ADELAIDE-BORN AND -EDUCATED HOWARD FLOREY was described by prime minister Robert Menzies as, “in terms of world wellbeing, …the most important man ever born in Australia.” But was it an Adelaide thing that pushed Florey, in England, beyond the findings of Scottish professor Alexander Fleming, to produce penicillin on a mass scale?
Proclaiming Adelaide and South Australian achievers always has to be checked by asking how much they influenced the state’s culture or if it influenced them.
Much more influence on South Australia was exerted by outsiders such as Donald Bradman and Mary MacKillop. But, conversely, South Australia's cultural environment, had an effect on their achievements.
What can be shown is that Adelaide and South Australia has had a close association with Australia’s greatest achievers. In a list by Western Australian Billy Rule (The Sunday Times, 2013) of Australia’s 50 greatest achievers, that association with Adelaide and South Australia was represented by: Donald Bradman (No.2), Howard Florey (No.3), Mary MacKillop (No.5), Douglas Mawson (No.8), Marcus Oliphant (No.11), Bob Hawke (No.19), Rupert Murdoch (No.21), Robin Warren, who shared the Nobel Prize with Billy Rule’s Western Australian pick Barry Marshall (No.23) and Bart Cummings (No.36).
There are South Australian associations with others listed such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s John Flynn (No.16) and the engineering background of John Monash (No.7).
On the next tier, South Australia has produced a raft of achievers who match the state’s exceptional impact on world and Australian firsts.
AT THE TOP OF LIST OF SOUTH AUSTRALIAN-LINKED ACHIEVERS
Reg Spriggs gave the world a new era in its deep geological history after he discovered the 500-million-year-old Ediacaran fossils in the Flinders Ranges in 1946. But the journal Nature and the 1948 International Geological Congress rejected Spriggs' case for the importance of the fossils. Later, professor Martin Glaessner at Adelaide University confirmed the fossils was Precambian. From that, the Ediacaran Period, the first new geological era in more than 100 years, was acknowledged.
HONOURED FOR WORK IN PHYSICS, MEDICINE, LITERATURE
The road to the 1915 Nobel Prize for physics, shared by William Bragg and son Lawrence, started in Adelaide. The Braggs won the prize “for analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays”. In 1896, William Bragg showed Adelaide doctors the use of X-rays. Samuel Barbour, senior chemist for Adelaide's F.H. Faulding, supplied a discharge tube for the demonstration. The tube was attached to a coil and a battery borrowed from Charles Todd, Bragg’s famous father-in-law.
Lawrence Bragg was the youngest person, at 25, to win a physics Nobel Prize. Born in North Adelaide in 1890, his interest in science could be expected to flow from his father William, Elder professor of mathematics and physics at Adelaide University, and grandfather Charles Todd, who oversaw the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph project. After falling from his tricycle as a boy, Lawrence had his broken arm X-rayed by his father in the first recorded surgical use of the technique in Australia.
Adelaide-born and educated Howard Walter Florey is regarded among the greatest figures of Australian science with a world-wide positive effect. Pharmacologist and pathologist Florey shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1945 with Ernst Boris Chain and Alexander Fleming, for his role in making penicillin. Although Fleming is credited with discovering penicillin, Florey turned penicillin into a useful drug available in quantities that saved an estimated 200 million lives.
OTHER WORLD PLAYERS IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Mark Oliphant played a key role in demonstrating nuclear fission and also developing nuclear weapons with the Manhattan Project during World War II. Oliphant graduated from Adelaide University in 1922. He was awarded an Exhibition Scholarship in 1927 and he studied under Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge University. Oliphant was on the high-level MAUD Committee that reported in 1941 that an atomic bomb was feasible. This led to him joining the Manhattan Project.
WINNING VOTES CAMPAIGN IN 1895 A PEAK ACHIEVEMENT FOR STATE'S REMARKABLE WOMEN
SOUTH AUSTRALIA AVIATORS CHALK UP LIST OF FIRSTS
Jimmy Melrose’s global celebrity in the 1930s was short but spectacular. As a young aviator he was called “the next (Charles) Lindbergh”. His fame, as an Australian handsome heartthrob, rivalled Errol Flynn’s. Born in Burnside to a prosperous pastoralist family, Melrose set Australian and world flying records in just three years. On his 21st birthday, he left Parafield aerodrome in his Puss Moth for England, reaching Croydon in a record eight days, nine hours. He died in a crash at 22.
