Thursday, 30 March 2017

Professor Emeritus Nancy Millis, AC MBE: an appreciation

Nancy Millis graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences from the University of Melbourne in 1945, and obtained a Master in 1946 before going on to earn a PhD at Bristol University.  

Her doctoral research was on microbial growth and fermentation in cider that started her lifelong interest in anything that ferments; both as a scientist and a consumer.

A microbiologist, she was the fourth woman to be appointed as a Professor at the University of Melbourne and played major roles in genetics engineering and water quality. Professor Millis was recognised and honoured by nations and peers for her work in developing higher education courses, maximising links between universities and industries, and her devotion to science and innovation.

In 1977, in recognition of her academic leadership, she was elected to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. She was promoted to a Professorship in 1982 and remained in that position until her retirement in 1987.

Professor Millis served as the fourth Chancellor of Victoria's third university for the period 1992-2006. This is where I got to know her as I was secretariat to the University Council. The Chancellor’s role is partly ceremonial but includes chairing University's Council meetings – a role akin to chairing the board of a public company. Networks, experience and influence are essential for success in the role.

Professor Millis was an approachable, humorous, straight-shooter, unimpressed with airs and contemptuous of verbosity. She was a delight to work with. She was also disarmingly unassuming and convivial with students or the public. Highly respected and trusted by Council members as both independently minded and fearless, she accepting that the managerial role of the Vice-Chancellor should be supported without interference.

My memory includes two humorous exchanges:

One year we had a series of Christmas cards painted in a stylistic way with religious themes. My role was to find out which ones she wished to use. One represented the baby Jesus glowing in the manger with men gathered around. ‘Looks like a good Australian BBQ’ she said.

At one Council meeting, a distinguished member known for his lengthy literary expositions wished to add something to a long discussion on an issue of minor concern. ‘With your permission, Chancellor, may I comment on this matter?’.  ‘If you must’ she replied sotto voce. Unwounded, the speaker launched into a detailed exposition, until she interrupted with ‘Thank you, Professor’.

Through her 'retirement', she maintained an office at the University of Melbourne and presented at international symposia and public discussion on her areas of expertise. 

In 2002, the year she turned 80, Millis was surprised to be one of a handful of scientists honoured in a series of Australian stamps. A TV report took the opportunity to highlight this and her life’s work. This was the year I wrote the appreciation below.

Two years later she was elected to the Australian Academy of Science. Complementing her academic leadership, Millis also served on the Board of Management of the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital and the Australian Water Advisory Resources Committee, among others. 

She died at the age of 90 in Epworth hospital, Richmond, on 29 November 2012. Her name lives on in a number of awards celebrating research excellence and women’s leadership in science.

From Concepts, Golden Key International Honour Society, 2004, page 86. A PDF can be provided on request.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A ‘new’ photo of an Australian Beersheba hero?

In an earlier post, I wrote about Captain Norman Rae MC, a hero of Beersheba and my ‘Sunday School Captain’.

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) London site has a page on the Battle of Beersheba. The charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba late in the afternoon of 31 October 1917, was the world's last great cavalry charge. 

In the slide show at that site, I found a picture which I thought would be a wonderful illustration for the story of Captain Rae. 

The caption reads ‘A large group of Turkish prisoners, being led by an Australia soldier of the Light Horse on horseback'

Captain Rae probably did the same thing; he’d captured some 60 Turkish troops himself and I guess that meant he then had to look after them.

Although the picture is unclear as I looked at it the general shape of the face and the build of the soldier, it reminded me of Captain Rae.  

The AWM advised that “It is far too hard to say if the person is Norman Gordon [Rae]. We have no documentation to say anything about the people in the image.” That’s fair enough but after looking at several pictures of the event I haven’t come across anyone else who looks more like the person leading the prisoners than Captain Rae.

There is the earlier picture in my previous post and this one in which he is clearly identified as the fellow seated in the centre. 

What do you think?

The charge itself

It may be impossible to recreate the feeling of the charge itself but two attempts have been made. 

The patriotic film Forty Thousand Horsemen directed in 1940 by Charles Chauvel, helped build the Australian film industry and is most famous in its day for the recreation of the charge. 

Later the 70th anniversary of the charge in 1987 was marked in another Australian film The Lighthorsemen directed by Simon Wincer. The characters in the film were based on real people. You can see its recreation of the charge on YouTube.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Green with Patrick

The celebration of St Patrick's Day in Sydney was quickly established in the new colony of New South Wales

By 1795, Judge-Advocate David Collins wrote in his diary,

On the 17th St Patrick found many votaries [followers] in the settlement ... libations to the saint were so plentifully poured, that at night the cells were full of prisoners.

