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Of Vets, Viruses and Vaccines: The Story of the Animal Health Research Laboratory, Parkville

Of Vets, Viruses and Vaccines: The Story of the Animal Health Research Laboratory, Parkville

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Of Vets, Viruses and Vaccines: The Story of the Animal Health Research Laboratory, Parkville

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Jun 8, 2000


The story of the Animal Health Research Laboratory must be seen against a background of rapid domestic, global and techno-scientific change. During its sixty year history, it made a crucial contribution to improving the standard of Australian livestock, furthered the cause of animal health generally and helped to promote the cause of science to the wider community.

For these reasons and many more, it deserves to be recognised and remembered; this history is an attempt to do just that.

Lançado em:
Jun 8, 2000

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Of Vets, Viruses and Vaccines - Barry W B.W. Butcher

Part One

Building a Scientific Tradition: 1926–96


So many people have given generously of their time to assist me in writing this particular section of AHRL’s history that it is almost impossible to do justice to them all here. Mention must be made of those who answered my often naive questions, responded to telephone calls and read particular sections; without their assistance this writer would have committed some very egregious blunders indeed! I thank them all collectively as I do those who agreed to be interviewed for this project. Some others must be mentioned by name. Heather Mathew, Len Lloyd, Carl Peterson, John Dufty, Trevor Bagust and Jenny York acted as the AHRL History Committee and read and often re-read drafts of chapters. They showed a patience with the author which was over and above the call of reasonable duty; Heather provided many extra services that allowed the research and writing to proceed much smoother than it might otherwise have and I thank her for doing so. Mike Rickard encouraged the project from the start and has been a keen contributor of information and opinion. Rodney Teakle at the CSIRO Archives in Canberra worked wonders in making available documents that were crucial to the early chapters of this history. I would also like to thank Deakin University for allowing me the time to undertake the research for this project. To all I offer my thanks and my hope that the end product is found to be satisfactory.

Barry W. Butcher, 16 September 1999


‘Give me a laboratory and I will raise the world’. So wrote the sociologist of science Bruno Latour in relation to Louis Pasteur’s strategy for winning the approval of the French farming community for his scientific work on anthrax. According to Latour, Pasteur needed to demonstrate the viability of his discoveries in a real world situation—in this case a farm—while at the same time knowing that in order for his work to succeed he needed to be able to control the conditions under which it was undertaken.¹ Pasteur’s dilemma highlights the problem scientists have encountered since the ‘scientific revolution’ began in the sixteenth century: how to gain respect for their work from a sceptical public audience and how to convince that audience that the strangely artificial world of the laboratory is the best way of understanding the ‘world out there’.

To the extent that they have succeeded in overcoming the problem, scientists bask in their role as the arbiters of knowledge in the modern world; to the extent that they have failed, they must endure the continuing image of the white-coated, bespectacled, usually male, absent-minded ‘nerd’ represented in countless novels and films. Further reflecting this ambivalence, they are often held up as a new priesthood, with science becoming the oracle of truth and the laboratory the modern version of the temple. With such an array of contradictory images it is little wonder that the relationship between science and its public is best defined as uneasy.

There are ways out of this dilemma, and the best place to start is probably the laboratory itself. A little reflection will show that the temple analogy is unsustainable. The temple is the place where knowledge is jealously guarded and where truth is usually taken to be unchanging. However conservative scientists may be, the very techniques and methodologies they employ ensure that the knowledge they create is constantly under scrutiny and that the ‘world out there’ is always in danger of being re-made in the light of new findings in the laboratory. This is a point well understood a century ago by Pasteur, then as now demonstrating that it was the perceived efficacy of the ‘new knowledge’ which lay at the heart of science’s public success.

The point of this short philosophical diversion is to put some context into the writing of laboratory histories, a context which will render them more interesting to the general public, to show, if you will, the social role of the laboratory as it affects the economic and political health and development of the nation. While such histories will have an obvious appeal to those who have been associated with the laboratories in question or to those who work or have worked in similar surroundings, they have rarely been attractive to a wider audience. As a consequence, the importance of science to the public good centres on the impact of its ‘discoveries’, a term which itself suggests immediacy rather than the slow and laborious development that characterises the history of scientific advance.

