President of the Australian Academy of Science 1974-78.
Sir Geoffrey was born in 1916 in South Australia. He was educated at Geelong College, Victoria. After receiving his Intermediate Certificate he received a Diploma of Industrial Chemistry from the Gordon Institute of Technology. Sir Geoffrey received a BSc in chemistry with honours from the University of Melbourne. Between 1938–40 Sir Geoffrey studied to receive a PhD from the University of London. In 1941 he began his science career at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) as a research chemist developing anti-malarial drugs. From 1943–46 he was an officer in the Royal Navy, before returning to ICI on a research fellowship. In 1949 he returned to Australia, as a senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of Adelaide and became a professor of chemistry in 1955. In 1964 he moved to CSIRO as a member of the executive team. Sir Geoffrey returned to the University of Adelaide as in 1966 as deputy vice–chancellor and in 1967 became vice–chancellor until 1977. From 1974–78 Sir Geoffrey served as President of the Australian Academy of Science. From 1977 until his retirement in 1982, Sir Geoffrey was chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council.
Interviewed by Professor Bob Crompton in 1997.
From schooldays to chemistry honours research
I'm interested in the early influences which took your life in the direction of a career in science and particularly organic chemistry. Tell me about your early life.
I was born in Port Augusta, South Australia, in 1916. My family moved to Geelong when I was four, so I went to North Geelong state school and then at the age of about 12 I went to Geelong College, from prep school through to the Intermediate Certificate.
Did someone at the College turn your interest to science?
Yes, the science master, whom the schoolboys called 'Rats' Lamble. I was not especially turned towards chemistry during that time, but it was my best subject and so everyone thought that I ought to be a chemist. My father was Secretary of the Federal Woollen Mills and he naturally thought that as a chemist I too would work in industry. Some people in scientific positions in industry advised him that I should go to the Gordon Institute of Technology, which is in Geelong and is named after General Gordon of Khartoum. After three years there I qualified for the Diploma of Industrial Chemistry, but then I wanted to go on to the University of Melbourne.
Because the diploma had given me first year status at university, I went straight into second year. As I was not going to be able to live at home in Geelong, the family was particularly anxious that I should manage to live in college. I gained a scholarship of about 50 pounds a year which helped me to go to Trinity College in Melbourne, where I did the BSc in chemistry before going on to honours chemistry.
What was called honours in those days was a masters degree, requiring work for 15 months and a research project. I did that under the guidance of Associate Professor Bill Davies, an Englishman from Manchester who had worked in the lab at Oxford and whose enthusiasm for research was very great.
Did you go straight on to a PhD in Melbourne?
No. PhD studies weren't available in Australia until 1949. During my honours project year I got more and more interested in research, and then Louis Fieser's book about the steroids and the cancer-producing compounds came out. I thought, 'That sounds something that I could get really interested in,' but Fieser worked at Harvard and although he was very distinguished, in my youth I didn't fancy the idea of going to America.
However, another very well-known research establishment was the Chester Beatty Research Institute, at the Royal Cancer Hospital (as it was called then) in London. With the help of Professor Davies I wrote a letter to J.W. Cook, the professor of chemistry there, asking if he would take me as a PhD student. When he wrote back saying yes, all I had to do was find the money! The University of Melbourne was paying me a small scholarship of about 100 pounds a year during my last year and agreed that I could continue to receive that for the first year in London. That was a great help but my father had to fork out for the travel to England, which took a month in those days.
It was in 1938, wasn't it, that you went over there?
Yes. I had all sorts of advice on how to tip the stewards, including that you should always tip the bedroom steward first so that he would look after you in the expectation that he would get another lot when you finished. And it worked: I did have a very good steward who looked after me. But arriving in Naples was a bit touchy because Chamberlain had just gone to see Hitler at Berchtesgaden for the first time and people were a bit edgy as to whether war would be declared while we were at anchor in Naples. Fortunately Chamberlain came back holding up his piece of paper and saying, 'Peace in our time,' so we were saved for the time being.
