that the residues of DDT, for which DDT was banned on general aesthetic grounds, and because of its persistence in the environment, could have been beneficial after all. [2]

Also making DDT were ICIANZ and Union Carbide. Each eventually found its manufacture to be uneconomic. Hardman Chemicals continued making DDT through the 1960s, but environmental concerns led to its declining use and the problems of by-product waste disposal increased. Black liquid residues consisting mostly of sulphuric acid mixed with sulphonated chlorobenzenes were no longer welcome at the old brickpit tip at nearby St Peters. Alex could now buy hydrochloric acid more cheaply than he could make it. He told me too that whatever the case for continued approved uses, as a publisher of school texts that treated social issues in science, he could hardly continue to make such a controversial product. The resourceful integrated programme of manufactures based on chlorination chemistry, that had begun in the 1950s, closed in the early 1970s.

Hardman at Seven Hills

By then, most of the functions of Hardman had been moved to a 20-acre site at Seven Hills, in western Sydney. The land, a dairy farm, had been acquired in 1961. Production shifted from organics to inorganics, particularly aluminium chloride and chlorhydrate, zinc chloride and zinc ammonium chloride, which became the heart of the Hardman operation. With knowledge that his largest customer was planning to phase out its demand for zinc chloride, Alex sought an alternative product. For some years (commencing in Marrickville) he was able to secure a valuable raw material in the form of stockpiled baghouse fume from the copper smelter (Electrolytic Refining and Smelting, later Southern Copper) at Port Kembla. The fume was a complex mixture of 33% zinc, 25% lead and in amounts from 2% down to 0.5% copper, cadmium, arsenic, tin, bismuth and antimony, with other elements in still smaller quantities. Their recovery presented novel problems in extractive metallurgy. Eventually, zinc alone was recovered (as sulphate) at Hardman and the balance, in the form of lead sulphate with admixtures, was shipped profitably to an English smelter. By 1970 the company had built up a large export business, mainly of zinc sulphate (monohydrate and heptahydrate) to the USA. This achievement was recognised via a government E for Export Award.

Markets move: the demand for zinc chloride products fell, and further diversification was needed. To enlarge the company's customer base (up to that point, only about fifteen companies), manufacture commenced, under license, of a range of novel water-soluble epoxy resins for surface coatings and modification of concrete. Some non-chemical manufacturing was attempted, but faltered at the task of retail marketing.

In 1987 the company's name changed to Hardman Australia, primarily to identify more clearly its Australian origin and ownership, but also to distance itself from exclusive dependence on chemicals. The policy Alex set for it (recalled in later Board minutes) was simply that Hardman should be a conservative, ethical company to be operated with the aim of increasing its net worth. At the time of his death Hardman Australia had fifty staff and an annual turnover of the order of $15 million. Products manufactured included aluminium hydroxychloride and aluminium and magnesium hydroxide gel and polyaluminium chloride for adhesives, antiperspirants, liquid stomach antacids, and water treatment; zinc sulphate as a micronutrient for cereals and other crops and, specially formulated, as a treatment for footrot; zinc chloride and zinc ammonium chloride; magnesium chloride for textile processing and adhesives; magnesium hydroxide gel for pharmaceuticals; water-soluble epoxies; and certain moulded road-safety products such as reflective road markers and flexible reflective roadside posts. These manufactures were complemented by an extensive range of indented product lines, while a 49% owned company, Hardman Chemical Industries Pte [SIC] Ltd in Singapore, produced inorganic chemicals for the South-East Asian market.

Science press

There was a certain inevitability about Alex Boden becoming a publisher. As an undergraduate he had produced mimeographed lecture notes that were sold through the Sydney University Union. He is remembered as watching nearby to see how they were selling. He became production editor of the student newspaper Honi Soit and he sold advertising for the Science Association's Science Journal - no mean task in the depths of the depression. His reward was to meet Dr Ernest Harden, the Hungarian proprietor of the Shakespeare Head Press, whose advertisement appeared in the 1933 Journal.

A chance meeting after Alex's graduation led Harden to invite him to prepare a textbook for secondary school chemistry, suited to the New South Wales curriculum. From his own methodical high school notes, reworked to reflect his later studies and his developing interest in the economic significance of chemistry, he delivered in 1936 the manuscript of A Handbook of Chemistry. Notwithstanding that both professors of chemistry rang Harden to say that Alex didn't know enough chemistry to write a textbook, Harden went ahead and the book appeared in 1937 under the Shakespeare Head imprint. There was a revised edition in 1941, and then the publisher was taken over by Consolidated Press.

The Handbook of Chemistry was thus committed to the Consolidated (Shakespeare Head) Press, to that press's considerable profit. Harden described the book in his catalogue as one of the major successes of Australian publishing. Alex later compiled a more elementary Introduction to Modern Chemistry, which he thought should be sold at a low price. Harden said he could not sell it at the price proposed but encouraged Alex to publish it himself. He established Science Press in 1943, and its first productions in 1946 were the Introduction and a booklet of physics problems.