In Australia historians have shown a scandalous disregard for the role that science has played in the development of the continent since European settlement in 1788, and this notwithstanding some spectacular success stories that could and should be told. As a nation Australia has built its wealth and identity on agricultural development, and since the late nineteenth century much of that development has proceeded due to the work of scientists of all kinds who have toiled long and hard to improve the output of producers. A few have achieved a notable public image— William Farrer for the breeding of new strains of wheat, for instance—but most have gone largely unrecognised. The average citizen would be hard pressed to name one of the small band of Australian Nobel prize-winners, let alone any of the world renowned veterinarians who have time and again come to the aid of Australia’s livestock industry, often working away for years under-financed and under-recognised before finally achieving any meaningful breakthrough.

It is against this background that the first section of the history of the Animal Health Research Laboratory at Parkville is written. These introductory chapters do not focus on the technical details of particular research programs, something best left to those whose individual expertise can be found in the contributions in the second half of this volume. Rather, I have attempted to sketch a word picture of the historical development and life of the laboratory as a locus of scientific activity, with all the institutional and cultural interest that designation implies. This approach necessitates recognising that more goes on in the laboratory than strict attention to experimentation, method and technique; those white-coated figures have personalities that both enhance and transcend their scientific skills. Indeed, part of this section of the history of AHRL is predicated on the belief that from its inception in 1938 the laboratory was fashioned and re-fashioned in line with the differing attitudes of the Divisional Chiefs. Some stand out for their vision and personality and for their direct impact on the direction of research and the general philosophy of AHRL. This is not to deny or decry the efforts of other Chiefs; it simply reflects a reality fashioned by changing political and financial conditions. As Alan Pierce, for one, candidly admits, he arrived to take up his position in 1966 when money was no object and the political climate was ripe for change and expansion; some of his successors had fewer of those luxuries to work with and so their impact on the Division was more severely circumscribed. Other factors, of course, play a role in changing the face of AHRL during its sixty years of existence. Innovative technologies, coupled with the explosion of information in post-World War II biological sciences, made it possible to open new fields of research and new approaches to old research problems. At the same time the rapid growth of livestock industries such as poultry and pigs broadened the scope for new research.

In the post-war years the place of the nation in the world changed; improvements in the speed of travel increased the number of international linkages, drawing AHRL more tightly into the net of global science. Ironically, as such ties strengthened old ones slackened. The inter-war years were a period when co-operation was seen in a strongly Imperial context, and the task of the colonial and Dominion scientist at the geographic periphery was to follow the lead set by the established scientific institutions at the Imperial centre. It was UK scientists and administrators who were headhunted by the leaders of CSIR in the 1920s and 1930s, and it was to the UK that Australian scientific graduates travelled to gain further recognition for their skills. Once World War II was over and Britain, having lost its Empire, found itself looking for a new role, the scope for imported expertise broadened out, and while the UK remained the place of choice for many Australian science graduates, increasingly they looked further afield to the USA and Europe. Australian scientists soon found themselves seconded off to far-flung areas of the globe as advisers to colonial and post-colonial Governments in Africa and Asia; the Division of Animal Health was well represented in this diaspora.

In summary then, the story of AHRL must be seen against a background of rapid domestic, global and techno-scientific change. During its sixty-year history it made a crucial contribution to improving the standard of Australian livestock, furthered the cause of animal health generally, and helped to promote the cause of science to the wider community. For these reasons and many more it deserves to be recognised and remembered; this history is an attempt to do just that.


1   Bruno Latour, ‘Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World’, in K. Knorr and M. Mulkay, eds. Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, Sage, Los Angeles, 1983.

John A. Gilruth, MRCVS, DVSc, FRSE, Chief of Division from 1930 to 1935. Portrait by Sir John Longstaff, 1935.

Lionel B. Bull, CBE, FAA, DVSc, FACVSc, Chief of Division from 1935 to 1954. Portrait by Murray Griffin, 1954.

Chapter 1

The Making of the Division, 1926–37

Anything which adversely affects Australia’s great pastoral industry strikes at the very roots of the country’s wealth and prosperity. That is why the various diseases and disorders affecting the health and productivity of our flocks and herds are a vital national concern.

