There were a number of eminent Australian women scientists during those years but even now few are well known to other than their peers. I have already investigated more than ten who have left their mark in a diversity of fields and have made significant contributions not only to scientific knowledge, but also to its practical application in human welfare and economic development, in Australia and beyond. It is astonishing to discover, for example, that it was a woman scientist at CSIRO, Dr Helen Newton Turner, who from the fifties to the late seventies was leader of the research team working on selective sheep breeding which led to vital improvement in the merino fleece; their findings contributed greatly to Australia's pre-eminence in the wool industry in the sixties and seventies. She did not, however, confine her interest to Australia and has also helped developing countries establish methods of controlled sheep breeding and animal production. Another example is Dr Gretna Weste, whose work in the sixties and seventies on plant disease causing dieback in forests has led to important savings in the forestry industry.
If eminence is measured by public honours then several of the scientists certainly merit that description. There is at least one Fellow of the Royal Society in this generation: Dr Ruth Sanger, a haematologist, whose textbook on blood groups was used all over the English speaking world for some twenty years and whose work has helped save the lives of countless children. Emeritus Professor Dorothy Hill, a geologist, was the first woman to be elected to membership of the Australian Academy of Science in 1956. Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has been achieved by few women. Miss Margaret Dick, Chief Microbiologist of Kraft Foods, is one; she showed that, rare though it was, it was possible for a woman scientist to reach a high position in other than academic or government funded research organisations.
All the scientists so far interviewed are nationally and internationally acknowledged by their peers. For example, Professor Ruth Gall made her mark in chemistry by establishing the fundamental chemical nature of steroids. Miss Isobel Bennett is recognised as one of Australia's foremost marine scientists. Her work, starting in the fifties, richly illuminated the little known creatures of the intertidal zone; her perception is holistic and she drew attention from the beginning to that complex and fragile interconnection of living forms which is the urgent concern of environmentalists today. Younger members of the group have also made major contributions in senior university posts and on high level government advisory committees in Australia and developing countries. An example here is Professor Nancy Millis, the industrial microbiologist, who is now Chancellor of La Trobe University.
The aims of the study are threefold:
-Nessy Allen, School of Science and Technology Studies, University of New South Wales