Australian science and scientists

A companion site to the 200 years of Australian technology, “Bright Sparcs“, hosted by the University of Melbourne.

A register of people involved in the development of science, technology, engineering and medicine in Australia, including references to their archival materials and bibliographic resources.

At first sight this looks like a good site but it appears to be pensioned off, with broken links and no update since Feb 07. As for bibliographic resources, the entries appear to be bland and boring to the point of being almost a waste of space. They do not even link to Australian Dictionary of Biography where the entries are superb.

Compare the two for the great professor of Agriculture, Sir Samuel Wadham (1891-1972). The Bright Sparcs Wadham and the ADB Wadham. Extracts from the latter:

Maintaining high scholastic standards, Wadham displayed ‘scientific interest and enterprise’, and won prizes in history, divinity and English, despite being ‘too sententious’ and ‘fond of moralizing’. He gained colours for cricket, bowling to the great W. G. Grace in a match against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1910. His coach commented variously that he: ‘Has an enormous leg-break and uses his brains well’; cannot ‘keep still when batting’; and needs to be ‘rather more silent’.

Wadham had considerable influence as an educator. He was highly articulate; in Who’s Who ‘talking’ appeared as his sole recreational interest, although in the Australian version he added ‘and sleeping’. Usually lecturing extempore, he illustrated his themes with anecdotes and ironic humour. He had an ‘inimitable and whimsical style’ but spoke with passion, communicating his enthusiasm. Much of his material was informed by a ‘dry cynicism’. Students from the country, such as F. J. R. Hird, later recalled the impact of encountering for the first time a teacher whose treatment of questions was open and inquiring. Wadham’s mission was to educate students in science as applied to agriculture; his approach was eclectic, thematic, philosophical, and with some biological science woven into the economic and sociological context of agricultural practice. His social conscience, his concern for environmental conservation, and his emphasis on the development of problem-solving skills were explicit.

An inquiry in 1928 into the dairy industry in the eastern States, on behalf of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, had begun Wadham’s long record of service on government bodies. He was a member in 1934-35 of Sir Herbert Gepp’s royal commission on the wheat, flour and bread industries, and in 1943-46 of the Commonwealth Rural Reconstruction Commission. The period of the latter assignment was the most strenuous of his life, as he wrestled with the whole gamut of rural problems in Australia; the nature of soldier settlement after the war was one significant outcome. Much of the commission’s work fell on Wadham and C. R. Lambert, and the two wrote most of the ten substantial reports.

These reports included a general survey of rural conditions and provided a detailed consideration of the issues involved in land settlement: farm size and suitability, training of settlers, land tenure and valuation. They proposed commercial policies for rural credit, debt adjustment, wages and agricultural marketing. Although they treated the expansion of irrigation with caution, they endorsed the Snowy Mountains scheme. Education figured strongly in their treatment of rural life and amenities, and they noted that advances in agricultural research were crucial to rural progress. The reports had a careful analytical character, based on historical perspectives and statistical data. They stressed above all the need for efficiency in farm production; the extent of the rural population, and even the level of production, were secondary.

Membership of the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council occupied some of Wadham’s time in 1949-62. His signal achievement was the part he played in the defeat of the programme of B. A. Santamaria and the National Catholic Rural Movement to foster Italian peasant migration for small-holder, subsistence settlement.

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15 years ago

It’s easy to bet on why it has been pensioned off — it’s more than likely they got funding from one of the government sources for a certain number of years, and once it ran out, that would have been pretty much the end of it (except for a big tick for project successfully completed). There are unfortunately innumerate projects like this which provide databases of this, that, and the next thing (some of them once useful and good), but that’s just the way funding and grants often work.