Ten Years of Progress 1926–1936, CSIR, Melbourne 1936.

The move to set up a scientific organisation dedicated to undertake research into Australia’s primary industries has been traced in some detail by Currie and Graham in their history of the origins of CSIRO.¹ From 1910 until the formation of CSIR in 1926, there were three Commissions of various kinds—largely concerned with the issue of applied scientific research. In 1913 there was also an important report by Thomas Brailsford Robertson that urged, among other things, that substantial resources be dedicated to scientific investigation into problems associated with the agricultural and livestock industries. Events moved frustratingly slowly, however. An over-enthusiastic and unfulfilled promise of £500,000 for scientific research, by Prime Minister William Hughes in 1916, and the formation of the insufficiently funded Federal Institute of Science and Industry in 1921 did little to spur on the pace of research in Australian science.

Despite the oft-repeated claim that in the early years of the twentieth century ‘scientific research’ usually meant agricultural research, most of this was undertaken in State agricultural institutions, and in the main was concerned with improving the quality of plant crops. The great names were William Farrer, whose celebrated ‘Federation’ wheat strain represents one of the high points of Australian agricultural research, and the Victorian plant pathologist Daniel McAlpine, who carried out valuable investigations into the causes of rusts in wheat and potatoes. The livestock industry could point to no such names or to such spectacular successes in the first two decades after Federation. At the conference organised by Hughes in 1916, attention was drawn to ‘the sheepfly problem’ with a call that priority be given to research into this scourge of the wool industry, but little was done to take up the challenge of a disease then costing wool growers a substantial amount each year. The problem of continuing inaction on the research front was further highlighted in the 1920s when an innocuous disease—‘worm nodules’ in beef—led to a ban on Australian beef by the British health authorities. Later in the same decade, lamb and mutton exports were also curtailed when caseous lymphadenitis (‘cheesy gland’) infestation was found to be almost endemic in exported Australian meat. In 1923 buffalo fly and Kimberley horse disease were added to the list of animal health concerns causing major losses to the livestock industries/All this at a time when these national industries were earning an average of £140 million a year—over 60 per cent of total agricultural output.

Not until the visit of Sir Frank Heath in 1925, to advise on the direction and structure of Government involvement in science, did the issue of livestock research begin to gather momentum. Heath followed Brailsford Robertson in urging more investigation of livestock problems, and drew attention to the poor quality of breeding stock in both sheep and cattle industries. His comments appeared to be well timed. At the Imperial Economic Conference held in 1923 a resolution had been passed allocating £1,000,000 to the Dominions to assist in the efficient production and marketing of primary produce, and Australia was well placed to take advantage of this instance of ‘Empire co-operation’. Once again, this was in line with suggestions made at the 1916 conference that Empire-based research should be encouraged. But if Heath’s visit provided the spur, his specific recommendations were not carried through: in particular, the suggestion that the Federal Government should set up a number of scholarships for trainees in fields directly related to Australian research problems. When CSIR finally came into being in 1926 it consisted of five Divisions, and Animal Health was one of these. Everything was far from plain sailing at this early stage, however, for there was little understanding of how to organise research so as to get the maximum benefit for producers. There was also little agreement as to how ‘animal health’ was to be defined, and strong, on-going tensions between CSIR and State agricultural departments jealous of their own fiefdoms and concerned at the prospect of greater competition for limited research funding.

From the beginning, there were no ready-made facilities. CSIR scientists worked from the facilities of the Veterinary Research Institute in Parkville, within a Division that existed more in name than reality until 1929. With no designated Chief, the Division that many saw as the most important for the future of CSIR itself had no clear idea of its role. The CSIR Executive were frustrated in their early search for an internationally known candidate and unclear as to how to organise the Division.² The Executive had apparently initially proposed that each Laboratory would have its own head, assisted by an advisory council rather than an overall Chief, but this would have meant running the risk of further fragmenting research and duplicating activities on a State basis when CSIR was specifically charged with the task of dealing with Commonwealth-wide matters.³

Three events were to change this situation over the next few years, and each needs to be discussed in some detail if the historical development of AHRL is to be understood. First of these was the visit to Australia by the highly respected animal health specialist and administrator, Sir Arnold Theiler, in 1928–29. Theiler is credited with being the force behind the world-renowned Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute in South Africa. Boris Schedvin has given the details of Theiler’s visit in his history of CSIRO, and much of what follows is extracted from his discussion, though supplemented by reference to CSIR archival material.

