In the 1950s, CSIRO biochemist, Hedley Marston, became embroiled in what Roger Cross describes as ‘the single most important crisis’ of his professional life. Research into fallout from the British atomic tests in Australia brought Marston into bitter conflict with the government appointed Safety Committee. It was a dispute that involved many of the major players in the Australian scientific community, and one that culminated in ‘perhaps the most unseemly episode in twentieth-century Australian science’. This is a fascinating story of ‘jealousy, hate and power’ that takes us behind the facade of scientific detachment and adds to our knowledge of the politics and personalities involved in Australia’s atomic adventures. Read MoreHedley Marston
It’s rare for a book relating to the history of Australian science to draw the attention of the national media. But Australia’s Bid for the Atomic Bomb made the front page with its claims that the origins of major institutions such as the Snowy Scheme and the ANU could be found in the government’s frustrated longing for nuclear weaponry. Wayne Reynolds’ ‘controversial’ book, it was reported, made use of ‘recently declassified documents’ to ‘debunk’ conventional assessments of Australian government policy in areas such as defence, foreign policy, education and science. Exciting stuff… I just wish I liked the book more. Read MoreAustralia’s bid for the bomb
HISTORY OF SCIENCE in Australia is a field intimidated by its subject. Historians have been too slow to examine the local context of knowledge production and use, deferring to scientists and their uncritical catalogues of the past. Historical analysis has given way, too often, to the antiquarian plod or the celebratory frolic. Read MoreThe history of Australian science
Learned friends, a little over twelve months ago, I had the honour of addressing another distinguished gathering. My subject on that occasion was a rather unusual artefact that my colleagues and I had discovered – an item we came to call ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities‘. In the intervening months we have continued our researches into this object and have uncovered some disturbing facts. To be blunt, I believe that we have unearthed evidence of a widespread and long-standing conspiracy. Read MoreA conspiracy reveal’d
On Sunday I was listening to the local ABC station, 2CN, when a bloke came on talking about “unsung heroes” of Australian history. Apparently it’s a regular spot, and it so happened that the two heroes being sung on Sunday were scientists – Ferdinand von Mueller the botanist, and John Tebbutt, the astronomer. However, my initial pleasure at having scientists included in such a forum, quickly turned to frustration. Read MoreUnsung heroes
The clouds of radioactive fallout are descending and humanity is doomed to extinction. In Nevil Shute’s book, On the Beach, the inhabitants of Melbourne await their end – the final victims of a 37 day nuclear war that has destroyed the northern hemisphere. John Osborne, played by Fred Astaire in the film version, decides to die in the embrace of the one he loves. So donning his crash helmet and goggles, he pops his suicide pills while sitting behind the wheel of the Ferrari that has recently won him the Australian Grand Prix: ‘The car had won him the race that was the climax of his life. Why trouble to go further?’ For John, as for all, it was the end of the road.
With the onset of the Atomic Age, Australia set out optimistically along the yellow-brick road to peace and prosperity, but 50 years later, the Emerald City seems as far away as ever. Australia’s involvement with nuclear energy has been largely limited to the provision of raw materials – uranium to power other countries’ reactors, and test sites for Britain’s bomb program. To understand Australia’s nuclear history you need to focus not on the journey’s end, but on the journey itself. How was the road mapped? Where were the markers? And who was doing the driving? Read MoreOn the beach: Australia’s nuclear history