Author supplied photograph
During the Cold War over seventy nations put their political differences aside and planned a series of eleven major scientific studies of the globe in 1957/58. Those eighteen months were called the International Geophysical Year. From that Australian scientists played a major role in the advancements of knowledge of the globe. Specifically our work was perhaps more successful than the six nations that joined with us to study Antartica. The success was due in a large part to our foreign affairs department. It agreed for our scientists to set up bases in the country in the years before to trial equipment and materials. In those years our scientists were able to refine their knowledge to work in such an inhospitable region. (Post that period other countries have perhaps fared better.)
I have several reasons for retelling this story. The first is it is a reminder of Vic. ( I don’t remember his full name) but he was a young fellow Rev George Mutten mentored. The young man was an infrequent visitor to the vicarage and I met him only a handful of times. George took pride in saying he had spent time at Antartica during the IGY. I learned he was tragically killed a short while later in a car accident on a notorious bend in the Stoney Risers. His leader in the year he spent at Casey Base was Dr Phillip Law.
Phillip Law was a very respected Australian who made academic contributions to the growth of this country. He was born in 1912 ( a year before my mother). His is the second reason I recall this time. He led an interesting life, that has been documented in at least six books – including three autobiographies. The few pararagaphs I give to him relate to his adventures in Antartica. Where he first visited in 1949.
Law was born in Tallangatta. He grew up in Hamilton and went to the Ballarat Teachers College. He taught at secondary schools in Hamilton, Geelong and Melbourne Boys High School before he gained an MSc in Physics at Melbourne University. During WW11 he was involved with war projects at the University. ( I had my own time working in some of the same localities but that is as far as the similarities go.)
After the war Law gave up his secure job at the University and was appointed leader of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Exhibition) by the Department of External Affairs. He was the leader in charge of bases at Macquarie Island and Antartica from 1949. He held that position until 1977 by which time he had personally led exhibitions to Antartica twenty three times.
Consequently he was leader in the years of planing leading up to the International Geophysical Year.
The learnings that came from the eleven major studies of the globe in those eighteen months have had a profound influence of our understanding of the universe. For instance, in the years leading to the study period America announced it would launch a satellite into space. The intensity of achievement was ramped up to such an extent America was beaten in the space race. They did not launch their rocket until the USSR had startled the world with Sputnik one , in 1957,, and Sputnik two. In all, over seventy countries had tens of scientists study the globe in wonderful cooperation.
If there is a good sign we are prepared to listen to scientists. It is now. This the first time in three generations science, and the word of scientists are being sought out.
Which brings me to another reason for tapping away at this screen and recording my thoughts. Some years from now people will ask those living today, what was Covid 19 like? What did you do?
I am not a diarist but here are some thoughts on the matter. The most astonishing thing is the virus quickly developed across the globe in three months. The lives of most people have been turned upside down. Millions of people are sick with a disease for which there is no cure. As a result thousands have lost their lives. Millions that were employed one day are unemployed the next. All over the world people have been affected. For example, our Government realised our hospital system was inadequate to manage an influx of desperately ill people, and its usual workload as well. so all but the most urgent operations were cancelled to free up hospital beds.
Initially one of the obvious signs was, the messages were confused, and people panicked. Supermarket shelves were emptied of basic necessities. People sought out information on self management skills that were almost forgotten: How to cook bread, How to grow vegetables, How to husband poultry. They did these things because they were unsure the state would be able to look after them. The government loosened spending and made available unparalleled government aid. Much of this aid was directed at business in the hope that life would “spring back” to normal when the initial panic subsided.
Now here we are three months down the track. Business people are arguing commerce will never recover unless the chains of lockdown are loosened. Immediately forgetting of course there is no cure. The Advance Australia group and the IPA are applying pressure on the Morrison government to lift the Lockdown and get back to business
This new pandemic age is certain to provide scope for dozens of future PHDs to study how it should have been approached, as every day we hear new reasons for and against social distancing. President Trump says America is not supposed to be closed to business at a time when many of his people are dropping dead like flies. He has also withdrawn funding from the World Health Organisation to take attention away from his own inadequacies
The truth is business is not going to bounce back as some businesses may never recover. Today Virgin Air excused itself from stock trading while the debt burdened company looks for a white knight to bail them out of trouble. Failing that aide it is just one of many.businesses unlikely to live on.
The evidence each country is fighting Covid 19 in its own way has made life more uncertain. Government’s around the world are making knee jerk responses to this hidden deadly threat. Many health officers are reporting progress is being made in treating it while they struggle behind the scenes to make beds and ventilators available for their sick.
It is not as if administrators were unaware a pandemic threatened mankind. In recent years we have had several near misses with SARS, and Ebola, but is the madness of mankind not to worry about future threats until we have to deal with them. Right now we can see the foolishness of this behaviour. Yet we procrastinate soothed by the words of business lobbyists.
How have we denied the warnings about global warming from similar learned people is beyond comprehension. This is yet another reason for speaking out. In my mouselike way my words are silenced except for recording , “What is happening is not happening in my name”. Perhaps it his is more difficult until one has lived through many awful life events and observed it hasn’t always been so easy. My hope remains world leaders will put aside the nonsense industry people spread and instruct their scientists to advise them.
My last point is contentious. I want billionaires to donate all but their pocket money to science. If I pick just one I will start with Bill Gates. I cannot decide whether he is a saint or sinner. His charities do such a lot of good yet the question remains, was his wealth legitimate from the beginning? Leaving that question aside.
I want him to abandon the idea that big business will help agriculture and global food supply. I think water and soil and seed, that isn’t owned by business, and organic fertiliser, again unowned by business, is all farmers need to produce food locally. Food has been produced that way forever. Monoculture is not good for the planet. If you are unsure of this get the scientists of the world to study food production with no thought of patents and licences. Just do it for the hell of it like was done in the IGY back in 1957/58.
Here is an interview with a very old Phillip Law. (He was 97 when he died)