Desperate to give the new Division a direction and find a leader capable of inspiring confidence among the powerful agricultural and pastoral interests, the Australian Commonwealth Government invited Theiler to investigate the state of the livestock industries of Australia. The CSIR Executive—David Rivett, George Julius and A.E.V. Richardson—harboured the hope that Theiler, then aged 61, would be sufficiently inspired by what he found to be willing to take up the position of Divisional Chief. Given Theiler’s standing on the world scientific stage, such an outcome would have been a significant coup for both the Division in particular and the fledgling CSIR in general. The Executive gained support for their plan when the Minister responsible for CSIR, George Pearce, approved of Theiler’s visit, apparently believing that funds would be available from the Empire Marketing Board, a body set up in 1926 to encourage Imperial co-operation in research and marketing of Empire produce (see the discussion below).

Theiler was in Australia for six months, visiting all States and Territories and meeting with a wide cross-section of the Australian farming community. His reputation preceded him everywhere, and such was the enthusiasm of the pastoral communities that Rivett wrote to Richardson that he was now even more convinced that Theiler was the right man for the job of Chief, if for no other reason than his ability to win over the pastoralists, ‘who like him and might give money [for research] where they might not to a Government organisation as such’.⁶ Rivett described the visit as the most important for CSIR in that year, and while Theiler was in the country the organisation spared little in the way of expense to encourage him to take up the position as Chief. The Annual Report of CSIR shows that expenditure on the visit—over £1300—was the largest single non-budget item, and in the following year a further £1400 was allocated.

There was an ulterior motive in Rivett’s mind, however—one that linked the Theiler proposal to the wider issue of Imperial co-operation in scientific research. This was something which Rivett, always an ‘Empire man’, felt passionate about at the personal level, but it also had potential ramifications in terms of funding for CSIR in general and the Division of Animal Health in particular. The link came in tangible form through the Empire Marketing Board. The EMB had its origin in the Imperial Economic Conference of 1923 and began operation in 1926. It was in part charged with the responsibility of overseeing the £1,000,000 allocated by the Conference for encouraging the sale and distribution of Empire produce in Britain. According to Rivett, the original plan was to allocate some 65 per cent of the fund to publicity and advertising, and around 15 per cent to scientific research aimed at improving the quality and productivity of Empire produce. In its years of operation the Board made grants to ‘home’ and Empire scientific research, including a pound-for-pound supplementation of the Australian Pastoral Research Trust, which worked on improvements in sheep nutrition and disease, and support for a cattle research station at Townsville. The first of these two projects was initially pegged at £3000 per annum for five years. This was a very limited involvement and Rivett’s plans for significant EMB funding for Animal Health never fully materialised. Of more immediate concern was the failure of the plan to use Theiler as a lure for further Imperial networking, which foundered completely when the attempt to entice the great man to Australia came to nought.

That there was going to be a difficulty succeeding in this ambitious objective began to emerge very early in the piece when Rivett informed Richardson that Theiler wanted employment for his ‘Veterinarian son’ and ‘parasitological daughter’ as part of any deal. Rivett, though concerned about the appearance of nepotism, suggested to Pearce that a ‘suitably worded’ job application for a veterinarian could be written that met at least half this request. Gradually it became clear, however, that Theiler’s family were unwilling to make the long trip to Australia for what was always going to be a fairly short tenure, and when Theiler’s own health took a turn for the worse, the game was up. As it turned out, the extraordinary salary proposed to be paid to Theiler by Rivett—£5000—was never going to be found once the Australian economy collapsed during the depression years of 1928–30.⁸ An anxious Executive was now faced with the tricky task of finding a new candidate for Chief.