Roy Gropler was another 1930s Adelaide aviator achiever for a solo flight to Australia from England when he was only 19 – at the time, the youngest to make the flight. Gropler is an interesting comparison to young South Australian 1930s aviator Jimmy Melrose. Both were killed in air accidents – less than two years apart – aged 22. Growing up in Norwood where his father was a grocer, Gropler began flying lessons at 16 at Parafield in the (Royal) Aero Club of South Australia DH-60 Moths. He got his A Licence and a job as the club’s assistant engineer, in 1934. After Gropler helped another pilot with commercial joyflights in Victoria, his father agreed to back him in an air taxi business. Gropler went to England in 1935 to buy his aircraft – a secondhand Klemm L.27a IX, akin to a large wooden “powered glider” but with a long fuel range – and fly it back. Still inexperienced and flying a light open-cockpit plane, Gropler left on a hazardous 43-day journey through constant weather challenges. One hundred people – much less than for the wealthy Melrose – greeted Gropler at Darwin. Melrose’s death in his “aerial taxi” – plus new alternatives such as the Douglas DC-2 – dimmed the prospects for Gropler’s business. In 1936, Gropler finished third on handicap in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race to celebrate South Australia’s centenary. In 1938, he flew non-stop from to Sydney (7 hours 45 minutes) where he offered joy flights. Weeks later, Gropler and two passengers were killed during a joy flight from Parafield when the port wing fell off in a steep turn. At the time, it was South Australia’s worst air accident.
Richard Williams, widely regarded as the “father” of the Royal Australian Air Force, was the first military pilot trained in Australia. He went on to command Australian and British air fighter units during World War I. A proponent for air power independent of other branches of the armed services, Williams played a leading role in setting up the RAAF and became its first chief of air staff in 1922 and served for 13 years over three terms at that rank, longer than any other officer. Williams came from a South Australian working-class background in Moonta Mines. He enlisted in the South Australian Infantry Regiment in 1909 at 19 before joining the regular army for World War I. He was an army lieutenant when he learned to fly at Point Cook, Victoria, in 1914. As a pilot with the Australian Flying Corps, Williams rose to command No.1 Squadron AFC and later 40th Wing RAF. He finished the war as lieutenant colonel. Afterwards, he campaigned successfully for an Australian air force separate from the army and navy. The fledgling RAAF from 1921 faced challenges in the 1920s and 1930s, and Williams was credited with maintaining its independence. An adverse report on flying safety standards saw him dismissed as chief of air staff and seconded to the RAF before World War II. Despite support for his reinstatement, and promotion to air marshal in 1940, Williams never again commanded the RAAF. After the war, he became director general of civil aviation in Australia. In 2005, Williams' Australian Flying Corps wings were carried into space on a shuttle flight by South Australian astronaut Andy Thomas.
Adelaide-based Jon Johanson set world records and won one of aviation’s top honours in a home-built Van’s Aircraft RV-4. Johanson became interested in flying while working as a carpenter’s apprentice before going into a nursing career. He completed flight training and took a charter job flying around northern Australia. This is where he met someone building a Van’s RV-4. Encouraged by a builder friend, who offered his workshop and tools, Johanson scraped together $1000 for parts to build his own Vans RV-4. Working an average 80 hours ar week as a midwife and pilot to pay for it, Jon devoted every free minute to his RV-4 over two and a half years. Johanson received a permit to fly it in 1992 and his first round-the world trip was in 1995. Johanson left from Adelaide's Parafield airport on June 26 for Oshkoch, USA, then across the Atlantic Ocean for Europe, the Middle East, Asia and back to Parafield on September 24. Total flight time was 198 hours. After more world trips, in 2003, Johanson again left from Parafield to make the first solo flight in a single-engine home-built aircraft over the South Pole. After landing at the McMurdo-Scott base, he was stranded when the base, not wishing to encourage private flights, refused to sell him fuel. With fuel given by fellow adventurer Polly Vacher, Johanson flew on to Australia. In 2004, Johanson was awarded the gold air medal by the FAI, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (The World Air Sports Federation). At the time, Johanson held 47 FAI world records. He was named the Adventurer of the Year by the Australian Geographic Society.
J.P. McGOWAN, ROBERT HELPMANN AND ROBERT STIGWOOD MAJOR INFLUENCERS
Terowie-born J.P. McGowan became a pioneering Hollywood actor, director and occasional screenwriter and producer from 1910. He is the only Australian life member of the Screen Directors Guild (now Directors Guild of America). After early years in the then-bustling South Australian railway town of Terowie, John Paterson McGowan grew up in the Adelaide suburb of Islington and later Sydney. He served in the second Boer War as a special dispatch rider. From South Africa, McGowan was recruited for a Boer War exhibit in the USA at the 1904 World’s Fair. He worked in live theatre and in 1910 joined Kalem film studios in New York City. That year he made his first film appearance in A lad from old Ireland. His horse riding ability enabled him to do many stunts. McGowan directed and often acted in the first 33 episodes of Kalem's 1914 adventure series The hazards of Helen. He married its star Helen Holmes. They left Kalem to set up their own company that made mainly railroad melodrama serials and features. McGowan moved silent film to talkies. While never a major star, over four decades he acted in 232 films —mostly strong roles like sheriff or villain—,wrote 26 screenplays and directed 242 productions. In 1932, he directed a young John Wayne in the 12-episode serial The Hurricane express. From 1938 to 1951, as executive secretary of the Screen Directors Guild, he fought for the director to be recognised within the film studio systems and emerging television industry. McGowan's adventurous stunt-filled partnership with Helen Holmes was celebrated in the bio-tribute, Stunt love, at the Adelaide Film Festival and at Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2011.
