Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Talking Heads -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) THEME MUSIC Growing up in the wilds of Canada, the best education possible Harry Messel set out to get he made sure others got one too. and by golly,

young Australians have benefitted For decades, from Harry's love of learning. welcome to Talking Heads. Harry Messel, Thank you.

a fundraiser, a big-time fundraiser, Now, you're a physicist, at least a small-time hunter, and you're 86. What keeps you going, Harry? That's right. Well... happy run, let me tell you. I've had a really exciting, tough, for yourself Though, you've made it tough rather than external circumstances. have been created by myself. Oh, sure. Most of my problems here I am at age 86, Even to this day, I'm up at five o'clock this morning, American. reading the latest Scientific What the hell for, I don't know. and I'm getting further information. But I am I never seem to stop. So, to me, learning was beautiful. it made me feel good Learning was exciting, the world. and I felt I could conquer is very big. 'Professor Harry Messel's big picture to Australia, He helped introduce computers and animal tracking by satellite. solar energy research for school science students He wrote the famous Blue Book for research. and raised millions of dollars as his self-confidence.' His achievements are as large stirrers, you have to accept that. You've been one of the great Oh, sure. rocking the boat One of the main things I did in was use the word excellence. what I wanted to achieve, I felt that, in order to achieve for all the kids in the country, that was high quality education one had to honour excellence.

which we put out. You take the famous Blue Books I was a student with the blue books. These are the science books?

You're one of the lucky ones. That's right. Four years of High School science. anywhere in the world. First integrated science course By making the course compulsory, had to do science as well it meant that all the girls

when they came to the University and that meant and they had science, had a good chance to do well. and, therefore, equated with tall poppies, too. Well, excellence was sometimes in the newspapers saying, I remember the articles the University of Sydney, oh, that professor at you're just an entrepreneur. Now, in those days,

something that praised you, the word entrepreneur wasn't scum, you understand. it was meant you were pretty low you were an entrepreneur. But it's true, Sure I was, to be an entrepreneur. I was very proud and very happy But, just saying, back in 1954, in the British Commonwealth. I founded the first foundation Now there's 1,000, maybe 5,000 foundations in Australia

around the world. and hundreds of thousands of them it's quite acceptable Now, it's the thing,

but in those early days, it was not. what you'd be when you grew up? What sort of concept did you have of Uh...I used to lie in bed at night and ask myself what am I here for? I said to myself, that I could have been brought here I think the only reason a better place was to try to leave this place than when it was when I arrived. When did you first have that idea? I'd say, maybe about, commencing age 5 and 6, something which has haunted me... from that very early age and there's

dismal failure Actually, I've been a bloody, You're responsible. cos I think it's a lot worse. (LAUGHS) Yeah. Sure, but not for lack of trying, and the wildlife and education, I've sure tried hard, Peter. and things to this stage, Manitoba. I was born at Levine Siding, It had one house, that was ours.

miles down the track At age 5, we moved a further five to Rivers Manitoba. the railway foreman there. My father was revolved around the climate. Your life

preparing for the winter. You spent the summer

around living, trying to exist, Life and our conversation centred to grow vegetables, hunt, trap and fish. and take the fox pups home I'd dig out the fox dens

where I'd keep them and rear them and they had a special pen which I'd trap. and feed them gophers Come December, when the fur was prime,

into the pen, just grab them I would kill them, used to go till it stopped, and just hold their heart

so it didn't damage the skin. prairie boy I was a very wild, Canadian, and very tough. the rest of my life. This, sort of, coloured

special railway gangs My father used to run down miles and miles of 100lb steel. during the summer months, laying

At age 16, I became the lead spiker and I was very proud of it. My parents were Ukrainian.

was the importance of education. Their main values in life you to be like we are right now. Dad and Mum says well, we don't want We want you to do better. back in Rivers Manitoba, So, what I did

I read every book in the library. I'd read three books in one day.