The notion, that the books produced by Science Press should be made available to students as cheaply as possible, was to be a hallmark of his press's operations. The result was, however, that the Press was in most years a drain on the group's finances, even though Alex never took out a salary for his role in it or charged rent. In short, the Press would not have survived without the backing of chemical manufacture.

Around this time Keith Bullen FAA FRS arrived in Sydney to the chair of applied mathematics. Alex agreed to publish his Introduction to the Theory of Dynamics (1948), subsequently enlarged to cover statics. The resulting Introduction to the Theory of Mechanics (1949), pitched at undergraduates or senior secondary pupils in the British system, received respectful reviews. Publication in Australia of a mathematical text to Bullen's excruciatingly meticulous standards presented problems. Having resourcefully resolved them, the effort brought its rewards: Bullen's Dynamics ran through eight editions over the next 22 years.

While the Press was active with reprints, further titles were added only slowly: another of Alex's own elementary books in 1959, then two mathematical texts by commissioned authors, and in 1962 his Senior Chemistry. Exclusive preoccupation with science ended in 1962/3, when the Press branched into high school texts in French and in literature. A six-part series on French was destined to be a conspicuous success, passing the landmark of a million volumes sold around 1990.

In the 1970s, Science Press's publication programme expanded, with an increasingly wide range of titles. Of the 140 titles published by Science Press up to the time of Alex's death, many would not have been of his direct concern. But surprisingly many would have been, to some degree. Alex loved editing and, to adopt the word he used for his role in Chemical Science (1976), producing books. The early textbooks on French were worked over intensively by him, providing exemplars of the way he thought Science Press should publish for Australian schools. To the end of his life he would use spare time on aeroplanes, in the early morning, or where else occurring, perfecting text: his own or his authors'.

An example will illustrate the ubiquity and detailed nature of his involvement. In 1975 the Press issued a kit text by T.Hackett et al. Communicate! An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Germany, Japan, France and Indonesia. With another edition on the way, he wrote in 1979 to Mrs Michiko Furosho, the opera singer daughter of a business associate in Tokyo, in the following terms:

Dear Michiko: I have a book on languages for Australian students. To go with each language we have a tape. On one side is text material, on the other we want to give songs of the country. These songs should be ones that the students can sing themselves and so learn to use the language ... I remember the beautiful songs that you sent to the ABC through me and your sweet voice would be ideal for the songs needed. What songs do you sing to Mikihito [her son]? I would like to ask if you could organise such a tape for me. Some variations would be welcome such as a male voice or a group of voices. Some of the children's choirs that I heard on Japanese TV were wonderful ...

A listing of the complete output of Science Press, up to the time of its founder's death, has been lodged with the Australian Academy of Science. This list of some 170 titles, seemingly so diverse, nevertheless reflects a consistent philosophy. One can discern in it the pedagogue manqué, the desire to deal with issues as well as with curricula and, even when the detailed decisions were not his, the hand upon the tiller. Music, art, communication, societies feature, far cries from chemistry; and new media such as audio and video cassettes appear.

The author

The chemistry texts used in Australian schools in the 1930s were invariably of British provenance and style. Alex Boden's first book, the Handbook of Chemistry, set a new pattern from the outset. Its frontispiece was a map of Australia with mineral occurrences marked. Its text was plain and clear with numerous Australian references and industrial and social allusions were prominent.

He was keen on the production of petrol from coal. The caption to Fig. 16 is pure, proselytising Boden (aged 23):

View of part of the works at Billingham, where petrol from coal is stored. Eventually coal may replace petroleum as a source of volatile fuel. New sources of energy will be one of the major problems of industry in the future.

Successive editions went through numerous changes. The second, in 1941, was 50% longer, and the seventh (1948) was further expanded. By then the book had been considerably transformed, especially in its much more numerous illustrations. The book remained in print, essentially unaltered, till the tenth edition (1957).

In 1945, to meet the requirements of the chemistry part of a combined Chemistry and Physics course in New South Wales, Alex compiled and, as had become his practice during successive revisions of the Handbook, trialled with the assistance of numerous school teachers, a shorter Introduction to Modern Chemistry (1946). The text was concise with generous illustrations and descriptions of applications of chemistry in industry and agriculture - and in a tentative way in biology.

Following the publication, collaboratively, of two small books of problems in elementary chemistry and physics, Alex next produced, in 1959, An Introduction to Physics and Chemistry. His diligence in locating appropriate and interesting illustrations is exemplified by a picture of tungsten atoms obtained by the then very new technique of field ion microscopy, the photograph having been obtained directly from the inventor of the method, Erwin Müller.

By 1960, the durable Handbook was out of date, and Alex set about preparing an entirely new Senior Chemistry (1962). In what became his characteristic mode, he was not just an author of the book but also its organizer, using his now numerous contacts in industry, CSIRO, and universities in Australia and abroad as sources of particular pieces of text and of illustrations. The book was copiously illustrated, often with pictures of recent research, especially in CSIRO: his objective was to have at least one half-tone or line block per page. Long before the rise of the feminist movement, he made a particular effort to include pictures of women and references to them. I was closely involved in this book and so witnessed his constant reworking of successive drafts, seeking clarity, conciseness and an effective page layout. I learnt a good deal from seeing my own contributions edited in this way. Frequently, revisions were made so that a page could end with a completed paragraph: a hard objective but one achieved with half of the recto pages of the book. Exquisite pains were taken with diagrams. Again the book was trialled extensively, in ten schools.