John Anderson Gilruth: Everybody’s Second Best Man for the Job

The second crucial factor mentioned earlier as defining the new Division came when, in 1930, the position of Acting Chief of the Division was given to John Anderson Gilruth, then aged 58. Gilruth was one of those larger-than-life figures with a reputation for directness that, on more than one occasion, got him into serious problems with political authorities. A biographer relates how, in response to one sheep breeder’s question about his lambs’ and ewes’ inability to thrive, Gilruth retorted ‘Why don’t you feed your bloody sheep?’.⁹ A distinguished student—he swept all before him in terms of medals and awards at the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1887 and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London in 1892—he went on to an equally distinguished career in Government veterinary service in New Zealand, after spending two years at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1896–97. In 1909 he came to Australia to fill the Chair of veterinary pathology at the University of Melbourne, a position he held only briefly before taking up a post as administrator of the Northern Territory. His period there was little short of disastrous for all concerned and he finally returned to private veterinary consultancy in the 1920s. In 1929 he was appointed consultant to the Division of Animal Health following the Executive’s failure to obtain the services of Theiler, and in 1930 he became Acting Chief of the Division.

It was never the intention of the Executive that Gilruth would hold the position for any length of time; he was considered to be too old and too far out of touch with modern research. Nonetheless he came with some real strengths; he was lionised by the veterinary profession as one of its great pioneers in Australasia and had a wealth of experience in administration. As a stop-gap leader he appears, with hindsight, to have been ideal for the post; as Boris Schedvin pointed out, ‘the risk paid handsome dividends’.¹⁰ It was a case of second best proving best, at least in the short term.

Gilruth came to the position at the very moment when the ambitious program for research in animal health proposed by Theiler ran foul of the financial constraints imposed by the global depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. EMB funds were severely curtailed after 1930, while Commonwealth Government funding first stagnated and then declined sharply in real terms. Consequently the massive problems identified by the Theiler Report never received the full attention they required prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Counterbalancing this negative, however, Gilruth also came in on the wave of an extraordinary success story in veterinary science in Australia—one that was to further strengthen the bond between the research community and the livestock industries of the nation and which makes up the third factor defining the Division’s vision and future activity. It came courtesy of the remarkable research into the infamous ‘black disease’ of sheep by Arthur Turner, arguably the greatest veterinary researcher yet produced in Australia. The story has been told in some detail by Schedvin and others, and what follows is only a brief precis of that story.

Black disease (infectious necrotic hepatitis) was something of a mystery illness, which struck suddenly and savagely, giving little indication of its presence in the individual sheep until shortly before death occurred. Pastoralists had tended to downplay the disease especially in light of other problems they were facing, such as sheep fly strike and caseous lymphadenitis. Nonetheless, it was a proven heavy cost on output—even after Turner’s work Tasmanian farmers continued to lobby the Federal Government to ease the financial restraints placed on CSIR during the Depression years because its work on black disease could save that State £100,000 a year.¹¹ Beginning his work in 1923 at the Melbourne Veterinary School, by 1925 Turner had found the bacterial agent responsible and succeeded in developing a vaccine. He followed in Gilruth’s footsteps when moving to the Pasteur Institute in 1926, returning to Australia in 1928 to take up a position with CSIR and picking up his work on the disease. Two years of field trials with the vaccine suggested that two inoculations could reduce mortality by 60 per cent; combined with a systematic program of control and hygiene measures, black disease could be brought to heel. As Schedvin noted, Turner’s work ‘helped weaken the mistrust between scientists and [pastoralists]’.¹²

