Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Winter 2014 Issue
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1930s to 1940s: Delivering growth in times of adversity

Dr Miriam Hyde, 1936

Dr Miriam Hyde, 1936

Lord Howard Florey

Lord Howard Florey

Max Harris

Max Harris

As the 1930s began, Australia, like much of the western world, was in the grip of the Great Depression. Its economic success rested largely on vital commodities such as wool and wheat which were especially hard hit by the drop in international demand. Yet in spite of these global challenges, the University continued to grow and prosper. The Waite Agricultural Research Institute emerged as the pre-eminent place for agricultural research in Australia, positioning the nation well to respond to changes in primary production.

As society changed, the University offered progressive new courses in economics, social welfare, teacher training and many other disciplines. The community also benefitted in many other ways, such as through the establishment of the Footlights Club and the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild, which continues to this day as an enterprising and award-winning company.

The 1940s began with the University again depleted by the absence of staff and students on active service. Many of those who remained, especially in the scientific disciplines, were seconded to military authorities.

The making of a legal pioneer

Dame Roma Mitchell was destined to become one of Australia's most accomplished lawyers the day she set foot on the University of Adelaide campus. She excelled in her law studies, completing her course in four years instead of five and graduating in 1934 with the David Murray Scholarship Award for the most brilliant student.

She began her search for justice during her university days, helping to form the Women's Law Students' Society after being barred from joining the existing society. It was the start of a 60-year relationship with the University which continued when she returned as a lecturer in family law, and through her appointments as a member of the Council and as Chancellor from 1983 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the post of chancellor at an Australian university and only resigned after taking up her appointment as Governor of South Australia in 1991.

Dame Roma was a founding member of the University of Adelaide Graduates Union and in 1985 was awarded the degree of Doctor of the University for her distinguished service.

Breakthroughs in world health

The 1940s produced two of the University of Adelaide's most distinguished medical graduates. Professor Frank Fenner completed his Doctor of Medicine in 1942 and pioneered studies into how common virus infections spread through the body. He played a major role in the introduction of myxoma virus to combat Australia's rabbit plagues. Pioneering researcher Dr Basil Hetzel, who completed his postgraduate degree in 1949, made a difference to the lives of millions with his discovery that iodine deficiency was the cause of severe brain damage among Papua New Guinean highlanders. Global prevention of this problem became his life's work, leading to salt iodisation programs in about 90 countries and the protection of millions of children.

A life in music

Dr Miriam Hyde was one of Australia's foremost pianists and composers during the 20th century, a distinguished career that began after she graduated from the University of Adelaide in 1931 with a Bachelor of Music. Winning the Elder Overseas Scholarship to London's Royal College of Music, she studied piano and composition before returning to live in Sydney. She returned to Adelaide and taught piano and musical perception at the Elder Conservatorium for a short while and in 1975 was appointed Patron of the Music Teachers' Association of South Australia.

Dr Hyde was a prolific composer of music and lyrics who wrote over 150 instrumental and vocal works in an early 20th-century pastoral style and was an acclaimed international concert pianist and music educator. Demonstrating her commitment to supporting musical education, Dr Hyde established the Miriam Hyde Award for the Music Teachers' Association of South Australia, and donated royalties from her autobiography to support the Elder Overseas Scholarship fund.

A man for all seasons

Max Harris, poet, editor and publisher, has generally been regarded as the founding father of Australian modernism in the arts. By the time he commenced studies in economics and arts at the University in 1939, he was already recognised as a poet and intellectual. Between 1941 and 1945 he edited the avant-garde journal Angry Penguins which aimed to promote the international influences of surrealism and modernism into the Australian artistic scene. Mr Harris also played a central role in establishing Penguin and Sun Books paperback imprints in Australia and became, through his Mary Martin Bookshop, one of the best known booksellers in Australia. He was also a senior newspaper columnist and a well-known arts critic on radio and television.

Building bridges

The University Footbridge linking the playing fields and the North Terrace campus is a permanent reminder of the huge generosity of the Waite family. Peter Waite left his magnificent Urrbrae estate to the University in 1914 for an agricultural institute and his daughters Eva and Lily Waite continued the tradition by helping to fund the bridge, which they formally opened in May 1937 with Governor Sir Winston Dugan.

Lasting legacy in books

The generosity of the Barr Smith family is remembered every time someone steps into the University's library. Robert Barr Smith served as a member of the University Council for 19 years and during his lifetime his donations exceeded 20,000, which included 9,000 to improve the library. Further donations followed. The foundation stone of Barr Smith Library was laid by Mary Isobel Barr Smith in September 1930, and two years later the Barr Smith Reading Room was completed at a final cost of almost 35,000 from funds donated by Tom Elder Barr Smith. He later bequeathed a further 10,000 to buy books, and ongoing interest earned from the donations continues to fund more purchases to this day. The Latin inscribed frieze below the gilded ceiling of the Reading Room commemorates the major donations of Robert Barr Smith and his family.

Milestones and achievements

1927-1938 Construction of the Lady Symon and George Murray buildings, cloisters and refectory

1930 The Graduates Association and University Union amalgamate allowing graduates use of the union buildings and facilities

1932 The student newspaper On Dit is first published

1932 Adelaide University Rugby Club formed

1933 Constance Eardley hired as curator of the Adelaide and Waite Institute herbaria

1933-1936 Bonython Hall built following a bequest by Sir John Langdon Bonython

1936 Australia's first Diploma in Oenology established at Roseworthy Agricultural College

1938 The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is formed

1941 Award-winning children's author Colin Thiele graduates with a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Teaching

1945 Penicillin pioneer Lord Howard Florey wins the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine

1947 Staff Association established

1947 Construction of Medical School South commenced

1948 The Observatory building completed


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