Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Summer 2013 Issue
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Global impact

From a passionate writer in the United States opening her heart and home to the voiceless; to a champion of public health accorded Canada's highest civilian honour and a young graduate improving the livelihoods of poor farmers in Vietnam - our graduates make an impact in all corners of the globe.

With so many alumni working in diverse fields around the world, we want to know who you would like to see profiled for Global Impact.

Tell us by emailing

Giving Life to the Voiceless

Joanna Catherine Scott
BA (Hons) 1975

Joanna Catherine Scott's earliest memories as a toddler are of the vivid scenes of London during the Blitz - of fire in the sky, the sounds of feet running and people screaming.

"What a wonderful way for a writer to start their life - with a beginning of great excitement," says Joanna, author of six novels and four poetry collections.

Yet Joanna's writing career did not begin until much later, following some major events that made an even greater impact on her.

Long before she found a passion for writing, Joanna was an Adelaide housewife and mother who discovered a fascination for philosophy and enrolled at the University.

"It was a wonderful environment - what they did was teach us to think. That was probably the most important thing that anybody ever did for me in my life."

Joanna says she was "turned on her head by the Women's Revolution", leading ultimately to the break-up of her marriage and the loss of her children through the divorce.

Years later, a new marriage saw Joanna move to the United States and then to Manila when her husband was appointed ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.

Deeply affected by a visit to a refugee processing centre, Joanna was moved to write her first book based on the stories of the displaced people she met, those she calls "the voiceless" - a theme which she says informs all of her writing.

This was not only the beginning of Joanna's journey as a writer but the creation of a new family, returning to the US with three adopted Korean orphans. Reunited with her Australian children when they were older, Joanna's family expansion did not end there.

Joanna met John Lee, a Death Row inmate when he contacted her after reading an excerpt from her novel The Road from Chapel Hill and identifying with its story about a runaway slave.

Putting aside the warnings of friends, Joanna made contact with John Lee and found him to be an intelligent and voracious self-educator with whom she became friends.

John Lee is now Joanna's adopted son and, through their relationship, he has become a transformed man, determined to be one of Death Row's innocents. Joanna has established a fund to raise contributions for the legal costs in pursuit of his freedom.

"If we hadn't come together through literature, this would not have happened."

"I became a totally different person because of a university where I had people developing my mind. You can feel really proud that it was the University of Adelaide's Philosophy department that set me on this road."

story by Genevieve Sanchez

Lasting Recognition

Dr John Last
(MBBS, 1949)

Two illnesses - one which killed millions, and another which almost killed him - have shaped the career of Dr John Last, pictured above with wife Janet.

Admission as an Officer of the Order of Canada is the culmination of his life's work in the field of epidemiology (the science of public health).

After graduating, Dr Last worked at an inner-suburban Adelaide general practice, where he saw firsthand the impact of the 1958 Asian influenza pandemic.

"It killed several people my own age, including two young friends," he said.

"At the monthly meeting of the partners in the practice, there had been rejoicing at the huge amount of money we had made during the pandemic.

"I didn't share the rejoicing, recalling the sad face of a woman who had insisted on paying me for fruitless visits I had made to her son, a young man about my age, who died of influenza.

"That was a moment of truth for me: I realised I didn't want to spend my life getting rich because other people had the misfortune to fall ill."

After the epidemic subsided, Dr Last himself became seriously ill with a life-threatening virus pneumonia.

"For a few days both I and the doctor caring for me thought I might die," he said. "During my convalescence, I had time to think deeply about what to do with the rest of my professional life.

"I realised that a higher aim in life than treating sick people one at a time was to identify and control the causes of sickness in the population as a whole. In other words, to become a specialist in public health sciences, especially epidemiology."

With his beloved wife, Janet Wendy - a New Zealander he met in Adelaide - and three children, Dr Last trained in epidemiology in Sydney and London before further stints in Edinburgh and ultimately Ottawa, where he has been based for more than 40 years.

Before deciding on medicine, Dr Last harboured thoughts of becoming a writer and later found he could combine his love of writing with his epidemiological pursuits.

He has co-authored important public health and epidemiology textbooks, and was the first editor of the Dictionary of Epidemiology.

"The dictionary has been translated into 15 languages and is used by epidemiologists all over the world and it's what I'm best known for in the field," he said.

story by Ben Osborne

Growing Markets for Vietnam's Veggies

Rebecca McBride
B Sc (Ag Sc) 2008, M Ag Bus 2010, Prof Cert Int Trade 2010

Rebecca McBride has been helping farmers in Vietnam take their vegetables to market.

As agricultural marketing officer working on an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project, Rebecca spent 12 months helping women from poor families in the north-west highlands to grow and market local indigenous vegetables in rapidly transforming markets.

The influence of agriculture was a big part of Rebecca's upbringing and, growing up on her family's cattle and sheep grazing farm in Kingston in the south-east of South Australia, she was involved with all aspects of farm work.

Rebecca combined her farming background with an interest in science, going on to complete a degree in Agricultural Science at the University of Adelaide, followed by a Master of Agricultural Business.

"My degrees opened me up to new ideas and areas of study and work that I had not heard of or considered before," Rebecca says.

In the final year of her Masters, Rebecca's name was put forward to work on a project in Vietnam with Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD), an AusAID funded volunteer program. She was accepted for the position and later that year moved to Hanoi, Vietnam to start her first job.

Rebecca assisted the project team with research, marketing strategies and promotional events aimed at helping farmers to better market a selection of indigenous vegetables. This included a cooking challenge where restaurants in a popular tourist destination competed in a cook-off designed to showcase three indigenous vegetables.

"The project succeeded in increasing the profile of the vegetables among the restaurants and tourists and was followed up with the production of recipe cards for higher end retailers in Hanoi," says Rebecca.

Another goal of Rebecca's work was to build capacity in her host organisation, the Vietnam Women's Union - Rebecca says she thinks they learned a lot from each other throughout the year.
"I made the most amazing friends while living in Hanoi and they are one of the best things I will take from my experience," she says.

Now working as a graduate officer with ACIAR's agribusiness program, Rebecca is passionate about the future for agriculture and the positive impact that projects such as this can make in developing countries and Australia.

"My sister and I used to say that she would cure the world (she is now a doctor) and I would feed them, but it wasn't until I started my Masters degree and then went on to be an AYAD in Vietnam that I saw how I could actually contribute to agricultural development."

story by Genevieve Sanchez

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Joanna Catherine Scott

Joanna Catherine Scott
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John and Janet Last

John and Janet Last
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Rebecca McBride

Rebecca McBride
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