But its impact went much deeper, for it further entrenched the power of the veterinary profession within the field of animal health and helped forge a definition of the science of ‘animal health’. Stated thus baldly, such a point seems almost trivial; we have become used to associating health with medicine and good health with medical treatment, and this applies to ‘.animal health’ as much as to human. Historically, however, such an outcome was never inevitable in terms of Australian livestock. In the 1920s the issue of healthy livestock was perceived as being as much concerned with improved nutrition and breeding as it was of disease prevention and control. In 1921 a memo on a ‘.General Scheme of Research’ submitted to the Federal Government by the Director of the Institute of Science and Industry, George Knibbs, listed ‘.Animal Husbandry’ as a high priority, somewhat above ‘.Animal Pathology’. Theiler himself reportedly told Rivett in 1928 that Australian stock was of very poor quality, commenting after a trip to Tasmania that ‘.Tasmanian cattle are so bad that Tasmanian farmers don’t know what a decent cow should look like’.¹³ Rivett felt that even Theiler’s Report was geared too much toward ‘.laboratory building’ when what was needed was an immediate improvement in stock through better breeding and nutrition.¹⁴ The same sentiment is evident in the early Reports of the EMB. In 1927 the Board expressed a wish to encourage the export from the UK of good breeding stock ‘.to countries which have already developed or shown reasonable promise of developing an export trade to the UK in meat, dairy produce or other animal products’ and intimated it would consider assistance with freight charges of exported pedigree stock. Australia, already suffering from bans on the export of beef, lamb and mutton to Britain, would seem to have been a prime target for such assistance, but the following year the Board reported that only Kenya had shown any interest in the plan.¹⁵ The strict quarantine restrictions imposed on the importation of live animals dissuaded many breeders from bringing in new stock, and in the 1920s the possibilities of artificial insemination were still far off, with semen imports non-existent. Altering quarantine laws was a risky business politically and it would have been a brave Government that took on the strong rural lobby with a proposal to ease restrictions on even selected imports.

With little room left for stock improvement, attention was automatically drawn to a more practicable approach to the problems of rural industry; hence the rise to dominance of the ‘.disease model’ of animal health, the benefits of which were so ably demonstrated by Turner’s work on black disease. Confirmation of the veterinary dominance came in 1930 in response to a proposal from George Julius that the eminent physiologist Sir Charles Martin be offered the position as Chief of a combined Division of Animal Health and Nutrition. Martin had been Director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, and in a major coup Rivett had succeeded in luring him to Adelaide to be Brailsford Robertson’s successor as head of the Animal Nutrition Division. In a glum letter to Rivett, Julius reported that news had been leaked that the veterinary profession would not accept Martin as ‘.he was a medical man and not a vet’. Without the support of the profession the Division could not hope to achieve its objectives.¹⁶

Gilruth remained in charge of the affairs of the Division until 1935, a period during which the McMaster Laboratory was established in New South Wales, funded by a philanthropic gift from the prominent grazier, Frederick McMaster. This Laboratory was to concern itself with problems of the pastoral industry, and its activities received a further boost when the Australian Pastoral Research Trust allocated significant funding for research—in 1931, for example, £1800 came from this source, around 20 per cent of the entire Division’s non-salary budget for that year.¹⁷

In Victoria, from 1930 on, work was undertaken by Turner into braxy disease, another major economic problem for the sheep industry. Along with the other CSIR staff, Turner was then housed at the Victorian Veterinary Institute, working alongside Professor Woodruff of the University of Melbourne. Dan Murnane, appointed as the CSIR’s Field Veterinary Research Officer, was given the job in 1930 of administering Turner’s black disease vaccine, and became in the process a front line spokesman for the fledgling Division. Over the next few years he addressed numerous gatherings of graziers and pastoralists on health problems of livestock, the most important of which were mastitis in cattle and footrot in sheep. This sort of extension work proved to be crucial to the success of the Division, despite the fact that Theiler had argued against the proposed Division making such activity a priority. Fostering a co-operative spirit between producer and researcher was time consuming but a necessary evil at a time when assistance had to be sought from the industry both financially and often in more tangible form through a supply of livestock and access to herds for research purposes.

When the Australian Dairy Cattle Research Association (ADCRA) first provided funds for research into mastitis in 1933, they could not have known that their involvement would continue for the next four decades or that the research would prove to be so fruitless for so long. As it was, there was a frustrating delay in getting the research project off the ground. In part at least, this delay came as a result of staffing problems within the Division; the CSIR Executive was embroiled in the difficulties associated with a permanent replacement for Gilruth and from its earliest inception the Division had found difficulty getting trained research staff. The difficulties in obtaining suitable facilities for research were also causing concern. Despite a general feeling of goodwill from the University and an offer to provide space and co-operation for the mastitis research, the Division was now in urgent need of its own laboratory. Delays in initiating the mastitis work can now be understood when seen against these problems of space and staff, but at the time this proved to be of little comfort and for a brief period the research seemed likely to be taken away from the Division.