There followed an ambitious new venture: two multi-authored texts in general science, once again conceived, produced, copiously illustrated and ruthlessly edited by Boden. Introduction to Science (1964) is a notable achievement. Written for high school students in their first three years, it tackled the problem of teaching over the whole of science. It was successful and sold over 300,000 copies.

I see the production of this book, before its time in terms of international offerings, as a tour de force. This was to be a book for beginning science students: years seven-to-nine. The plan that Alex adopted for his Introduction to Science defined twelve chapters and within each about four defined sections, of which the fourth (given that the first chapters were to deal with the physical end of the sciences) deftly and progressively brought in treatments of biology, ecology, and issues of social consequence. The last of the twelve chapters, on Man and Food, presaged the concerns that were to lead him later to endow the Boden Chair of Human Nutrition.

The book, in six editions, had a successful market for the better part of twenty years. A self-contained sequel, with even more authors and more acknowledgements, was published in 1966 as Advancing with Science. Notable in this book is the explicit treatment of the biology of human reproduction.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Alex's Senior Chemistry became dated, socially as much as scientifically. At a colloquium on senior school chemistry in 1976 he said:

Chemistry is losing popularity among students because many of them consider it to be too hard; I suggest that the word 'irrelevant' be substituted for 'too hard'. Young people in general show a great aptitude for knowledge which they consider to be interesting or useful. Certainly the pressures of affluence affect the time available, and must be taken into account when we determine the rate at which knowledge can be fed to the students. They do not have as much time as they previously had to come to mental equilibrium with the great flow of new knowledge.

Having seen the need for an updated chemistry text, this time he enlisted help. The authorship of Chemical Science (1981) is attributed to Hunter, Simpson and Stranks, with a separate laboratory manual compiled by Carswell, the whole 'produced' by Boden. Eventual sales attained 100,000.

For some years, in the 1960s, when many publishers were commissioning their printing overseas, Alex considered he had a responsibility to support Australian printing houses. By the 1970s, however, the economics of offshore publishing were inexorable, and Chemical Science was printed, in multicolour, in Singapore.

With the production of Chemical Science one might have expected Alex to hang up his boots as a sole author of chemistry texts. Nevertheless, just five years later (he was then 73), there appeared his 512-page Chemtext (1986), just short of fifty years after his first book, the Handbook. Chemtext was a wholly new book as modern in its style as its snappy title, with an enthusiastic foreword by Barry O. Jones FAA, then Minister for Science. The next year, collaboratively, Alex published an accompanying Teachers' Manual.

For anyone who has taught chemistry - indeed science - over many decades, and perhaps was weaned on Boden's original Handbook, the shift that is shown in Chemtext is astonishing in its dimension, yet wonderful in its youthful spirit. Barry Jones launched the book and declared that Chemtext ought to be required reading for every member of the Federal Cabinet.

John Emsley, New Scientist's chemistry correspondent, in reviewing new offerings in the chemistry textbook market, also enthused:

Although people assume that the US is the only market capable of supporting full-colour general texts, Chemtext, by Alexander Boden from Australia, shows it can be done elsewhere. And done better. Here is a book imbued with the joy of chemistry. Items of human interest dot its pages, and Boden takes every opportunity to show the relevance of the subject to the everyday world ... Such is my admiration for this book that I can even forgive such words as 'weedicide' and the use of mL. [3]

For some decades the Australian Academy of Science lived, to a degree, on the proceeds of textbooks aimed at the same markets as those for which Alex Boden wrote and produced. Apart from the Academy's flagship biology text The Web of Life, Alex's books were as successful and influential as any.

The farmer

While searching for land on which to relocate Hardman, Alex was shown and later bought a dairy property near Windsor, from which in due course he delivered daily 150 gallons of Friesian milk to the Sydney market. The farm became his principal hobby and weekend retreat. It was also, from 1980, the site of an endeavour in the hydroponic production of vegetables, then more advanced in New Zealand than in Australia. With his son-in-law Hugh Thomas, he developed a 60m long pilot facility with automated analysis and supply of nutrients. Imported chemicals from New Zealand were replaced by Hardman, but there were continuing difficulties in maintaining chelated iron in solution. There were always difficulties in producing tomatoes and lettuce at premium price peaks. A flood terminated the venture. Dairying continues.

Bioclone Australia Pty Ltd

Alex had long deplored the loss to Australia when, as continues to occur, Australian innovations are exploited in other countries. An opportunity to take a personal hand in redressing the outflow came in 1979 through his chairmanship of the New South Wales State Committee of CSIRO. Here he became aware of the emergent outcomes of a collaboration that had been set up between CSIRO's Unit of Molecular and Cellular Biology (Dr Geoff Grigg) and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research (Dr Les Lazarus).

