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.
A proponent for air power being independent of other branches of the armed services, South Australia's Richard Williams played a leading role in setting up the Royal Australian Air Force and became its first chief of air staff in 1922. He served for 13 years over three terms at that rank, longer than any other officer. Williams, from a working-class background in Moonta Mines, was the first military pilot trained in Australia. He commanded Australian and British air fighter units during World War I.
Adelaide-based Jon Johanson set world records and won one of aviation’s top honours in a home-built Van’s Aircraft RV-4. After 2,000 hours building his plane, Johanson received a permit to fly it in1992 and his first round-the word trip was in 1995. Johanson left from Parafield 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. 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.
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.