Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Winter 2014 Issue
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1950s Alumni Voice: Meredith Hooper

Emerging from the shadows of war


Meredith Hooper (far right) at her graduation in 1961

Meredith Hooper (far right) at her graduation in 1961

Former Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow Meredith Hooper is a leading writer, lecturer and broadcaster who was recently named Australian of the Year in the UK. A Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, Ms Hooper graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Adelaide in 1961.

"We, late 1950s University of Adelaide students, were war babies. The radio delivering nightly battle bulletins. Around us as we grew, inserts of new kinds of people - displaced persons, 'foreign' teachers at school grappling with unfamiliar English. 'Europeans' who showed us descendants of northern latitudes' emigrants how Adelaide was a Mediterranean climate. Olives dropping from trees in the Parklands could be eaten rather than stamped on. Icecream turned into a revelation.

As teenagers we lived under the fear of the Bomb. Would we even have a future? But we got to 17. Espresso coffee, exotically drunk at little tables in the City Arcade. And for those who - by definition in our home city - went to The University of Adelaide in leafy North Terrace, the good fortune of lecturers from other worlds. For us historians, Peter Phillips, escaped multiple times from prisoner of war camps. George Rudé, urbane, scholar of the French Revolution. An actual American - Hector Kinloch. Joining Hugh Stretton, gentle, amused aura of Balliol, Oxford and his time as Dean. Douglas Pike, seamed with his Chinese childhood. Ken Inglis, at 26, seriously grown-up. We students worked hard. That wasn't at issue. Holidays spent earning.

For most of my girls' school contemporaries leaving school meant some minimal job and early marriage. Almost unquestioned. But The University of Adelaide gave me - ignorant even of its existence - the Overseas Scholarship in Arts and Economics. Someone read it out loud from the newspaper one summer midnight as we waited by the Advertiser offices for our finals results. The History Department appointed me tutor. Seven months of happy academic career then on board the P&O Oriana with one and a half suitcases, a trunk, and the companionship of 18 young scholarship-holding Australians from every state heading for UK universities.

I'd never been away from home for more than two weeks. It mattered not a jot. Four weeks at sea and I'd climbed up the world. 21 years old. The adventure of England. Oxford. New friends to make. My only contact a family we'd sent food parcels to in the war. A desperately crowded landscape. I thought if I took five big strides I'd be out the other side. Conventional, tight, still war-caught but - in 1961 - beginning to sprout shoots.

My mother, as I left, grieved: you'll marry an Englishman. I did. No longer available for a University post. Married, my tutors offered me a role as their researcher. I had been elected the only woman in my year out of 20 to a Nuffield College Studentship. Won the Beit Prize, the Walter Frewin Lord Prize: But. I went to the US with my husband. Discovered I liked writing books for a wide audience; and never stopped. Still passionately an historian, but writing about science, technology, aviation, space, Egyptology, Australia; fiction, non fiction; lecturing, broadcasting. Whatever fitted my reality: three children, ever busier husband, committed London life, time in Australia. As opportunity allowed, visiting scholarships, board memberships bedding in.

Until my second great chance: an invitation to Antarctica as a writer with the Australian Antarctic Division. To uncover, instant, unexpected, a passionate commitment to that massive continent clasping the bottom of the world. And go back, and back, to work and research. To spend real time. Then, and ever since, with as many means as I can: to share my sense of and belief in this critically important one-tenth of Earth's land surface. Antarctica."

story by Meredith Hooper



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