[HASN logo] No. 33, August-September 1994 ISSN 0811-4757
Edited and published by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au) for ASAP.

[Features logo] Scientific research during the second world war

[BW photo of Neil Fairley] Neil Hamilton Fairley during WW2

Records held at the Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science

The Basser Library holds a rich collection of the personal papers of Australian scientists, and amongst these there are some significant little nuggets to be found related to scientific research during the second world war. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that most scientists who died or retired in the last ten to twenty years would be of an age to have been mobilised in some fashion to contribute to the massive scientific effort during the second world war.

Outstanding amongst these collections held at the Basser are the papers of Sir Neil Hamilton Fairley (1891-1966), the Australian malariologist and medical scientist. Fairley was an army pathologist during the first world war, and held senior positions at the Walter and Eliza Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne and in specialist tropical disease hospitals in London. His most significant contribution to medicine was made during the second world war, and the collection of his papers is strongest in this area. Fairley travelled to the Middle East as a colonel the Australian Army Medical Corps, and the collection documents the assessment made by Fairley and Colonel J.S.K. Boyd, the British Director of Pathology, of the high risk of malaria in Greece, Macedonia and the Balkans. At Fairley's and Boyd's recommendation, sophisticated anti-malarial measures were put into place, but in the event the evacuations of Greece and Crete happened in June 1941, before the dangerous period began.

Back in Australia in 1942, Fairley was made Director of Medicine, Australian Army Medical Corps. As a result of his work on malaria at the Medical Research Unit, Cairns, Fairley was able to convince military and medical authorities of the need for regular anti-malaria measures for troops fighting in New Guinea. Much of this research, including extensive case studies, is represented in the collection, as is Fairley's contribution, between 1943 and 1945, to the Combined Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine, Hygiene and Sanitation. Overall the collection consists of 25 series, including diaries, clinical notebooks, correspondence, photographs and biographical material. It covers 4.3 shelf metres, and a good file listing is available.

A smaller but complementary collection is the records of Frank John Fenner (1914- ), a distinguished microbiologist who became Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research from 1967 to 1973. Fenner's wartime research included work on malaria, and the Basser's collection, 2.8m, includes some unpublished reports on malaria in New Guinea. An extensive file listing is also available.

The records of the industrial chemist Ian Wark (1899-1985) contain material related to his work as Chief of the Division of Industrial Chemistry of the CSIR/O from 1939 - 1958. Correspondence and reports are supplemented by a fascinating set of 'diary notes' kept by Wark. These typed notes relate mainly to Wark's dealings with his staff and record reflections on meetings and correspondence. The stresses imposed by war are apparent in this very rich and fine-grained record of the day to day work of a scientist and science administrator. A guide to the collection by the Australian Science Archives Project describes the 6.25m of records in detail.

Other collections of personal papers reveal material of interest. The records of David Rivett (1885-1961) document his experience in both world wars, including his work with the British Ministry of Munitions during the first world war, and his work as Chief Executive Officer of the CSIR during the second world war. A file listing is available. Frederick White (1905-1994) was chief of the Division of Radiophysics, CSIR, from 1942 to 1945, and his papers provide a perspective on one of the most crucial wartime scientific efforts, the development of radar. Ronald Giovanelli (1915-1984) also worked at the CSIR during the war, in the National Standards Laboratory, and the records of his work on optics will attract anyone interested in the story of optical munitions production in Australia. A detailed guide by the Australian Science Archives Project is available.

But apart from the records of these notable scientists, the Basser's collections contain unexpected treasures. An unpublished history of the Radiophysics Division of the CSIR by Majorie Barnard is one of these. Yes, the Majorie Barnard, the novelist. Barnard was Librarian-in-charge at the Division, and was commissioned to write the history, completed in 1946. Entitled 'One single weapon', it was never published, apparently because of 'disagreements' between the author and members of the Division over 'factual matters.' Compiled as it was from interviews and diaries, and including notes used in the writing, this item represents a small but important primary resource.

The Basser Library is open to all bona fide researchers and is housed in Becker House, Gordon Street, Acton, ACT 2601. Librarian Rosanne Clayton is able to answer enquiries on (06) 247 3966 (fax 257 4620), and via email (rosanne.clayton@asap.unimelb.edu.au). Researchers with access to the Internet will also find a listing of the Basser's archival collections available through ASAPWeb (see Basser Library 'On-line'). Apart from its archival holdings, an extensive collection of monographs on the history of Australian science make this an institution of national and international significance.

-Anne-Marie Condé, Australian War Memorial

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