Governor Macquarie established another custom in 1810 when he provided entertainments for ‘government artificers and labourers’.  Later public celebration of St Patrick's Day included horse races, banquets, parades, picnics, concerts, dancing and games.

Changes in celebrations often reflected the change in the mood of the Irish citizens of Australia and their place in the wider community. St Patrick’s Day parades in Melbourne under Archbishop Daniel Mannix were assertive political statements of Catholic loyalty to Australia and also support for Irish independence.

The customs did not always originate in Ireland. St Patrick's Day parades began in North America in the 18th century and later spread to Ireland in the 20th century.

Today it’s a festive Irish cultural event imbibed by many regardless of their Irishness and in Ireland itself, it is a national holiday. It traditionally appeals to two kinds of people; those who are Irish and those who wish they were.

Why 17 March?  Traditionally it’s the date on which St Patrick died, probably about the year 461 AD. So perhaps it began as an Irish wake.

Maewyn Succat

So, what do we know of Patrick? Some admirers have created ‘alterative facts’ over the centuries which result in discrediting an otherwise admirable person. There’s certainly a few popular beliefs which are wrong.

Patrick isn't officially a Saint as he’s never been canonised by the Catholic Church, though he is certainly a saint ‘by acclamation’.

Patrick didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland. It’s true there aren’t any snakes there now, but it was the ice-age that got rid of them about 10,000 years before Patrick. To be fair, Patrick himself never claimed to have banished the snakes, it was later enthusiasts, perhaps seeing it as a parallel to him ridding Ireland of paganism.

Patrick's Confesio [Declaration], is his authentic literary legacy. It gives a few biographical details and an insight into his self-deprecating manner. There’s still many details we don’t know but it’s probably better to say that than make something up.

He wasn't the first Catholic missionary to Ireland. Palladius had been sent in 431, about five years before Patrick went, though he was certainly nowhere near as successful. It’s likely that others had also tried before though with limited success.

Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was first an unwilling ‘boat person’ brought there as a slave, but in the end certainly loved his new homeland. 

According to his Declaration, he was born in a town called Bannavem Taburniae, probably around 385 AD. His hometown may have been in Scotland, Wales or north-east England, this hasn’t been determined. In any case, it’s clear that his parents were well to do Catholics and part of late Roman Britton. His grandfather had been a priest, and his father, Calpurnius, a town councillor and deacon. 

He was named Maewyn Succat – whatever that means.

Young Maewyn was 16 years old when he was captured in a raid and became a slave in what was still radically pagan Ireland. One imagines a comfortable slightly dreamy youth perhaps not quick enough on his feet to escape the thugs. 

Far from home, he clung to the family religion he had ignored as a teenager and found it gave him hope and comfort. Forced to tend his master's sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage and much time alone in prayer and contemplation.

At the suggestion of a dream, he escaped to Gaul where he studied in a monastery before returning to Britain and reuniting with his parents. They were delighted to see him and hoped he’d remain with them forever. he obviously missed them as much as they missed him, but he couldn’t sit still.

After receiving a supernatural call to preach to the heathen of Ireland he returned to Gaul and was ordained a deacon. That’s when he took the Latin name Patricius, meaning ‘having a noble father’, which is Patrick in Irish. The name may have been to honour both his earthly father and his father in heaven.

Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to Ireland. Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. He landed in Wicklow and travelled north converting the people of Ulster and later other parts of Ireland.

Successful cross-cultural communication

Patrick’s success is a case study for those interested in ‘missiology’ (how to be a missionary) or any other kind of cross-cultural relations. Against his will, he had been a lonely stranger in a strange land but the experience changed his identity and gave him a purpose and meaning to his life which he may not have had if he had lived out his life in the comfort which he was born to.

He was intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain). Patrick’s strategy was based on his knowledge of how Ireland worked. His aim was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. Some say Milchu was one of his earliest converts.

Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was more successful than anyone and developed a supporting team. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and soon the land at the end of the earth became known as one of Europe's Christian centres.

One belief is that Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity idea which was basic to his efforts to convert Irish pagans. The Shamrock was also supposedly worn to symbolise the cross. It’s hard to know if this is true. The original colour associated with Patrick was actually blue. The link could be the fact that Patrick came to symbolise Ireland – a lush green country. Wearing green and honouring Patrick both became symbols of Irish pride.