When I got to London I called at the institute to give my regards to Professor Cook and with his permission I went off on a week's tourism. I went round to see Buckingham Palace and the Horse Guards – all the sorts of things that people from Australia do in London – and it was marvellous. Mind you, the other scientists in the institute didn't know I was doing that. They seriously believed I had 'got the wind up' and gone back to Australia, and were surprised when I turned up at the end of the week all ready for work.
And you were at the University of London between 1938 and 1941.
Yes. I got the PhD within two years, as early as possible, because we didn't know whether the place was going to be bombed!
Researching the inhibition of cancer
What was the topic of your research and your thesis?
The institute had been working on cancer-producing compounds, isolating the cancer-producing substances from coal tar. By the time I got there, although there was a bit of that work still to be done, people were beginning to think that if some chemicals would produce cancer, maybe other chemicals would inhibit its growth. So my first paper, written with J.W. Cook, was entitled 'The synthesis of growth inhibitory compounds, Part 1'. I got up to about five or six parts in that series, on synthesising substances which tested both for cancer-producing activity and for inhibition of tumours. Taking mice and rats which had been injected with a little bit of cancerous tissue and had developed tumours, we injected compounds to see whether the tumour size regressed. It was a very primitive method of testing but it did show that it was going to be possible.
Is it necessary to ingest the coal tar substance in order to develop cancer?
No. People working in coal tar used to get skin-cancers, and cancer of the scrotum was found especially in chimney sweeps. Unless you wash soot off, it's on your skin for a long time. The main substance in coal tar had been isolated by the Chester Beatty people before I arrived and a lot of work had been done to show how cancer-producing that was and how many related substances were also cancer-producing. The aim was to find out what causes the substance to be cancer-producing.
When you're looking for the reverse effect you've got a huge range of organic chemicals to choose from. How did you even begin to find something that would inhibit cancerous growth?
People all over the world were beginning to inject jolly near anything that could be extracted (from plants, trees and so on) into mice with tumours, to see whether the tumours regressed. It was a matter of trial and error, but there was sense in what we were trying to do in London, which was to modify cancer-producing substances to make them act in reverse.
Using science in the war effort
While you were in London war in fact did break out, in 1939.
Yes. During that time some volunteer ladies used to put on a luncheon in the hospital, for people from the hospital and from the institute. One of my institute colleagues and I were sitting having our lunch one day when a lady opened the shutters and said, 'For anyone who is interested, France has fallen.' Deadly silence.
Being in one of the so-called reserved occupations, you completed your period in London University. But then in 1941 you went to ICI as a research chemist, didn't you?
Yes. Since I was by now a scientist (with a PhD, even) I thought I ought to do something for the war effort and I wrote to ICI, in the Manchester suburb of Blackley, to ask whether they could use my services. I was appointed at 325 pounds a year, on the strength of which I got married. My wife, Edith, and I had our honeymoon in Huddersfield, where I went around another ICI factory trying to learn a little bit about industrial chemistry while she was left wondering what to do. Anyway, after three weeks there we rented a furnished house in Manchester, where we had three years.
I had indicated that I was interested in medicinals, and at that time there was a need for anti-malarials. One of my first jobs was not in the speculative research section but the process labs, beginning to work out the process for manufacturing a hundredweight of sulphamerazine, as it was called – sulphadimethyldiazine, in formal terms. That was not only a sulpha drug but had some anti-malarial activity, and apparently the boys in Burma were screaming out for it. So I made the first ton of this medicinal, and did several other things while I was there. But I thought that I ought to do something a bit more active.
Did you manage to join the forces?
