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Launch and Commemoration of the birth of Sir Ian William Wark (1899-1965)
The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, Thursday 9 December 1999

Welcome and Introduction
Gavan McCarthy, Austehc Director

It is with some pleasure that I welcome you, on behalf of the Advisory Board and the staff of the Centre, to this event and thank you all for coming, at what is a very hectic time of the year. We have been quite overwhelmed by the response.

With the Minister running a little behind schedule we have decided to reverse the order of events and commence with the commemoration of the birth of Sir Ian William Wark.

My name is Gavan McCarthy, and I am Director of the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, the organisation we are launching today, in conjunction with the commemoration of the birth of Sir Ian William Wark - these two events are not unrelated - as you will discover.

Firstly, a few important apologies:

  • Professor Rod Home, the Chairman of the Centre's Advisory Board and the person responsible for initiating the establishment of the predecessor body in 1985, the Australian Science Archives Project - he is overseas at present; and
  • The Premier, the Honourable Steve Bracks also sent his personal apologies and wished us well for the launch.

Introduction to Ian Wark Commemoration and Professor Swan

I would now like to introduce Professor John Swan. John Swan has been a long-time supporter of the Australian Science Archive Project and now the Centre. He was an original member of the Advisory Board and worked with Rod Home to formulate its original mission. It was possibly through his influence that we started work on Ian Wark's records in 1985 while they were still in his office at CSIRO, Port Melbourne.

It was there that I first met Eleanor Ellis (as she was then) - who is here this evening - as we worked together to ensure that the Wark records were systematically and professionally preserved and documented. Little did we think, as we sipped sherry at the end of a days work in late 1985 that we would be together again, 14 years later, to finally see the opening of the closed materials.

It was a privilege to work with Eleanor and, although I did not fully realise it at the time, it was significant archivally as we were capturing the records directly from the context in which they were created and used - from Ian Wark's office. This event had considerable influence on my professional development and has led directly to the foundations of the Centre's research program and our heritage outreach services, with their strong focus on the capturing, preservation and utilisation of contextual information.

There has been much technological change since 1985 - the first guide to Ian's records was produced on a very primitive word processing system - and it was not until 1987 that we purchased our first PC. In order to enable the Wark records to remain readily accessible and usable it is imperative that the guide is regularly re-published in contemporary forms - which now means on the Web. It also needs to conform with the new international archival standards for description of records that have emerged since that time.

For our archival heritage to be readily available for each succeeding generation, it is essential that it is packaged afresh - in terms they understand and in a form they relate to. The challenge for the heritage profession is to find the ways and means by which this can be achieved with the greatest efficiency and economy.

To save time, John has asked me not to engage in a detailed introduction - but he is a Fellow, both of the Australian Academy of Science and of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, as was Ian Wark and has been a very active chemist for nearly 60 years. John Swan ...

Launch of the Archive of Sir Ian William Wark
Emeritus Professor John Swan
FAA, FTSE, PhD(Lon), DSc, DSc (Honoris causa)

Introduction of Professor Solomon
Gavan McCarthy
Thank you, John.

Before introducing Professor David Solomon, I would like to make welcome the Honourable John Brumby MP, Minister for State and Regional Development.

I would now like to call upon Professor David Solomon, who was a very close professional colleague and personal friend of Ian Wark, to talk about Ian Wark - the person.

Science does not occur in a vacuum - it is, fundamentally, a creative process based on human ingenuity, insight and problem solving. If the archives and artefacts we preserve as evidence of scientific activity do not include personal materials that document the broader context of a scientist's life we are grossly distorting its representation for future generations. However, this is not a trivial exercise but one that must be undertaken with sensitivity, care and responsibility.

David Solomon is also a fellow of both Academies and had a most significant career in polymers at CSIRO before returning to the University sector. It was through his work on the Plastic Banknote Project that I had my first introduction to him. David Solomon ...

Reflections on the life and contributions of Ian Wark
Professor David Solomon

Introduction to Launch of Austehc
Gavan McCarthy
The Honourable John Brumby MP, Minister for State and Regional Development, Professors Kwong Lee Dow and Frank Larkins, Deputy Vice-Chancellors of the University of Melbourne; The family and relatives of Sir Ian Wark; Members of the Board of the Ian Potter Foundation; and Fellow distinguished guests and friends.

I, personally, would like to thank Minister Brumby, at the outset, for making time, in what is a very busy and demanding schedule, to participate this evening.

All of you should have a 3-fold pamphlet that gives an overview of the Centre, a glimpse of its already long past, and a brief summary of our key activities which include:

  • Facilating archival and heritage preservation;
  • Publication of education resources on the Web;
  • Software and tools for the heritage industry;
  • Research and development; and
  • Teaching.
However, what I would like to reflect on is the critical role scientific heritage plays in our lives but more importantly, in the lives of our children and grand-children.

As a notable, but still not named Fellow of the Academy of Science stated about 20 years ago - why should we bother - "science has no history". This extraordinary statement captured a view of a "science of continual progress" leaving behind no legacy and by implication having no impact on society. This could not be farther from the truth. Also, imbedded in this statement is the notion of history (and heritage) as being of curiosity value only.

Since 1985, when I first started work at ASAP, I was vaguely aware that records of science were potentially the raw material for contemporary scientific activity, but I had few examples of this being the case. However, the last decade has seen the emergence of global warming, environmental degradation, the decommissioning of nuclear power and weapons facilities, nuclear waste management, the rise of biotechnology and other issues of world wide significance - all issues that have a critical reliance on longterm or archival recordkeeping.

By way of a local example, the Centre is presently participating in a project in association with the Antarctic Division in seeking out any records from anybody who has traveled to Heard Island since WWII. The radical climatic changes that have occurred there since that time are regarded as one of the best indicators for global warming. In particular they are seeking qualitative records, such as photographs, field notebooks and diaries. These are not Met Bureau records or official government records or records of the "great scientists" but records of the ordinary, work-a-day field scientists and observers.

The role of the Centre, on the edge of the University and with strengthening links between government and industry, is ideally placed to participate in and coordinate collaborative projects of long-term value to science, industry and society. We are particularly keen to foster relationships based on mutual gain, shared values and the free flow of knowledge that will benefit all Australians.

The new information technologies provide us with the means by which we can build a science and technology heritage infrastructure that will be of service to the community for generations to come. This is our challenge - one that we at the Centre accept with considerable enthusiasm and confidence.

It now gives me great pleasure in inviting The Honourable John Brumby MP, Minister for State and Regional Development to formally launch the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre.

Launch of the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre
The Honourable John Brumby MP
Minister for State and Regional Development

Thank you and Response
Professor Kwong Lee Dow
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Staff and Students)

Final Thanks and Conclusion to the Formalities
Professor Frank Larkins
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research)

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© The University of Melbourne 1994-1999. Disclaimer and Copyright Information.
Created: 15 December 1999
Last modified: 16 December 1999
Authorised by: Director, Austehc
Maintained by: Joanne Evans