Estimates are he baptised 10,000 Irish people and planted 300 churches. Patrick knew and loved the Irish people and changed the Emerald Isle forever.

Happy Maewyn Succat’s Day!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why do family history?

First up we need to agree on what family history is. Is it the same as genealogy?

A useful distinction to make is that a genealogist aims to put the names and dates on an ancestry chart. Family history adds life to them by telling their stories. Before we can tell the story well, we need to get the basic facts in place. Genealogy is part of the background to telling the story.

It’s the stories we find most satisfying if they have meaning to us.

I once worked with a fellow who claimed to have been infected by the ‘family history bug’. For him, it was a kind of compulsion which his family could see no rhyme or reason to. Try as he might, he could not infect his family with the bug nor explain to their satisfaction where the desire for it came from. Nonetheless, they were happy that the illness got him out of the house and off to the library. Now, of course, you can do much of it from your desktop.

I am a fellow-sufferer. In trying to ‘sell’ the idea there are several ‘benefits’ which I used to feel may be convincing to others. These are:

Family medical history could prove useful in identifying the likelihood of contracting some illness. In fact, most people either know of major family illnesses or only research them after someone has been diagnosed.

Get to know ‘where you came from’. Well, I knew my parents and some of my grandparents and those who came before them were dead and buried long before I came along. If you don’t have an identity crisis, this is also not a great motivation. For some people, such as those adopted at birth with no knowledge of their natural parents it can be a motivator.

Discover family you never knew you had. If you don’t know them why go looking for them? If you find a cousin on the other side of the world, are you likely to become good friends?

Resolve old family mysteries. That’s if you have any. Could be you know nothing of your great grandparents and don’t have any odd stories. There is no reason to imagine that their lives had any meaningful impact on yours.

Something to share with family. Stories about what you did or what your personal memories are of your childhood probably have a more lasting impact on family members than reciting what you found on your favourite family history site.

It’s problem-solving!  Great for staving off Alzheimer’s – but why not do Sudoku?

You may find a famous ancestor! Does that impact on who you are? Probably not, and the ‘infamous’ ones may be more interesting. If we’re after famous connections, think about this: statistically, everyone with European ancestry is descended from Emperor Charlemagne (who was crowned only 1200 years ago)!

OK, so I haven’t yet convinced anyone. The question should probably be, ‘Why am I doing it?’

Benefit and real reason
There’s a difference between possible benefits and your reason for doing something. Realising this flicked a switch in my mind. I don’t need to convince others that it’s a good idea in order to give myself permission to enjoy it. While I do have some family history mysteries to solve, my reason for doing it is bigger. I do enjoy problem-solving, understanding different periods of history and writing up some of the things that I find. I do have some interesting stories to tell if the subject comes up but if not I am still enjoying the journey.

So why do I research family history?

It’s therapeutic. Like a good film or pottering in the garden: it takes my mind away. It’s relaxing. Time stands still. 

It’s probably also good for my mental and physical health but that’s another benefit, not a reason.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Sunday School Captain: My glimpse of Norman Gordon Rae MC

At the age of seven, after a life-changing week-long visit to hospital, I developed an interest in religion.

My spleen was eating up blood platelets faster than I could make them. As a result, bumps turned into bruises which took ages to heal. The teachers suspected bullying at school – or perhaps at home - and I was examined by the headmaster in his office. He contacted my parents and this lead to a visit to the family doctor at Seaford, Thomas B. Ready.

Dr Ready referred me to pioneering paediatric haematologist Dr John Colebatch (AO) at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. He proposed a minor procedure with a few days’ observation in hospital. So, late one afternoon Dad drove us all from Seaford to Bethesda Hospital in Richmond. We stopped for fish and chips on the way.

The hospital floor was covered with hard dark brown ceramic tiles and the metal-framed bed was much higher than my bed at home. Mum was worried that I might fall out and crack my head – something I managed not to do.

Dad was present for the procedure and looked on with the occasional controlled squirm. Dr Colebatch pressed some instrument into my sternum and I heard several ‘clicks’ and felt pressure but no pain. The aim was to inject steroids into my bone marrow. This would often rectify the condition; if not the next step was to remove the spleen. Luckily it worked. A bandage was applied and this was followed by clear advice not to ‘pick the scab’.  The opportunity to try this didn’t happen for at least a day when the dressing came off.

My hospitalisation was to observe the recovery and also to try to get me to improve my diet. I was prepared to eat anything offered if meals concluded with chocolate ice-cream. I made a deal about this though tinned peach was added to the Neapolitan ice-cream which I did think was a sign of bad faith.