Judith Anderson’s role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) was nominated for the best supporting actress Academy Award. This was a highlight of Adelaide-born and -educated Anderson’s film work that was limited compared to her distinguished theatre career in New York and London. Educated at Rose Park, Francee Anderson first performed with Adelaide Repertory Theatre and made her professional debut in Sydney in 1915 at 17. Three years later, unable to get film work in Los Angeles despite a letter to director Cecil B. De Mille, she moved to New York and a long stage career. After her belated role in Rebecca, appearances followed during in 1940s films such as Lady Scarface, Kings row, and Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney. Anderson got to work with Cecil B. De Mille as Memnet for his epic The Ten Commandments (1956). Anderson’s other 1950s film roles included Herodias in Salome (1953) and Big Mama alongside Burl Ives in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a hot tin roof. Anderson began in television in the early 1950s, starring in prestigious event dramas such as recreating her Medea in 1959 and productions of Macbeth in 1954/60, winning the Emmy award for both performances as Lady MacBeth. Anderson frequently starred starred on Hallmark Hall of Fame and in the TV special Light’s Diamond Jubilee (1954), on all networks. In 1970, she had a role in the film A man called Horse. In 1984, besides appearing in Star Trek III: The search for Spock, Anderson started three years as matriarch Minx Lockridge on the NBC serial Santa Barbara.
With a stage-struck mother a driving force in his career, Robert Helpmann went from a childhood in Mount Gambier to became an international figure in ballet but also theatre, film, ballet and opera. He was consultant (1968) and artistic director (1970) of Adelaide Festival of Arts. Legendary Adelaide teacher Nora Stewart was an early influence on Helpmann. She “taught me to appreciate classical music and to understand what dance meant,” he said. Among Helpmann’s first ballet appearance was in the chorus at Adelaide's Theatre Royal for the 1924 premiere of Kenneth Duffield's musical Hullo Healo. By 1926, Helpmann had joined the touring company of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. A high point was the Sadler's Wells Ballet tour of the USA in 1949 when he partnered Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty. After producing his own ballets, Helpmann also appeared in many films, including the Powell and Pressburger ballet films The red shoes (1948), when he was also choreographer, and The tales of Hoffmann (1951). In 1942, he played the Dutch Quisling in the Powell/Pressburger film One of our aircraft is missing (1942) and 55 Days at Peking (1963). After his return as co-director of The Australian Ballet, Helpmann continued in films, notably as the evil Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). For The Australian Ballet, he co-directed and starred with Rudolf Nureyev in Don Quixote (1973). He also starred in the 1978 horror cult Patrick. Helpmann is remembered through Australian national awards, the Helpmann Academy and a theatre named after him at Mount Gambier.
Keith Michell had his first grounding in theatre in Adelaide in the 1940s with several of Lloyd Prider’s Playbox group productions at the Tivoli (now Her Majesty’s Theatre) and roles with Adelaide Repertory Company. Born in Adelaide, the son of a cabinet maker, and brought up in Warnertown near Port Pirie, Michell studied at Adelaide Teachers’ College and Adelaide University. Adelaide’s Playbox Theatre group gave Michell rounded experience in stage musicals. In 1945, he appeared in the vintage Mercenary Mary and designed the George Gershwin show Lady be good. Next year, he was in No No Nanette and made his professional debut with Playbox in the comedy Lover’s leap. Michell left in 1949 for England and joined the Young Vic theatre company, making his first appearance in London by 1951. His first London musical was And So to Bed, playing King Charles II. He toured Australia with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company 1952–53 and appeared in Shakespeare plays at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1956, on television, he played Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and starred in Don Juan at the Royal Court Theatre and Old Vic Company productions. Michell's string of f West End musicals included Irma la Douce, Robert and Elizabeth and Man of La Mancha. He won awards for his lead TV role in The six wives of Henry VIII in 1970 and the film Henry VIII and his six wives (1972). On American TV 1988-93, Michell appeared on the Murder, She Wrote series. He was artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre 1974-77, appearing in many of their productions.
Port Pirie-born music mogul Robert Stigwood managed the Bee Gees at the height of their fame and guided musician Eric Clapton's solo career while producing film (Grease, Evita, Tommy, Saturday Night Fever) and stage (Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar) musicals to international success. Educated at Adelaide's Sacred Heart College, Stigwood began his working life as a copywriter for a local advertising agency before moving in 1955 to England. With Stephen Komlosy, he founded Robert Stigwood Associates, a small theatrical agency. Among its clients was actor and singer John Leyton whose unexpected success as a recording artist made Stigwood and associate Joe Meek into Britain's first independent record producers. Stigwood revolutionised the role of music managers in England by moving into music publishing and promoting concerts. But his biggest contribution to the British music scene was independent record production. Stigwood worked with a many ground-breaking acts on the pop charts, with Cream and the Bee Gees, and on the Broadway stage, producing counter-culture hits Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. He also produced 1996 Hollywood film Evita, starring Madonna. It won an Academy Award for best music and a Golden Globe for best film. Stigwood had earlier backed the ground-breaking film of The Who's rock opera Tommy. After the hit Grease, Robert Stigwood Organisation Films made Saturday Night Fever, one of the biggest hits in the history of the business. It introduced disco music and a young John Travolta while propelling the Bee Gees to global stardom.