The objective of the collaboration was to develop a series of improved immunoassay systems for assaying human hormones, based on then new monoclonal antibodies. CSIRO and Garvan Institute scientists had isolated families of monoclonal antibodies specific to each of a series of pituitary hormones and began to integrate them into usable assay kits. At this point it was perceived that the development of practical kits for clinical use would be assisted by a commercial collaboration. In the market place these kits would be in competition with products dependent on an inferior technology using polyclonal antibodies. Grigg proposed to a business member of the CSIRO State Committee that a commercial venture be established to develop and market the new technology; the member, in turn, proposed that he and Alex form a partnership. The proposal fell on receptive ears, and Alex agreed.

This speculative enterprise engendered no enthusiasm at all among Alex's senior staff at Hardman, but after listening to the objections, he characteristically made his own decision. He explained that he had seen too much good research lost to the country, and that he considered that biological manufacturing had a promising future.

The decision he made was to set up a company, Bioclone, and provide its start-up finance. 'It happened that I had some shares which had been so much wallpaper for many years but had at last come good'. Management was through his senior Hardman staff. Dr John Smeaton, an expatriate who was running his own diagnostics supply company in the USA, was employed to run the new company and Bioclone was set up in Marrickville in mid 1981. Almost immediately Alex's intended business partner withdrew from the enterprise along with promised funds. Nonetheless, with resourceful improvization Bioclone eventually reached the market place, initially with a pregnancy test. When Smeaton left in 1985, turnover was approaching $1 million per annum, the on-site staff numbered six, and many more, funded by Bioclone, worked at the Garvan Institute and CSIRO.

Nevertheless, from the outset Bioclone seems to have experienced all the varieties of the culture shocks that are to be expected when academic and government scientists and commercial manufacturers meet under the same institutional roof. CSIRO and Garvan staff were critical of the resources Bioclone was prepared to provide or raise, while Hardman managers felt that the research staff saw Bioclone funds in the light of research grants: open ended, without fixed goals or milestones. There were different opinions about commercial strategies. In 1982 Alex made unsuccessful overtures for further capital but later, when urged to float the company - the funds, he was assured, would be easy to raise - he declined to do so. By then he had resolved to build the company through sales, as he had successfully done with Hardman. Another commercially sound objective, apparently favoured by some and certainly prevalent in the biotechnology world, would have been to get the company up to speed - or the prospect of it - and sell it quickly at a profit. This did not happen either: it would have negated Alex's basic reason for committing himself to Bioclone, and his instincts always were to invest for the long haul.

The venture did not enjoy a comfortable life. At its peak of sales performance Bioclone achieved annual sales approaching $3 million. For most of its time it was not profitable and Hardman Chemicals felt that it was haemorrhaging to support it. In the late 1980s, when cash requirements sought from Hardman magnified, there were fears that Hardman might be brought down. At that time Alex would gladly have floated Bioclone and sought to do so, but after the stockmarket crash of 1987 underwriters were unwilling. Crucial assistance was however negotiated through private equity investments, and the company's position improved to the point that it was holding its own and exporting some 25 diagnostic kits, mainly in the endocrine range. It was not, however, able to fund further development from its revenue. Following Alex's death, Bioclone was sold to Hitachi Australia and continues to operate at Marrickville. Thus, to some degree, Alex's primary motive in starting Bioclone was realised, even if not as spectacularly as might have been hoped for in the heady early days of biotechnology.

Ten years after Alex started Bioclone (1980), the Hawke Government initiated its Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program. The objectives of this programme are similar to those which Alex had for Bioclone. The social engineering which he sought to effect, in bringing public-sector research workers into effective collaboration with a market-driven private sector, for the benefit of everyone, has proved instructively testing in the six years of the CRC programme. In the execution of any cooperative contract there will be issues of governance, performance, intellectual property rights and strategy, foreign to managers accustomed to directing their own affairs. The university and other public-sector technology marketing companies that have sprung up since the mid-1980s all have hard-won experience of the problems. Alex was a decade ahead of the field.

Planner and manager

Alex Boden's forte was in vision and planning. Of necessity he coped with the mundane routine of general management but he did not enjoy it. Still less did he enjoy the personally distressing tasks that befall all managers at times. It is believed, for example, that he never personally sacked an employee.

Once Hardman Chemicals was on its feet, however, he was able to attract to the company a succession of capable managers. With his trusted managers in place, his style was to encourage, to give trust, to commend improvements and seldom to comment on what had gone wrong. He was also tenacious in holding to commitments he had made. Such tenacity, not always worn easily by his senior staff, was nevertheless characteristic of the way he stuck to and followed up all his decisions. Especially was this true of his philanthropy.

Behind Alex's success in building his company lay relentless enquiry, in the literature (he accumulated what was surely, in Australia, the only privately owned complete set of Chemical Abstracts - eventually given to Bond University), of consultants in the USA in relation to products, processes and markets, and of his exceptionally wide network of commercial, public sector and academic contacts.

