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Nature, Nurture and Chance

Nature, Nurture and Chance: The Lives of Frank and Charles Fenner OPEN ACCESS

FRANK FENNER
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbk7t
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  • Book Info
    Nature, Nurture and Chance
    Book Description:

    Judging by the numbers of newspaper reviews, biographies (including autobiographies) are amongst the most common literary works published these days. However, it is uncommon to find one book that combines a biography and an autobiography, as this book, Nature, Nurture and Chance: The Lives of Frank and Charles Fenner, does. As the author, Frank Fenner, sees it, 'nature' means the combination of genes that we inherit from our parents; 'nurture' means the way that our physical and social environment, especially during childhood, influence our mental and emotional characteristics; and chance is defined as 'the way things fall out'. These three elements define the careers of all human beings. The author uses them to compare his father's life and his own.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-63-2
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Part I. The Life of Frank Fenner
    • Introduction (pp. 3-8)

      I have chosen the title Nature, Nurture and Chance: The Lives of Frank and Charles Fenner, because I think that the first three words encapsulate the three elements that determine the lives of all humans. In one way, quite apart from the changes in the world around us, my father and I have had very different careers, yet my life, of which I know much more than I could hope to find out about his, clearly demonstrates the great importance of all three.

      My father, Charles Fenner, was born in 1884 and died in 1955, I was born in 1914,...

    • My father, Charles Fenner, had been appointed to the Ballarat School of Mines in November 1914, and, with his wife, Peggy, and Lyell, the only child at that stage, had moved into a house at 2 Doveton Street, Ballarat. I was born there on December 21, 1914, the second of a family of five. I was given the name ‘Frank Johannes’, the second name being that of my grandfather. The house was right next to 101 Eyre Street (which we used to pronounce ‘Ay-er’), where Mother’s two unmarried sisters and a widowed sister lived. Later, when we had moved to...

    • Although I had failed to get a bursary, my parents were determined that I should go to the university; naturally, to the University of Adelaide, then the only university in South Australia. With the exposure that I had had to geology, it was not surprising that I wanted to do science, majoring in geology. However, my father dissuaded me. My year of entry was 1933, before the mineral boom of the 1940s. He pointed out that there were very few jobs in geology; besides the Government Geologist (one job, held by Dr L. Keith Ward, brother of the Professor of...

    • There was only one woman among the 17 students who graduated in medicine in 1938 and became resident medical officers in the Adelaide Hospital in February 1939. All of us, except for her and two of the men, enlisted in the Army or Air Force when they finished their year of residence. I was not a pacifist and I thought that there was no alternative to war with Hitler. With hindsight, I realise that I would have faced serious problems of conscience if I had been in any service other than the medical corps and had had to kill another...

    • When I arrived at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute on 1 February, 1946, almost all the staff there were working on influenza virus, which, remembering the disastrous outbreak of influenza just after the World War I, Burnet had undertaken as his contribution to the war effort. As he had suggested, I undertook studies of various aspects of the epidemiology of infectious ectromelia virus. As I found when I had access to the library there, Burnet’s suggestion that I should work on the experimental epidemiology of this virus stemmed from work carried out with it in England (Greenwood et al.,...

    • As described in the previous chapter, Sir Howard Florey had made arrangements for the first three professors appointed to the John Curtin School of Medical Research to meet him in Oxford early in August 1949. Adrien Albert (Medical Chemistry) was working in the Wellcome Laboratories in London and Hugh Ennor (Biochemistry) had come over from Melbourne. Bobbie and I arrived in England on 2 August. She stayed with my friend Cecil Hackett and his wife Beattie at Northwood, just out of London. I went up to Oxford and spent a very busy four days talking about the future of the...

    • As mentioned in the previous chapter, The Australian National University had arranged with the Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, to provide me with two laboratories, on the same floor as his laboratory, for as long as it took to provide laboratories in Canberra. I worked in the room previously occupied by gifted research worker Dora Lush, who had died in 1943 from scrub typhus contracted during her work (Burnet, 1971).

      Molecular biology was unknown in the early 1950s, and although I wanted to get back to virology, I thought that I had skimmed the...

    • Hugh Ennor, who had been knighted in 1965, was Dean of the John Curtin School in 1966 (he preferred the title of Dean, rather than Director). He had been appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1964 and hoped to be appointed Vice-Chancellor. However, Sir John Crawford was the obvious choice for that post and, in February 1967, Ennor accepted an invitation from Senator John Gorton to become the first Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Education and Science.

      Professor Colin Courtice was appointed Acting Dean, and the position of Director of the John Curtin School was advertised in Australia and overseas. I...

    • The two most important organizations with which I have had an association since July 1949 have been The Australian National University, especially the John Curtin School of Medical Research and the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, and the Australian Academy of Science, and it is appropriate that I should include a chapter on the Academy in my autobiography. I was in the first group of scientists, apart from the Foundation Fellows, to become a Fellow (by election) in 1954, the year in which the Academy received its Royal Charter. From 1958 to 1961, I served as Secretary (Biological Sciences)...