No. I had already been interviewed but they had said, 'Go back and do your scientific work.' But when an advertisement in Nature said that the Navy wanted men with at least two years of university mathematics, I inquired and was asked to go for an interview. I had a medical inspection and an interview all in the same day, and the next day I was offered Acting Temporary Instructor Lieutenant Royal Navy. That meant I was going to start in about a month's time. What I had to do was to get myself an officer's uniform - even though I was only an acting temporary instructor – and go for three months training in the University of Bristol. We were billeted at Wills Hall, named for the tobacco people who provided it as a college for Bristol. During that time I also had a week at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, which was a fantastic experience. I'd never seen the college before and it was beautiful. It was initially intended as a hospital for broken down sailors – arms broken, blown off and all that sort of thing.
After graduating at Bristol I was given a week's leave and told then to report for duty at the HMS Dauntless, which was then in Inverkeithing, next door to Edinburgh. When I joined the Navy my wife had gone back to her parents in London, which became my headquarters too whenever I was on leave, so I got used to leaving London by train at about 7 o'clock at night and arriving in Inverkeithing at 4 o'clock the next morning. Then I had to make my way from the station to the harbour and get myself on board the Dauntless.
I had to teach both coastal and some astronomical navigation to new recruits into the Navy who were likely specimens, shall we say, for officer rank. I was part of the selection committee, too. I remember distinctly one young man who I thought was very, very bright, but not at navigation. He had done matriculation with five languages, so although he wasn't going to be an executive officer with the ability to teach navigation to young officer recruits I suggested that he might be selected for training as a Japanese interpreter. I was delighted when that suggestion was accepted, and I learned later that he had passed the exam and was an interpreter in the Pacific.
That work went on till 1946, didn't it?
Yes, till after the victory, and then I was looking for a job. You could get out of the services by accelerated discharge and once the war was over there didn't seem any point in my staying in the Navy. I wanted to get back to organic chemistry. My former professor from London had now moved to Glasgow as the Regius Professor of Chemistry, and when I told him that I wanted to get out he said, 'Well, I will write to the Admiralty.' He also pointed out that ICI had made a grant of money for new scholarships to enable people from the forces to get back into the work, just as I wanted to do. So I was one of the first recipients of the ICI research fellowships. I think I got 550 pounds a year – I was going up! My wife and I moved up to Glasgow, where we got a rented flat. We had three years there, during which time I was engaged not only in my own research but in helping my professor supervise his students, so effectively I had about 10 research students.
Was this back to anti-cancer drugs?
No. Some of them were heterocyclic, which means that in the ring system they've got a nitrogen or a sulphur atom, and we were looking at the general properties and the synthesis of organic substances, and so forth.
Academic advancement in Adelaide
In 1949 you accepted an appointment as senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide. So you must have had a yen to come back to Australia. Did you respond to an advertisement?
I didn't see an advertisement. In those days there would have been about five professors of chemistry in Australia, and I wrote to every one of them and said, 'Have you got any vacancies or are you likely to have any? Here I am, an eager young man.' I had a letter back from the professor of chemistry in Adelaide, Alexander Killen Macbeth (who was Northern Irish by origin). I was still in Glasgow, where Professor Macbeth had a physics friend to whom he wrote to say, 'Can you look out for this bloke Badger and see whether he's all right,' and I was eventually offered the job. The vice-chancellor at the time, A.P. Rowe, an Irishman, had been appointed as the first full-time salaried vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide. I was his first appointment to the academic staff, so I guess he was pretty touchy as to whether I was going to be any good or not.
You had a very rapid academic rise in Adelaide, being promoted to reader in 1951 and appointed professor in 1955. I was there at that time and I remember that the department was for the first time to have two professors and it grew enormously in strength.
Yes. When Macbeth, the only professor, was going to retire, the university decided then to have two professors – one from the physical and inorganic part of chemistry and one from the organic. So I was appointed to the chair of organic chemistry and Dennis Jordan was appointed to the chair of physical and inorganic chemistry about nine months later.
Were your own research interests more or less a continuation of what you'd been doing, or at a new slant?