His success was founded too on acute observation, of the world, of opportunities, and of the most trivial of passing events. Who else would have recorded in his daily diary that when he was driven from London to Slough at 7.30 am by Celltech's Chief Executive it was in a red Ford Granada? In his notes of business discussions he seems to have been as interested in his discussion partners as in the business matters. In 1967, some 30 tons of French DDT were brought in by a Perth company producing herbicides. Alex recorded a discussion with its principal. After noting that the latter had three children plus an adopted aboriginal boy, that his wife was keen on cooking and learning Russian, and that he had a large boat and 'doesn't worry about business', and yet more domestic details, he went on with:

At university [he] wrote anti-religious contributions to journals. He quoted Voltaire's 'the world will be happy when the last king is choked by the entrails of the last priest'. He talked of knowledge at various levels and [claimed that] with basic enough knowledge of tree and insect behaviour, infestations and even weather cycles can be predicted. I failed to see the connection and asked him to write it down for me.

I also said that business did worry me and instanced stray imports of DDT spoiling an overall arrangement with Australian manufacturers not to import. He said he had not acted with any intent ...

Alex was uninhibited and exceptionally diligent in pursuit of answers. It was entirely natural for him, when planning a visit to Cuba, to write first of all to Fidel Castro for permission to visit a factory (the request was granted). From time to time he would commission research (for example, in CSIRO on the purification of rutile and ilmenite) of a kind beyond the capacity of the company's laboratory. For Bioclone, he established a collaboration in Moscow.

Behind these enquiries lay relentless methodical note-making, a practice demonstrably entrenched in his undergraduate days. In thick carbon-copy volumes, entries were made every three weeks or so, summarizing technical data, market estimates and costs of potential products. Thus in 1955 a suite of successive entries were headed: Weed killers, DDT users, Potassium thiocyanate, Chloride factory, Copper cyanide, Ferrous oxalate, Phosphoric acid, Ammonium chloride, Zinc cyanide, Molybdenum salts. And later: Growing citrus.

Business philosophy: The Newcastle address

On 20 October 1987, Alex (then 74), was invited by the Newcastle Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute to address it, before a dinner. He began: 'If you wish to doze off before dinner, please feel free'.

The unpublished text [1] that he prepared for this occasion traverses in serio-whimsical style his business life. 'My subject' he said, 'is the chemist as a businessman', and then he went on to say:

There is plenty of interest but little amusement in chemistry. Chemists generally are a serious bunch. They are taught to think before speaking and that is a serious handicap in a fast-moving world, especially if you are married.

Chemists are fenced off from the common herd by thoughts of accuracy and limits of error. A science student discussing his activities told his girl friend 'Today we measured thousandths of centimetres'. Gee', she said, 'How many thousandths are there in a centimetre?'. 'Bloody millions' he told her.

Then after discussing the conditions of employment of chemists, hinting at industrial relations, talking about risk taking and market appraisal comes, from the heart:

Some businesses begin as partnerships as prosperity starts to emerge, trouble sets in. Human beings have a great sense of self-esteem. It is rare that one partner credits the other for their prosperity. Sometimes, one becomes less satisfied with only half the cake, and the partnership can be in danger. The seeds of disagreement can be very small. The magnificent partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan broke up over the colour of a new carpet for a theatre. A successful partnership, like a good marriage, can be very satisfying, but it needs wary planning.

On the choice of a business:

What to make in a new business? Something that people want? Nowadays, people are [so] saturated with offers of many goods and services that they do not seem to want anything. Rather the question must be 'What can you sell?' A chemist is likely to think of starting up a business by making chemicals. This is an unlikely way to go

The majority of successful businesses do not involve chemicals. All involve service of some kind which people want to buy.

A business rarely starts with a new invention. That is too chancy. Find something to sell, and start selling it. Then look around for ideas to improve profit by your effort so that you can pay the rent and the wages. Use your friends to help you and your enemies to goad you on. You can spend a lifetime working out a better mouse container. Or you can buy traps from someone who already makes them, and then go out and sell them. A business is there to make money, not to make mouse traps, or chemicals, or magic pills.

As a general rule I suggest that a business is better based on consumable items than on items for which you need a stream of customers beating a path to your door. If you can find a customer for an item which can be sold to the same customers time after time it can be better than having to find a new buyer for each sale.

Further material of an autobiographical nature from this notable address has been incorporated elsewhere in this memoir.

The public persona

Alex was a private man. He did however belong to Sydney's best endowed club, the Australian, and, when not entertaining on his own territory, enjoyed using the club to consolidate friendships. He was a lifelong Freemason.

From the late 1960s onwards he accepted various honorary appointments, among them Vice-President (1968) of the Australian Chemical Industries Council (on which body he was the most substantial sole proprietor), Chairman of CSIRO's New South Wales State (advisory) Committee (1979), and by election a member of the Senate of the University of Sydney (1979­82). I think it could be said, however, that committees were not his milieu (unless he were in the chair).

Family man

On 20 November 1943, Elizabeth Constance McVicar was married to Alexander Boden at St Stephen's Presbyterian

Church in central Sydney. Beth McVicar was a science graduate who had met Alex some years before when, while an undergraduate, she sought vacation employment. They honeymooned at the Naval Lodge, Jervis Bay. The surviving receipt, a reminder of the times, says: please bring tea, butter and sugar coupons.