In March 1934 Louis Monod, representing ADCRA, wrote to Gilruth urging an early commencement of investigations in Victoria, pointing out that the organisation was willing to put up £3750 a year for five years.¹⁸ Three months later, Monod, faced with a restive membership and apparent inactivity from the Division, was forced to send what amounted to an ultimatum to Gilruth, making it clear that the pastoralists were losing patience and that the Australian Dairy Council was to make a recommendation that the mastitis research should be transferred to another State ‘.with the least possible delay’.¹⁹ Things settled down, however, and the Division obtained the use of a property at Berwick, 30 miles east of Melbourne, on which to place its experimental herd.²⁰ By 1939, on the eve of war, the herd numbered sixty.²¹ The extent to which financial constraints remained in place after the depression years of 1929–32 can be gauged by the fact that part of the proposal to undertake mastitis research involved partially self-funding the Berwick property through the sale of cream, which was to be guaranteed Tree of the organisms of TB, contagious abortion and contagious mastitis’, and the sale of pigs.²² In the financial year 1937/38 receipts from these sources amounted to nearly £1500, roughly three-quarters of the costs of running the property.²³ To facilitate travel between Parkville and Berwick, Dan Murnane was given a rent-free cottage on the property and provided with a Ford utility truck purchased at a cost of £237 from ADCRA funds.²⁴

To ensure on-going continuity with the mastitis program, Erik Munch-Petersen, a bacteriologist then in Sydney but later to transfer to Parkville in 1935, was given the task of carrying out the laboratory investigations. Other staff involved included Murnane and three female assistants employed on a short-term basis. The Association was presented with an Annual Report detailing the work carried out each year and, along with work on pleuropneumonia, mastitis became the flagship of research at Parkville. However, while scientific research may have been the official approach to the mastitis problem, there was no shortage of treatments and remedies promoted on more inventive grounds and backed by the collected experience, if not always the wisdom, of dairy farmers themselves. Many of these potions were sent by their inventors to be tested at Parkville, and both Gilruth and his successor, Bull, constructed standard responses that pointed out that the Division was not looking at treatment but researching possible causal organisms. Even so-called reputable chemical companies attempted to obtain for their mastitis products the imprimatur of science, but they were repelled with even more vigour—one such product being described by Bull as ‘being as useless as all such nostrums’.

From 1928 until the arrival of Bull as Chief in 1935, the Parkville branch of the Division cemented its place as the centre of scientific expertise in the area of livestock health and welfare. While mastitis retained its place of prominence, other diseases were also investigated. Murnane did field work into footrot in sheep and some collaborative work with the Adelaide branch of the Division on caseous lymphadenitis. Bull, working with C.T. Dickinson in Adelaide, had developed a vaccine for caseous lymphadenitis, which Murnane tested in Victoria, though with little success.

By 1935 the Parkville researchers had undertaken extensive research into mastitis, footrot, preputial disease (‘pizzle rot’), arthritis in lambs, black disease, infectious enterotoxaemia, coast disease, bovine haematuria, caseous lymphadenitis and pregnancy toxaemia in ewes. It was an impressive list of endeavours, albeit one shot through with frustration at the slowness with which results came.²⁵ Given the restraints of staff and space, the results were encouraging, but those restraints were now beginning to stifle any chance of an expanded program of research.

At the Federal level, despite Theiler’s arguing strongly against a ‘decentralised’ Division, Gilruth was forced to hold together a dissipated series of laboratories scattered across three States, each working to a large extent on local problems. With no central headquarters and an ageing Chief, the CSIR Executive was forced to begin serious negotiations for an autonomous Laboratory and a new Chief with the qualifications to lead the Division into an uncertain future. To say that both problems caused headaches for all concerned would be to understate the case severely.