Well, I came to the university full of enthusiasm for research and I managed to pass on that enthusiasm to the third-year class. The next year I had 12 students doing research for the honours degree, whereas the other side of chemistry had two, so I think that was a successful transfer of enthusiasm. We worked during that time on the cancer-producing substances, their properties and their reactions, and on various other cancer-producing compounds of course, and some chemicals from plants for their biological activity. Also we did a lot of spectroscopy and physical organic chemistry, as it was called. Before long we had just on 30 PhD students in organic chemistry alone.
That's a tremendous achievement, an outstanding success for a small university like Adelaide. Tell me about the book you wrote there.
Its title was Structures and reactions of the aromatic compounds. It was a review of the whole field of aromatic compounds, why they had this aromatic property and relative stability and so forth. It was published by Cambridge University Press and was very well received, with some very good write-ups.
Did you have some sort of vision for the department to work on a particular research area, or did you just want to build up the overall strength in organic chemistry?
Well, both. We not only worked on the aromatic compounds but also tried to find useful substances from plants and that sort of thing. There were also various other synthetic projects and before long we had a new one too, the desulphurisation reaction. It was already known that if a substance has sulphur in its ring system, its structure, and then you cook it up with a bit of Raney nickel you can desulphurise it – take the sulphur out of the molecule altogether. (Raney nickel is activated nickel produced from the alloy so that it has lots of hydrogen together with it.) We did quite a lot of work with that and the possibility of obtaining quite rare substances, which would be very difficult indeed to make in any other way.
As a by-product of this work, when on one occasion one of my research students decided to use pyridine as a solvent for the reaction and desulphurisation, to our enormous surprise he found that he'd isolated another substance from the liquid, which turned out to be dipyridine (two pyridines joined together, at the alpha position, as it were). This was a real breakthrough that had commercial application very soon afterwards. Although we didn't know about it, ICI wanted to have a good method to make dipyridine for a weed killer. The company read about this reaction in one of my papers, did some more work on it, showed that the process could be made continuous and made tons of dipyridine by this method. They improved our process and took out a patent on the improvement.
Steering a university through times of change
Your term as professor of organic chemistry in Adelaide finished in 1964 when you took up an appointment on the executive of CSIRO, just until 1966 when you were invited to return to Adelaide as deputy vice-chancellor. How long were you deputy vice-chancellor?
Henry Basten, who was vice-chancellor by then, was due to retire in about six months. I was deputy vice-chancellor until then, but when his position was advertised I applied for it and was selected.
Perhaps your appointment as deputy vice-chancellor was made with a view to your becoming the vice-chancellor after his retirement, and also to give you a training period.
I think it was, yes. They just wanted to 'see whether he's all right'. But I got on very well with Henry Basten. I was vice-chancellor for 10 years: a five-year term and a renewal for five years more. Then I thought that was enough.
That's a long spell as vice-chancellor in any period, but that was a period of great unrest among the student population, not only in Australia but worldwide. You had the task of steering the University of Adelaide through that very tricky period. How did you go about it?
The unrest was initiated, I think, by the Vietnam war, which young people didn't agree with and in which they didn't want us to be involved. A lot of students in Adelaide – as elsewhere – were very upset by this and if you want to put your finger on a bad decision by the politicians, it was their decision to conscript two out of every 10. If you were unlucky and chosen as one of the two you thought, 'Oh, what a bloody awful business.'
That was just the fuse, wasn't it?
Yes. But apart from that it was an emotional time. There were all sorts of meetings on the university lawns, which I used to attend in order to listen to what was said but without ever saying anything myself. I was recognised, of course. My stand was that universities must have freedom of speech so the students were free to say whatever they damn well liked about the government or the war or anything, but I was anxious to protect the fabric of the university and to protect its tradition of scholarship. I was always willing to listen to what the students had to say and I often had students come to my office to moan about not only the war but various social conditions, and I guess I got known as someone they could talk to.
That was certainly the impression that outsiders had as well. During that time you pushed for some changes in university governance, such as more involvement of students in university affairs. Would you like to say something about that?