There were five children, all Sydney University graduates: Alexandra (medicine), Diana (a PhD in biochemistry), Elissa (agriculture and law), William (science) and Helena (science and psychology). All are married, between them they have eighteen children and grandchildren, every one treasured by Alex whose attention to them all was extraordinary, given the demands of his business life. The headmistress of his daughters' school used to say that he was the only father she could count on to turn up for the school's sports and open days.

The public side of Alex's life was business and its attendant risk-taking; his family was his haven and delight, and Beth was his complement. A colleague has commented that he lived very comfortably among females: four out of five children and nearby a vigorous artistic mother-in-law. Alex, for all his network of professional contacts, was inherently a reserved man. Beth, the most generous of hostesses, was his perfect foil. Between them, they projected, and delivered, a special kind of expansive hospitality.

There was a choice of venues for their hospitality, and all were much used by children, grandchildren and guests: their principal house in Roseville, a rangy holiday house at Palm Beach, another house at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, and the farm.

Travelling and the cultivation of friendships

In a letter written in 1987 Alex supplied a short curriculum vitae concluding with:'Hobbies: Trying to avoid being drowned in paper. Travelling. Collecting personal relationships.' The last two of these 'hobbies' interlocked. While his travels were often for business purposes, the end result was as much the cultivation of friendships, new and renewed, as the achievement of any commercial objectives.

His first foray beyond Australia was in 1951, by air, when intercontinental air travel was novel, airport departures were as enthusiastic and social as the streamered farewells accorded to departing passengers on ocean liners, and the BCPA DC6 aircraft offered sleeping accommodation. Beth accompanied him. They went to the USA and attended the Diamond Jubilee Banquet of the American Chemical Society where he first met Linus Pauling, who many years later was to suggest the title for the endowed Boden Chair of Human Nutrition. Back in Australia, Alex sought out visitors to the country whom he might be able to entertain and assist. In 1956 he received the following letter from Missouri:

Your kind invitation was highly appreciated. I wish I could accept, but conditions have arisen, unfortunately, which will prevent my visiting Australia as planned. I regret it very much. Harry Truman.

Dr Geoff Grigg has recalled his style:

Alex liked making the opportunity to meet old scientific friends and to hear what they were doing with their science or their families. He was a kind man and always generous with his time and with his hospitality. On learning that an old friend was flying off somewhere or returning from overseas and arriving at the crack of dawn he would be down to farewell him or her or to pick them up and drive them home. Perhaps it was not such a sacrifice for Alex to get up early to go to the airport as it would be for most, since he made a practice of starting work very early, at 4.30 am anyway.

In 1976 agreements were concluded with the Mafatlal Group in Bombay to promote their dyestuffs and textile chemicals. Before long personal contacts ­ including attendance at four magnificent Mafatlal family weddings in Bombay - became far more important to Alex than mere business.

In the mid-1960s Sergei Kapitza, son of the Nobel Laureate Peter Kapitza, spent some months in the Physics Department at the University of Sydney. He was admirably sociable and it was inevitable that the Bodens would draw him and his wife into their hospitality. The Kapitzas became family friends. Again, in 1979 Alex met Professor Yuri Obchinnikov who represented the USSR Academy of Science at the Australian Academy's 25th anniversary celebration. Professional contacts ensued. These connections became close, evidenced by five visits to Moscow, photographs of three generations of Kapitzas, and in travel diaries admiring descriptions of Obchinnikov's offices and his ways of dealing with the Soviet bureaucracy.

Some years later Obchinnikov, his wife and two colleagues came at Alex's invitation to attend a Boden conference on 'Membranes: Fundamentals and Applications'. It was then learned that Obchinnikov had a terminal illness; upon his death Alex was invited to contribute a memoir to a commemorative volume Portrait of a Scientist (Through his Friends' Eyes) in which it has presumably been published in Russian.

He had other close friends in Japan, China, Singapore, Europe, America and China. The last included two doctors, married, whom he twice funded for experience in Australian hospitals.

The better to sustain these friendships, Alex in his later years was grappling with Russian and Mandarin.

The philanthropist

It may be that, for those few with great accumulated wealth and a philanthropic inclination, they do not know how to begin. Hence charitable foundations. For Alex, charity began while he was still anxiously watching his bottom line. The University of Sydney was his principal beneficiary over many decades, starting in 1946 (he was then 33 and hardly grandly pecunious), when he met a request for funds to restore the third year chemistry laboratory (the cost was £1230/6/8, which closely approximated the salary of a professor at the time). But beyond the formal record lie many gifts unrecorded. They include help to his many immigrant employees, especially towards the education of their children, and (gleaned from letters poked into filing cabinets) frequent assistance towards travel abroad by scientists. However, no donation from Alex ended with the gift: the donor would take a long-term interest in the outcome and the recipient might well benefit further. The impersonal character of the conventional welfare charities thus held no attraction for him.