Replacing Gilruth

In his Report of 1929 Arnold Theiler urged that the Division appoint a Chief who ‘has in his career been associated with the organisation of research work, is accustomed to a wide outlook and has the courage to shoulder responsibility’.²⁶ Gilruth had shown himself able to fit that job description better than the Executive had dared hope, despite earlier fears that he would not be up to scratch with the latest approaches to research. Finding a replacement proved difficult on two fronts. In the first place there was no obvious successor in Australia, and the Executive was becoming less inclined to accept candidates from the UK to head up Divisions after its fingers had been burned by the failure of earlier appointments to other Divisions. Looking more broadly afield to Europe or America was out of the question, as Rivett still had hopes of enticing EMB money to fund the position, at least in part. As he had earlier put it to Richardson, ‘there would be a very grave risk in bringing a man from the US or any other foreign country’.²⁷

Secondly, the Executive were concerned not to upset Gilruth who, though rapidly approaching retirement age, was showing no sign of wishing to hand over to a younger man. Gilruth was upgraded from Acting to full Chief in 1932 as the Executive became ever more anxious about his successor. Proposing to amalgamate the Divisions of Animal Health and Nutrition, Rivett informed Lionel Bull in December 1933 that Alan Fraser, then at the Rowett in the UK, had been pushed as a likely candidate, but again the problem remained of his likely rejection by the veterinarians in Australia. Rivett floated the possibility of putting Fraser in charge of Nutrition only, which drew a cool response from Hedley Marston, a future Head of Division of Animal Nutrition, who had a poor opinion of Fraser and possibly one eye to his own future prospects. While Bull himself was being mooted as a possible candidate for the job early on, the Executive were clearly doubtful about his capacity to move from a Hospital environment in Adelaide to head up a flagship Division within CSIR. As early as 1930 George Julius had expressed these doubts to Rivett, although this occurred at a time when both men still hoped to get an Empire man from the UK and when the shortcomings of earlier such appointments had not surfaced.²⁸

Then, just as the search was beginning to seem hopeless, a chance meeting of Rivett and Sir Charles Martin in Queensland solved the problem and initiated events that were to mould the direction of the Division in general and the Parkville Laboratory in particular for the next two decades. Rivett told Martin of the frustration the Executive was experiencing in looking for a Chief. In reply Martin expressed astonishment that they had doubts about Bull who was ‘quite the outstanding man in veterinary work in Australia’, and a skilled administrator to boot.²⁹ Relieved to have his doubts about Bull assuaged by a man and a scientist he held in the highest esteem, Rivett now came over to Bull’s side and barely a week later, having brought the rest of the Executive around, he informed Bull that the job was his if he wanted it. There were conditions attached; Bull would have to go overseas for eighteen months to see how the best British and foreign laboratories were organised, and this would mean leaving Gilruth in charge during that period. But there was also a lure held out which illustrates the shrewd nature of Rivett’s thinking. Aware that Bull was keen to be associated with the University of Melbourne’s own veterinary people, Rivett informed him that T have always rather wanted to get hold of the Vet school here at Melbourne under a joint arrangement with the University and I would still like to make that our aim’.³⁰ Not surprisingly Bull accepted, and fears that Gilruth would have his feelings hurt proved to be groundless, much to Rivett’s relief. Given what amounted to two years notice, Gilruth actually seemed pleased that Bull was to be his successor, and now that the matter was settled the Executive could relax and appreciate the job their stop-gap Chief had done, despite his long absence from the ‘laboratory arts’ and occasional flaunting of CSIR procedures.

Building the Laboratory

Having solved the problem of who was to be Chief, the Executive now set about finding the Division a permanent home. This also proved to be a messy business, involving as it did not just the logistical problems of geographical situation but political manoeuvrings as well. The Executive’s desire to centralise the Division’s activities around one key centre was, by the time Bull was to take over as Chief, already in some confusion. The McMaster Laboratory in New South Wales was dedicated to research into problems of the pastoral industry, while in Adelaide Bull worked with Dickinson—on haematuria in cattle and caseous lymphadenitis in sheep—at the Government Laboratory of Bacteriology and Pathology at the Adelaide Hospital. Also in Adelaide, first Brailsford Robertson and later Sir Charles Martin built a strong Division of Nutrition, which overlapped in many areas of research with Animal Health, so much so that in 1936 the two Divisions were merged in what was the first in a number of such combinations that the Executive were to experiment with over the next three decades. Somewhat embarrassingly, Gilruth had been forced as Chief to accept accommodation at the East Melbourne headquarters of CSIR while the Victorian staff under his authority worked out of the Veterinary Research

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