In the old days, by and large, the members of the university council were very respectable gentlemen who had made their name in their own professions and so forth, and it can't be said that they understood the modern student. Instead, by and large, they detested him - or her, because there were a lot of females involved in the dissenting group. The students were very keen that students and staff should be represented in the university governance. By staff they didn't mean only professors, who had a fair chance of getting elected under the old system and were sometimes on the council. I couldn't see anything wrong with this major change, I may say, and eventually it got through the council. So a lot of the council had to give up their seats because someone else was elected, and there are still students on the council.
During your time there was also a change in departmental governance. Previously only full professors would have been heads of department, but now non-professorial heads are quite frequent at Adelaide and probably other universities.
Yes, but that change was not with my support. If a professor is chosen for his ability in his subject, he really ought to be suitable to run a department and to look after the younger members of that department. But that aspect can't be undertaken by, for example, a senior demonstrator as head of department.
Let's look at the highlights of your achievements during your 10 years as vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide.
Well, having a relatively quiet rebellion I think was good. In addition, I very strongly promoted research in the university and helped people get study leave when they needed to go overseas, to gain experience. And I was an advocate for more research money from the Commonwealth government. Indeed, I had been one of the original members of the Australian Research Grants Committee.
The Centre for Studies in Aboriginal Music
We'll return to the ARGC in a few minutes. I was surprised to find that you were instrumental in forming the Centre for Studies in Aboriginal Music. Could you say something about that?
Well, in the music department we had a young lady (Anglo-Saxon, not Aboriginal) who was a specialist in Aboriginal music and so forth. Because she used to tell me that something ought to be done to foster it, I went with her and her husband on a trip to the Indulkana in Central Australia, a few hundred miles north of Adelaide, where we camped out, visited Aborigines and listened to their music. Consequently, every now and then a musical lady from the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide would bring half a dozen of the Aboriginal elders into my office (all of them would sit on the floor, so I had to too) and we would talk about various things.
Eventually I suggested that we ought to take an interest in recording and analysing Aboriginal music as a university subject. When I put the project up to the education committee (in some fear and trembling that they would think it was a lot of nonsense), they eventually agreed on the basis that it wasn't going to be a degree subject. At first I was very keen that the study should be done within one of the buildings of the university, but the Aborigines decided they would prefer to be outside the university grounds because they would feel diffident in this white-man's territory. So it was set up in a house in North Adelaide, where it served a very useful purpose in bringing the benefits of Aboriginal music to the attention of Anglo-Saxons, most of whom had never even thought about it before.
When you made your first trip into Central Australia, were the Aborigines living essentially in tribal conditions?
By and large they were living in houses, provided for them by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which were halfway between a European style house and an Aboriginal dwelling, with dirt floors and so on, and they'd have dogs around the place. They weren't warlike or anything like that, but they were preserving their Aboriginal culture.
The Australian Research Grants Committee
Let's come back to your time on the ARGC.
Strangely enough, Malcolm Fraser appointed me as a member of the Australian Research Grants Committee when he set it up. He said he wanted a non-university person, somebody just outside the system, and even though he knew damn well I'd previously been in the University of Adelaide for 20 years or so, he appointed me as the only non-university person. He did know my anxiety to promote research, however, and that by that time I had joined CSIRO.
That membership came to an end quite rapidly because of your appointment as deputy vice-chancellor of the university, I believe.
Yes. I didn't think it was appropriate for me to remain on the committee if I was now going to be a senior official at one university. I would have to press the case for Adelaide, but people would think I was pressing it more than was proper. But let me say that the Australian Research Grants Committee owed its success to Bob Robertson, who'd been appointed chairman and had put in a word to have me appointed to it. We had become good friends at Adelaide when he was professor of botany.
Did you have any role in determining how things should take place in the ARGC or was that pretty well laid down by the time you joined?
Oh, no. We used to have arguments about how we should handle the situation. The committee would meet but we always went from one university to another to interview the people who had applied. The grant money wasn't only for scientific research. A little did go to the social sciences. We had a social scientist on the committee and also a humanist.