His gifts to the University of Sydney escalated when approached by Professor Hans Freeman FAA, in his pre-professorial days. Freeman has recalled his first conversation with Alex at a departmental cocktail party.

I had recently returned from CalTech to take up a Lectureship. My ambition was to explore the function of metals in biological systems by studying the crystal structures of metal complexes with simple biological ligands. At the time this was avant-garde stuff and the prospects for getting support for the research in Sydney were not promising. The world, even after sherry, looked gloomy. Someone introduced me to Alex and to this day I do not know what I said to him. A little while later he turned up with a cheque for £5000, a very large sum in 1959.

That gift funded Alexander Boden Fellowships. Some years later (1970) when Freeman was appointed to the chair of inorganic chemistry he asked Alex for help in maintaining a higher visibility for the subject. Alex sponsored, and found among his business contacts donors for, the Foundation for Inorganic Chemistry. It has a governing board that he chaired till his death. He made the point at the outset that if you are going to have donors you have to thank them, and so it happened that to inaugurate the Foundation, there was a dinner in the University's Great Hall. Freeman proposed that Linus Pauling and his wife be the first visitors sponsored by the Foundation, and that they attend the dinner. Freeman recalls:

Totally charmed by Linus Pauling, Alex appointed himself as his chauffeur for the three weeks of his stay in Sydney. It was on the way from the Sebel Town house to the ABC studios in William Street that Alex asked, as only Alex could: 'Linus, what is the most important research in the world today?'. The answer, as we turned into William Street, was instantaneous. 'Research on human nutrition. Think of how much suffering could be prevented if we knew more about fundamental aspects of human health.'

The Foundation, set up with a capital fund, supports two visiting scientists each year.

There were many other gifts. From back in the 1960s, when it could have been said that Professor Harry Messel and Alex were contenders in the high school publishing field, to the time of his death, Alex was a consistent and generous supporter of Messel's Science Foundation for Physics. To the Chemistry Department, there was a donation for what has now appropriately been renamed the Alexander Boden Library. He was a continuing and substantial supporter of selected causes within medical research institutes, among them the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's positron emission tomography project, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the Prince Henry Hospital Brain Surgery Unit, and Foundation 41. Of his donations he once remarked:

By good luck I have been able to work without having to obtain capital from others. This is particularly useful when you want to give money away, something no sensible partner would tolerate.

The Boden chair of human nutrition

The interchange with Pauling, reported above, appears to have crystallized an intention that Alex had been tossing around in his mind: to endow a chair, a Boden chair, in the faculty of science of the University of Sydney. The potential for application of benefit to Australia, and especially to humanity, was always a criterion.

Pauling at the time of his 1973 visit brought with him a copy of his latest book, Orthomolecular Medicine. Alex later said (of an intention that almost certainly only firmed up during and because of that visit):

I told him of my intention to fund a chair along the same lines of Medicine linked to good chemistry, but indicated that 'orthomolecular medicine' was not familiar to all. He then suggested that Nutrition would be a more understandable subject and so it was named. The department of Human Nutrition, as distinct from animal nutrition, has prospered in a satisfactory manner since then.

He called on the Vice-Chancellor to tell him of his intention and to enquire what the cost would be. Sir Bruce Williams recalls that Alex was pensive, but not deterred, when informed of a sum of the order of twenty times a professorial salary. Some two years later he told Williams that he believed he could subscribe the funds over a period, but would need to talk first with the members of his company - 'he preferred the term members to employees' - to secure their concurrence to the gift. The drawdown of capital that might otherwise be employed for Hardman's purposes could affect their livelihoods.

The Boden Chair of Human Nutrition was created in 1976 to 'develop teaching and research in human nutrition. Especially in developed countries there is evidence that dietary factors may be involved in the etiology of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, malignant disease and obesity in childhood and adult life.'

In a eulogy given at a meeting of the Faculty of Science in 1994, the first incumbent, Professor Stewart Truswell, said:

After endowing this unique chair, Alex's consistent, non-interfering encouragement and moral support were just as important to the realisation of his dream ... On my first day as Boden professor, the senior administrator in the staff office said they were worried because there had never been an endowed chair with the benefactor living. Perhaps Mr Boden might exert undue academic influence on me! As it turned out I can only recall one occasion when Alex discouraged me in a particular project - and he was right.

Truswell arrived in May 1978, and was duly taken under the Bodens' social wing. He did not, however, have a dowry of money for research. He found himself in some difficulty with other senior people in fields cognate with his about raising money for nutrition. An Australian Nutrition Foundation was to be set up with the aim of educating the public. Truswell wanted it to fund nutrition research as well: this was thought not to be feasible. He has recalled:

On 4 October 1978 in my diary: 'Several talks with Alex Boden. We agree to start our own Sydney University Nutrition Foundation and leave the other Australian Nutrition Foundation be'. So we had two parallel foundations, one for nutrition education of the public across Australia, the other ours with the objective of supporting research in the Human nutrition unit in the University of Sydney.

Alex's support was crucial in getting the foundation going. With his continuing attention, gently expressed, it prospered, and the Human Nutrition Unit appears to be securely entrenched in the University.