An older boy moved into the bed to my left; he was about 12. One of his visitors was going to be his ‘minister’. I anticipated seeing a man in with a beard and flowing black robes. Instead, the minister had a grey suit with a white shirt and dark tie. He spoke to me in a normal voice. A rotund Fijian nurse spent rather too much time speaking to him and trying to impress me with stories of the ‘good work’ such people had done in Fiji.

To my right was a long corridor at the end of which was a nurse’s station and the door through which my parents and brother would come to visit. Young Jeff came in first one day and was told by the nurse at the door not to spend too much time. He ran to my bed and plonked a Mediterranean blue plastic model of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird car on the bed and quickly turned to run about again, tripping at the door. I thought this was terribly unfair for him as he had followed the silly instructions in good faith.

In any case, the ‘ministerial visit’ left an impression on me because it was definitely not what I expected.

After a few days, Dr Colebatch came through to ask a few of the children when they could like to go home. Most wanted to go home immediately and he reasoned with those who couldn’t about why they needed to stay longer.

By the time he came to me I knew what to say. ‘When would you like to go home?’ ‘Since I came on the weekend I should stay a whole week and go home on Sunday’, I said. He seemed surprised by this though he certainly agreed.  He asked if I was eating my meals and I proudly told him ‘yes’.

On returning to school I paid more attention to ‘religious instruction’.  Prior to that, I had thought the irrelevant volunteers who conducted these courses were a waste of time. I had learned that my expectations were incorrect, so I wanted to know more. I heard about the Church of England Boys Society (CEBS) and thought that would be a good thing to join. It was apparently like the scouts but without the thugs. Though I didn’t enjoy the poison ball games in the old Seaford Hall and was confused by the first game of ‘Chinese whispers’, I did read the CEBS manual which said that every good CEB should pray and go to church. The CEBS master suggested that the newish St Silas Church in Seaford South would be most convenient for me.

The ‘church’ however was not as expected. The group of about 30 squashed into a garage neatly lined with unpainted Masonite. The ‘Vicar’, Albert Church, from the parent church, St Paul’s Frankston, did at least have robes and wore his collar back-to-front.

The garage was on the property of Norman Rae, who Dad told me was a war hero.

Although he was no minister he was certainly in charge of what went on. It seemed to be a very short period of time that the church moved half a block down to a bright and airy new hall. By that time, I had been and later confirmed by Archbishop Frank Wood at St Paul’s Church, which did look like a proper church.  

After that I became an altar server, risking life and limb to climb the ladder to post the hymn numbers every Sunday morning.

Norman Rae was an imposing figure. I was impressed by his energy since he was almost 80. He did strike me as a heroic type; he knew what was going on, no-one contradicted him, he had built the garage church with his own hands and somehow managed to raise enough money for a new hall. He was also the driving force behind the Sunday School which I took part in eagerly.

My participation in the church meant that Mum had an opportunity to volunteer to play the piano for church services and also the choir practice. Dad felt his duties were fulfilled by dropping Mum and I off for services and choir practice. While my brother was also baptised he did not show an interest in such things. 

The choir was led by Eric Jones, a short stentorian-voiced Welshman who knew his music. There were about 20 people in the choir practice and we were all assigned the relevant parts; soprano, alto, tenor and base. Only one voice resonated in the base section - Norman’s.

The St Silas church community was regularly grateful to ’Mr Rae’. He had grown up at ‘the Overflow’ in New South Wales, a place romanticised in Patterson’s poem ‘Clancy’ and for that reason seemed to me that it was a logical place to breed heroes. Each year he would travel there for a holiday. Each year the church community would buy him a bigger farewell gift and crowds would be there to farewell him. 

If some thought such well-wishing and farewelling would aid his 'retirement' they were mistaken. He accepted the warm wishes and would return refreshed from his trip home.

Later we moved suburbs and I lost contact with St Silas. In 1974 I was working at the Manyung Gallery in Mount Eliza, and one day old Mr Rae came in for a look. He removed his old dark green hat with its small feather to enter the building. 

There had been some kerfuffle when he came in which made me look. We chatted for a while. He had slowed somewhat and was not as spritely as I remembered him. This was a little sad as he was about the same age as my grandfather who had retained his sprightliness though not his ‘bravery’. 

Apparently, he had argued with the Yorkshire-woman who guarded the Gallery door about the 50-cent admission fee. This was a common cause of discontent, later dropped. The guardian could not understand why I had given him so much time, but I was impressed that he had tackled her directly and successfully – a rare achievement.