A forum for science and technology
You were on council [of the Australian Academy of Science] for about 11 years in total, including as secretary for physical sciences from 1968 to 1972 and as president from 1974 to 1978, and in this context you played a part in the Science and Industry Forum. I understand that you were able to get very senior people in industry and in the financial sector together to meet the scientists. Did that contribute to the success of the forum?
Yes, and holding the meetings in Thredbo meant that the chief executives weren't always on the telephone. They were really isolated and had to spend a quiet weekend, with a good dinner as well as the formal meeting on the Saturday, and a mountain walk, for example, on the Sunday.
Out of the forum discussions came the germ of the idea for the formation of an Australian science and technology council to inform government science policy, didn't it?
I think the initiative came first from Macfarlane Burnet but it was carried on by Bob Robertson, the then president of the Academy, and I was involved as Secretary for Physical Sciences. Fred White, during his time as chairman of CSIRO, had raised the question of a government advisory committee, and had doubtless discussed it with politicians. When I became President, I sent a Presidential letter (in two versions) to every member of parliament and various other people to make a positive suggestion that a committee should advise government on how to spend science and technology money. Both the Forum and the Fellows of the Academy discussed the matter but not everyone was in favour, as many scientists don't want to get too mixed up with government. Malcolm Fraser was invited to address the members of the Forum at the second meeting in Thredbo, in a speech which we subsequently published, saying that he was not convinced that such an advisory body was a good idea. But eventually he decided to form it.
The Australian Science and Technology Council
The Whitlam Government had set up an interim ASTEC, but almost immediately afterwards they lost office. When Mr Fraser came into power he didn't like the terms of reference that had been given to the committee, but after a lot of discussion with him and with Bob Robertson and others, eventually he agreed to set up a new committee with his terms of reference. I think it was very successful. The situation has changed a good deal since then and it's not working the same way at all now, but it worked well in those days.
What were the essential differences in what the Labor and the Liberal governments wanted to do?
I think the main trend of Mr Whitlam's terms of reference was social benefits and not necessarily scientific or commercial and technological benefits. Mr Fraser focused more on developing science and technology.
And you were the first chair of ASTEC?
Yes, of the permanent ASTEC. Louis Mathieson had been appointed by the Whitlam Government as the first chair of the interim ASTEC, which was still an interim body when I was appointed to it. Once Malcolm Fraser took over, legislation established a permanent ASTEC with a new membership and I was reappointed, this time as chair.
What were some of the important issues that ASTEC then took on board?
One very important thing is the place of basic research, but if a body consisting just of scientists says that we ought to spend two million dollars on a new optical telescope, the government won't be convinced. That is why I would like to emphasise the great desirability of having tycoons as well as scientists on the advisory body. If people like Brian Loton, Arvi Parbo and John Wilson (all of whom were on the committee) say that they are convinced, the government thinks that perhaps it should go along with the idea.
You gave a presidential address to the Academy on the place of basic research, which you championed. While you were vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide, you were made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the first honours list for the Order, which was established in 1975, 'for your distinguished service in the fields of university administration, education and science'. Then you were knighted in the birthday honours of 1979. Are you happy about that?
Oh, I'm happy about that. I imagine the knighthood was largely for my work in setting up ASTEC.
Retirement: Exploring the explorers
In 1982 you retired as chair of ASTEC, but you have by no means retired from active involvement in many other spheres. What are some of the highlights of the years since you 'retired'?
I retired from ASTEC because I had to have open-heart surgery and needed to avoid stress. By then I had retired from the university and from the government part-time employment for which I used to visit Canberra for two days every week. As I had been visiting every other state for scientific purposes, also, I had been away from home quite a bit.
