Australian Academy of Science|
Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows
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.
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
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.
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. 
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
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.
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
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
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. 
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. 
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
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.
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. 
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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,
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
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
 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.
 J. Emsley, New Scientist, 28 April 1988, p. 79.
Unattributed quotations are from family papers, mostly untitled and undated.
I.G. Ross, RMB 2039, Queanbeyan NSW 2620. I.G. Ross AO FAA is
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor
of the Australian National University.
This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 11, no. 4, December 1997, pp. 523-40.