Battle of Beersheba
I thought of Norman Rae recently as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, a significant turning point in the history of the Middle East.

The Battle of Beersheba was his regiment's first major battle and it made the Australians a legend. It was the basis for thinking of him as a war hero and along with the impression he gave of being imposing meant he usually got his way, though as a child I didn’t really understand this.

On 31 October 1917, an attack was launched to outflank the Turkish bastion of Gaza, against which two previous attacks had failed, by capturing another heavily defended town to the east - Beersheba. 

A deteriorating tactical situation late on the first day of the operation caused the 4th and its sister regiment, the 12th, to be unleashed on Beersheba at the gallop: the charge of Beersheba.

Captain Rae was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ in this battle. During the mounted attack on hostile trenches, he single-handedly captured over 60 prisoners setting an example to his men under extremely heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.

After Gaza fell, Turkish resistance in southern Palestine collapsed. 40 days later, General Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot through the Jaffa Gate, together with his officers. He did this out of respect for the status of Jerusalem as the Holy City important to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and was well received by the city’s inhabitants.

I don’t know where Captain Rae’s firm religious beliefs came from but his participation in and survival of such a significant battle together with the momentum that battle helped create to change the face of the Middle East would have left him with a stronger resolve.

Norman Rae died in 1977 and St Silas closed in June 1987, but the heroism and significance of the Battle of Beersheba are still remembered.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Seventh Day Men Part 3: under King Charles II

In 1658 Oliver Cromwell died. Soon the experimental Commonwealth lacked stable government and by 1661 the exiled son of Charles I was asked to return as King Charles II. 

Eager to avenge his father’s execution and with a taste for the high-life, he willingly accepted, promising religious toleration. In fact, persecution was renewed. All who would not support the Church of England, as previously constituted, were to be imprisoned or otherwise punished under the Act of Uniformity made law in 1662. 

The Fifth Monarchy Movement was banned, and those who supported it were regarded as rebels.

John James was at this time preaching to a ‘seventh day’ baptist church in Bullstake Alley, London. Like Edward Stennet, James was not a Fifth Monarchist, but he did expect Christ to literally return to earth displacing all earthly government to establish the Millennium.

On Saturday 19 October 1661, after a vigorous sermon on this subject, James was arrested with thirty of his congregation. The charges were plotting treason, and being a Fifth Monarchist. The authorities apparently decided to make an example of James and ordered him executed: his head was placed on a stake outside the Bullstake Alley meeting house.

Sabbath-keeping Spreads West
No wonder that in such times many sought the relative freedom of America. One member of Stennet's congregation, Stephen Mumford, decided to escape and arrived in Rhode Island in 1664. There he found initial fellowship with the local Sunday keeping congregation. With Mumford, the Sabbath idea came to America, and in a few years, with the help and encouragement of Stennet and Dr Peter Chamberlen, he established America's first Sabbath-keeping church.

Back in London, the dozen or so Sabbath-keeping congregations faced new times with tenacity and resourcefulness. Talented men would yet add their voices to the Sabbath chorus; with each a new harmony.

The aristocrat Francis Bampfield, also fully conversant with Greek and Hebrew was but one and is worth a separate article as are a number of those mentioned. In September 1662, he was arrested at home and imprisoned for nearly nine years. There he preached almost daily and formed a Sabbath-keeping church within the prison walls.

On his release in 1675, he travelled through several counties preaching and finally settled in London. He gathered a congregation of Sabbatarian Baptists at Pinners' Hall, Broad Street. Whilst conducting service there, he was arrested and returned to prison where he died on 16 February 1683. 

Large crowds of sympathisers attended his funeral at the Anabaptists' burial-ground in Aldersgate Street.

Bampfield defended the Sabbath in 1677, in his book "The Seventh Day Sabbath - The Desirable Day"," The LORD Jesus Christ, who is Redeemer, was Creator.... Jehovah Christ as Mediator did himself at Mount Sinai proclaim the law of Ten Words." His argument was simply that it was Jesus Christ Himself who wrote the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Why then would this same Christ seek to do away with one of them?

What had been achieved by the end of the seventeenth century was not merely the rediscovery of an old idea, but the formulation of a particular way of defending it. This defence would be repeated by succeeding generations of Sabbath-keepers who, in time, would lose all knowledge of the people and times to whom they owed so much.

The same can be said of many new ideas which developed at this time. 


This is the third and final instalment of the series. Later posts will develop mini-biographies of a number the individuals sketched in this mini-series.