[HASN logo] No. 35, December 1995 ISSN 0811-4757

Edited and published by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au) for ASAP.

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The Medical Science Stamps of 1995

Seven Australian medical scientists were commemorated in the issue of a set of four stamps on 7th September, 1995. They were as follows:

[First stamp] Three pioneers of X-rays: Father Joseph Slattery, Professor TR Lyle and WT Filmer. There is a sketch of an early X-ray tube and of a radiograph of the fingers of a hand. The early name for the latter was a "skiagraph" meaning a shadow picture, which emphasized the essential physics of X-rays.

The stamp commemorates the physics of the subject as well as the medical studies because the original discoverer of X-ray, Roentgen published his article in November 1895. The news did not reach Australia for a few months and then there was a burst of experimentation with many laboratories joining the worldwide excitement. TR Lyle was the Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Slattery was science master at a school in Bathurst, NSW. Filmer was an electrical engineer in Newcastle, NSW and was probably the first in Australia to make an X-Radiograph, which he did two days after the press announcement. The incentive for such speed was a hospital patient with a broken needle in his foot; Filmer was Honorary Electrician to the hospital and was asked if he could use the new rays to locate the needle. The three persons on the stamp were not the only ones to repeat the experiment so quickly. In Sydney there were Professor Threlfall and Pollock of the Department of Natural Philosophy and in Perth, WA, there was WJ Hancock , an electrical engineer. Many physicists, both professional and amateurs, had worked on or demonstrated the effects seen in gas discharge tubes. The equipment needed was found in many laboratories and homes. The sudden burst of results from all these experiments and demonstrations led to the medical journals making sections just for the new technique.

This stamp shows Fred Hollows, who worked for the restoration of sight following the eye disease trachoma. He replaced the damaged lens of the eye with a plastic intraocular lens and led medical teams treating Aborigines and underprivileged communities in Vietnam, Nepal and Eritrea. In the background of the stamp are two persons, one with a damaged eye and the other with a bandage covering one eye; there is also a sketch of a plastic lens held by forceps.

[Third stamp] Both Macfarlane Burnet and Jean Macnamara are depicted on the third stamp. They were graduates of the Melbourne Medical School in the 'good year' of 1922. Burnet shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Medawar in 1960 for work on Immunology; Macnamara worked on the viruses of poliomyelitis in the 1920s and 1930s and encouraged the use of the myxomatosis virus for the control of rabbits. The sketches are of a hen's egg being injected from a syringe and of test tubes, carrying blood, in a rack.

ASAP prepared the listing of Burnet's papers, one of the largest made by ASAP; Burnet wrote 555 research articles on a wide range of problems.

[Fourth stamp] The $2.50 stamp is of Howard Florey who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Fleming and Chain in 1945 for their work on penicillin. The background sketches are of Petrie dishes used in the first experiments on penicillin and of what looks like crystals of penicillin, emphasizing the link between the roles of a medical laboratory and a chemical laboratory.

Each stamp has a background of a square grid emphasizing the role of graphs and graph paper in medical science and indeed in all sciences.

While writing this note, I received an air letter from the UK with a stamp commemorating the first wireless message, sent by Marconi in 1895 over a distance of one and one-half miles. The sketch on the stamp shows Marconi listening to one of the early telephone sets with the curved mouthpiece which had been in use since the early days of the telephone. The letters SOS are also there, with a sketch of a sinking ship and a lifeboat (the "Titanic", 1912?). This stamp raised two questions in my mind:

  1. Who established the first wireless message in Australia?
  2. Whom should be on our stamps to commemorate our sciences?

Perhaps the HASN is a possible place for a discussion.

- Bert Bolton, HPS Department, University of Melbourne

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