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Letter from Australia.

Letter from Australia

The bicentenary of European settlement in Australia, which is being celebrated throughout 1988, has produced an orgy of historical reviews and presentations. It came at a time of increasing interest in our history, with eager family historians swelling the membership lists of genealogical societies around the country.

The Royal Australian Chemical Industry was not unaffected. In 1987 it established a History and Archives Committee under the leadership of John Spink, of CSIRO. Although full divisional status is some way in the future, the committee is quite active and organized an afternoon session at the national convention in August. Spink has also cooperated with the Australian Science Archives Project, based at the University of Melbourne, to preserve and catalogue the early records of RACI (founded 1917 as ACI) and to microfilm essential documents.

RACI will also hold a one-day history meeting in Melbourne in November of 1988. This year is also a centennial one for ANZAAS -- the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, who marked the occasion with a Jubiliee Congress in Sydney last May. The heyday of chemical contributions to ANZAAS seems to be over, with only occasionally a chemist taking part in some more socially-oriented programs.

The tide of chemistry at ANZAAS was once at the flood, and this history is the subject of one chapter in the commemoration volume The Commonwealth of Science. RACI is arranging for offprints of this chapter to be made available at a small charge for those who do not wish to purchase the full volume.

Interest in history of chemistry is not confined to chemists, however, and a major contributor is Roy MacLeod, of the University of Sydney, who edited the ANZAASA volume. MacLeod is a well-known historian who focuses his work on the interactions between Britain and the Empire (later Commonwealth). He has written, for instance, about the work of A.E. Leighton, who recruited over 100 Australian chemists to work in British munitions factories during World War I. Leighton was an Englishman who came to Australia before the war to head munitions work, then was recalled in 1914. After the war, he returned to Australia to continue his work, which he did with conspicuous success which extended to his coming out of retirment to head Australian munitions work on 1939-1945

The munitions chemists in World War I worked under the direction of South African (although American-born) K.B. Quinan. Most of the Australians returned home, but no official records of their service have survived, leaving MacLeod to sift News and obituary columns in journals, augmented by personal memoirs and some details from the Australian Archives.

I don't know whether any Canadians were invovled in this scheme, but it seems likely that they were. Since historians have nothing like our Chemical Abstracts, it's very hard to find this sort of information, even if it has been published. I would be pleased to hear from Canadians who know of any World War I munitions chemists who went to Britain. Associate professor in the Monash chemistry department, Ian Rae is well acquainted with Canada. He did post-doctoral work at the National Research Council (1964-5) and at the University of Toronto (1965-6). Anyone interested in contracting him can do so through National office. Rae intends to become a regular contributor to ACCN, detailing Australian activities in chemistry.
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Author:Rae, Ian D.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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