I've got a few other interests, one of which is the explorers of Australia and of the Pacific. Since my time in the Navy I had become quite proficient in navigation. In The Explorers of the Pacific I dealt with nearly all the major explorers of the Pacific, having had a marvellous time holidaying on various islands in the Pacific and taking photographs to illustrate the book. That book has recently gone into a second edition as a paperback, and I'm now writing The Explorers of Australia: The Early Years. I have to say 'the early years' because there are at least 250 explorers who would deserve to be mentioned to take it up to date, and quite a lot of exploration is happening right now. For instance, the defence scientists have recently been using laser beams, I think, to take under-sea photographs of the coral reefs that Captain Bligh had to pass in an open boat, and they have published the results. Quite a lot of other work done since the early Cook and Flinders explorations needs attention, too. Although nearly all the early explorers wrote their own account of their exploration (and doubtless got good royalties from it), and many of those accounts are available in facsimile, there aren't many Australians now who would be willing to read them in 25 or more volumes. Something more condensed is necessary, but it's impossible in a single volume to mention seriously every explorer of Australia.
It must be a lot of work for you to read all the original material.
Yes, but there is a different perspective. For example, in the old days many of the explorers used to get scurvy and no-one knew why, because vitamins had not yet been recognised. John McDouall Stuart, for example, had scurvy and had to be carried down from the Northern Territory for miles on a litter suspended between two horses. That was the most comfortable way in which he could get back to Adelaide.
In those days dysentery was not uncommon and when people went to the East Indies for supplies they sometimes used to pick up all sorts of horrible diseases there too, because they went to pretty grubby places. Smallpox was another problem, being detected in Australia about a year after the First Fleet's arrival. People thought, 'How did that get here? We didn't have any in the First Fleet. Maybe the French introduced it.' Although the French had arrived at about the same time, I don't know that there's been any evidence that the French fleet had any smallpox. The present feeling is that smallpox was introduced to Australia by the Macassans, who live in the Indonesian islands. They came to Northern Australia every year to fish for trepang, a sea cucumber which has a great sale in China, apparently. Then doubtless they would pass the disease on to the Aborigines up there, and the Aborigines on their walkabouts would pass it on to the next tribe and so on, and now people think it got to Sydney about one year after the First Fleet arrived.
How far has your second book on the explorers progressed?
I've got about 11 chapters, with a few more to do before I revise it all. I will then get it typed professionally, because I don't use a word-processor and I can't bear to type it again myself.
Science, industry and culture: A focus on humanity
Unfortunately, we don't have time to explore your fellowship of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, or your presidencies of both the RACI and ANZAAS. Among the many other things we could take up is your influence in plotting the future directions of the then South Australian Institute of Technology. What was that about?
I was appointed to a small committee to make suggestions on how the Institute of Technology ought to be run. There were about six campuses, including on North Terrace and at the Levels next door to the University of Adelaide. Although not everything in our report was accepted, the institute did become the University of South Australia and there is now a big campus at the west end of North Terrace, with a whole series of modern buildings, all about six storeys high. They look too much the same for my taste, actually, and there's no open grass in the middle where all the students can sit and moan as I think they ought to be able to. But the university does take research seriously and is doing a lot more research than before.
Your interest in industry went beyond the technological aspects. During your vice-chancellorship in Adelaide you were interested in promoting industry in South Australia and also in encouraging company managers to involve the work force in decisions. Would you like to tell me about that?
Dunstan, the Premier during that time, asked me to chair a committee on what was called worker participation in management. That took a bit of time. We had quite a good committee, and the Dunstan Government accepted our report. Worker participation in management did happen in some companies, though it may not have filtered through to all the big companies. One place where it worked all right was Fletcher Jones, but using Australian tailors and so forth was much more expensive than getting people in Indonesia and Thailand to do the work. In fact, the shirt I'm wearing at the moment was made in Indonesia.
We have skipped over your role in founding the Friends of the Art Gallery of South Australia, and your involvement in the selection committees for the Churchill Fellowship and the Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. Also, you took a leading part, didn't you, in both the state and eventually the federal affairs of the Order of Australia Association, and became its federal president.
Our time is up and we must leave it there. Very many thanks for coming, Geoff, and for sharing with us so much of your long and varied career.
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