    • In August 1969, Vice-Chancellor Crawford asked me to chair a committee to prepare a submission to the Australian Universities Commission (AUC) for the 1973–75 triennium, advocating the establishment in the ANU of a Centre for Natural Resources (later and henceforth called the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (CRES)). The AUC approved the proposal, envisaging that the Centre would grow from 2 senior academic staff at the end of 1973, to 5 senior, 7 short term and 13 support staff by 1975, and when fully developed in 1977, a core of 8 senior academic staff with tenure appointments, 15...

    • Why have a whole chapter on smallpox? The reader will know when he reads this chapter and portion of the next. For almost the whole of my career at the laboratory bench—excepting my time as a pathologist during my army service—I worked on poxviruses. Initially, with Macfarlane Burnet at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, I worked on infectious ectromelia, which we were able to rename ‘mousepox’. From 1950 until 1965, I spent most of my time working and writing about myxomatosis, and have written and lectured about it, off and on, ever since. In 1957, I began...

    • This is the longest chapter in the autobiography, because it extends for a longer time—26 years—than I spent in any other position. In 1979, the rule in Australian universities was that staff had to retire (from paid positions) at the end of the year during which they reached the age of 65. For me, that meant 31 December, 1979, because I was born on 21 December, 1914. Fortunately, the ANU was willing to provide office space and access to all facilities except the laboratory (unless the retiree had an independent grant to cover laboratory expenses) if he/she wanted...

  2. Part II. The Life of Charles Fenner
    • During my childhood in Adelaide in the 1930s, Fenner was not a common name. In 1937, for example, the name occurred only twice in the Adelaide telephone book: C. A. E. Fenner (my father, whose forebears came from Germany, at 42 Alexandra Avenue), and A. G. Fenner, the head wool appraiser for Elder Smith and Co. Ltd. The latter family had migrated from England, and of course Fenner’s cricket ground in Cambridge is familiar to many. Although I have little time for genealogical studies, since they ignore the female genes, my father had acquired a lot of information about the...

    • My father, Charles Albert Edward Fenner, was born on 18 May, 1884, in Dunach, a small village 35 km north of Ballarat and at the foot of a volcano, Mount Greenock. In December 1879, his father, Johannes Fenner, who had been living in the area and working in the local gold mine, had taken over the license of the Dunach Hotel. It was a low, rambling building, and apart from the rooms used by the family there were eight rooms for public use. He gave up the license in 1892 and became a poultry farmer, keeping turkeys which used to...

    • Charles Fenner made his livelihood, for most of his life, as a senior administrator in the Education Department of South Australia, where he was Superintendent of Technical Education from 1916 to 1939 and Director of Education from 1939 to 1946. During this period he also made important contributions to science, both as a teacher and a science communicator, mainly in the fields of geomorphology and human geography (see Chapter 16). In describing his work as an educational administrator, I have included relevant parts of the entry on his life in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Trethewey, 1981). I have also...

    • The Introduction to this biography explains the background to the material selected from the diaries produced on Charles Fenner’s two overseas trips with his wife Peggy in 1931 and 1937 (C. Fenner, 1931, 1937). The 1931 trip was undertaken when he was chosen as one of the Australian delegates to the Centenary Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS); the others were: Sir Hubert Murray, President-elect of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Professors Kerr Grant and Chapman, of the University of Adelaide; Professors Ewart, Hartung and Skeats, of the University of Melbourne;...

    • As Bernard Hyams observed (see Chapter 14), Charles Fenner was a ‘scientist who would be an [educational] administrator’. In fact, he was more than a very competent academic scientist, he was also what is now known as an excellent science communicator. He wrote over 30 papers on various aspects of geography and geomorphology and lectured in geography at the University of Adelaide from 1927 until 1939. He also wrote textbooks on geography for both university and secondary school students and fortnightly articles on science for a Melbourne weekly magazine for 23 years, from which he developed three books of essays...

    • The background to these extracts from the diaries my father kept on his trips overseas, to Europe in 1931 and to North America and Europe in 1937, is set out in the Introduction. This chapter contains some of his comments on scientific matters, particularly the geology and geography of places he and my mother visited, discussions about these fields of science and his other great interest, australites. Only a small proportion of the entries dealing with science have been selected and these have been severely edited. Each entry is distinguished by the accompanying date and place.

      Hartung and I, by...

    • In this final chapter, I want to reflect on two matters, one that spanned my working life, namely special friendships, and the other an analysis of the relative importance of nature, nurture and chance, as they affected my father and myself.

      Friendships are an important element in everyone’s life. Lifelong friendship with one’s wife is the most important and one that I enjoyed in full measure, but I have had many other friends. Here I want to acknowledge the debt I owe to several special friends who have been important to me at various periods of my life, many of...