The Boden Conferences

The Australian Academy of Science was, to a significant degree, Alex's principal Australian competitor in the world of science publishing for secondary schools. But then he knew personally, through his professional and philanthropic interests, a surprisingly numerous and diverse sample of its Fellows. He had been since 1977 a member of the Academy's Science and Industry Forum.

The Academy's history, The First Forty Years, states that in 1979 the National Committee for Biological Sciences proposed that a series of small, specialist meetings on biological subjects should be established as a continuing activity, and that Alex agreed to fund them. What actually happened was that Dr Jim Peacock FAA in his CSIRO Plant Industry office admired a style of conferences, type-named Gordon Conferences, in the USA and felt that Australian biologists needed a similar opportunity. Peacock recalls:

I asked Alex to join me in my office one day when he was to be in Canberra, to discuss over a sandwich lunch an Academy matter on which I needed his advice. He agreed. I began by describing the Gordon Conference concept and I explained why I thought conferences of that kind could be of great benefit to biological research in Australia. Alex showed gratifying interest. I went on to ask for his suggestions on how the Academy might gather up commercial support to meet the costs of organising such meetings - the principal cost being fares for distinguished invited speakers from outside Australia. Alex then said: 'Oh well. I might as well put up the money myself'.

What he agreed to do was to supply the funds needed for two conferences a year for three years, later extended to five. The conference themes were to be proposed to an Academy committee, which Peacock chaired, through appropriate scientific societies. Commencing in 1981, a pattern was set of sequential conferences held at Thredbo in the Australian Alps each February. Alex and Beth Boden attended them and their participation and enjoyment enhanced and distinguished the meetings.

In 1985 Peacock with the then President of the Academy, Arthur Birch, invited Alex to a private dinner at Sydney's leading hotel. As the meal drew to an end, Alex (who no doubt could sense a baited trap better than most) asked what the purpose of the exercise might be, and that was duly identified: the need for a capital fund to support the Boden conferences in perpetuity. What would that cost? Peacock just happened to have the calculations at hand. Alex gave in graciously. The specific agreement was to provide $200,000 over four years. The future of the Boden conferences was assured.

A list of the topics of all Boden Conferences, to 1994, is in The First Forty Years. In recognition of Alex's benefactions and other contributions to the Academy's work, the enclosed garden at the city side of the Academy's Ian Potter House was named Boden Court.


Alex had to wait till he was nearly seventy to receive the accolades he manifestly deserved. Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science by Special Election, in 1982; Officer in the Order of Australia, in 1984; Leighton Medallist (the Leighton Medal is the senior award of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute) in 1986; Honorary Doctorate in Science (Sydney) in 1984. The last gave him especial pleasure.


One didn't argue with Alex Boden. That was because he didn't care to argue with you: he once wrote: 'One should not speak unless one can improve on silence'. The rules of the game were respect for each other's position, but let's get on to some matter of mutual interest. He spoke ill of no one: affronts he shrugged off. This technique must have been effective in business, where one senses he offered a delphic front.

In Who's Who in Australia he listed his recreations alliteratively as 'fitness, farming and photography'. Sport was part of his early life; fifty years later he was attending a gymnasium three times a week. Under the influence of Linus Pauling and the Human Nutrition chair, but also of the vegetarian customs to which he was introduced through his connections in India, he was carefully observant of his diet, though not to the point of eschewing good cuisine.

He was tough. In later years he was prone to angina, but refused to take medication even when it was placed in his pocket. But eventually heart surgery became unavoidable. An emergency operation in 1990, while successful, did slow him down. At a crowded fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration late in 1993, attended by a host of friends and children and children's children, he nevertheless gave a spirited speech. Shortly afterwards, aged 80 and never having retired from active work, he died quietly at home in the company of his family.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, Vol.11, No.4, 1996. It was written by I.G. Ross AO FAA, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University (RMB 2039, Queanbeyan NSW 2620).


My thanks are due, above all, to Mrs Beth Boden for uncovering from scattered material the key sources for this biography. From the family, Dr Diana Thomas and Bill Boden especially gave help. And besides those named in the text I am indebted to Don Baty (the longest serving Hardman employee, eventually a director), Max Carson, David Castleman, Bill Ferguson, Dr Ken Ferguson and Bruce Fielden.


[1] Address to the Newcastle Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, 20 October 1987, unpublished. Some of the material in this text had been used in an earlier address in Adelaide, a short version of which appeared as A. Boden, 'Chemistry for Pleasure and Profit: A Personalised View of the Practice of Chemistry', Chemistry in Australia, April 1986, p. 110.

[2] A. Boden, in F.W.G. White (ed.), Scientific Advances and Community Risk, Science and Industry Forum Report No. 13, pp. 125­39 (1980). This article is substantially a recapitulation of A. Boden, 'Industrial and Social Risks Associated with Pesticides', Chemistry in Australia, March 1979, pp. 93­7.

[3] J. Emsley, New Scientist, 28 April 1988, p. 79.

Unattributed quotations are from family papers, mostly untitled and undated.

© 2024 Australian Academy of Science