So, I loved knowledge. I loved a challenge. Harry, if I was one of your teachers,

how to handle you. I wouldn't be quite sure I used to pretty well know teaching me before I went in. what they were going to be Well, you'd teach them, wouldn't you? and they'd tell me, shut up, Messel, Well, I'd go in there and listen you know, or words to that effect. I led my classes all the time, But I was very good, they didn't like me fighting. and they were very good, With fisticuffs? Oh yes, that was our standard. Every day after school, the park outside the railway station we'd march off from the school to the Collingwoods, and the son of the hotel keeper, in the park. we'd go out and have our battle All the kids from school were trailing along to see the daily fight. Oh, I'd better be careful! I mean, it was... When I look upon myself, see how it really was. sometimes I get frightened to Were you a likeable rogue? To this day, I don't think too many bloody people like me.

(LAUGHS) But that doesn't worry me. (LAUGH) I like you Harry. My main people friends were the Sioux Indians and I learnt to speak the Sioux language when I was a youngster there and they became very... ..became lifelong friends until the deaths of some of them.

Why did you gravitate towards the Sioux Indians rather than the white boys? They were very gentle people, very knowledgeable, they had great understanding of nature, they were great walkers. There's a thing I might tell you, when I was a child, I never used to walk. So, how did you get around? Run. I always used to run, that's all. You never walked, you ran. Your an all the time from the time you got up to the time you went to bed at night, you ran.

You ran continuously. And the Indians used to do the same. Now, about twice a year, the Indians and myself would go into Brandon to sell their skins.

Now, how do we go to Brandon? We ran.

So, I ran 25 miles one way, sold their skins, and ran back, the 25 miles back the same day. And I tell that to my children, they think I'm crazy.

They think I'm lying but that's what we used to do. We used to run the 50 miles, sell their skins, without any great difficulty. Of course, that was also a challenge. Why did you choose military college? Oh, that was an interesting story. I came from an Ukrainian family and the discussion amongst in the Ukrainian community was the fact that no Ukrainian boy that they knew of

had ever been allowed to enter the Royal Military College at Canada. So, there I applied and of course, they accepted me without question. All this nonsense they had against Ukrainians was just totally wrong. You were mobilised to fight in the Pacific War. What I did, after graduating from RMC, I went to the European theatre, and when the VE Day, Victory Europe Day came in,

I did the march on that, then they were asking for volunteers for the Pacific. And of course, they dropped the first bomb while I was on leave, on Hiroshima. Then, 10 days later, Nagasaki, and I immediately knew it was all over. Did you see a future for yourself in the military?

I was only interested in fighting and killing, you understand, Then if the killing was over, then I didn't want to be in it. Now, it frightens me, absolutely frightens me today when I look back, how we can be trained and honed to that degree that our minds can be twisted to that's what we think. It made me apply to give up my commission

and to go back to university. 'I entered Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1946. Since I'd lost a few years during the war, I felt I had to make up for it. So I enrolled in Honours Engineering Physics degree

but I enrolled in the Arts Faculty as well, it was an Honours Degree in Mathematics. And I had a ball studying for these two degrees. It was a really, very exciting time cos I used to absorb that knowledge just like a blotter.

When I finished Queens, of course, I had come pretty well at the top of everything I did

and I had a whole host of scholarships offered to me. I really concentrated then in the physics for my postgraduate work at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Dublin.

I wasn't just studying physics, women had a great deal of fascination for me at the same time. During that period of time, I met my wife

and 60 years later, we're still together. At Dublin, I was busy writing a number of interesting scientific papers. There was a very well known professor, Professor HS Green. He had just been appointed to the chair of Theoretical Physics or Mathematical Physics at the University of Adelaide. He invited me to take up a senior lectureship at the University of Adelaide with him. Well, Adelaide University was very interesting but it didn't have any research. And I made a proposal and we set up an institute there for graduate students. The next day, the Vice-Chancellor of Adelaide University, AP Rowe,

came out, publicly saying, we had enough of the science and mathematics and what Adelaide University required was more of the arts. I resigned the same day. And you up and resigned from the university? And I said, Vice Chancellor, you know, I disagree with you and I resign.

Well, he jumped up from the table and came over to me and grabbed me by the lapel on my jacket. He grabbed you by the lapels? Yeah. That was a very, very dangerous thing to do. And in walks the secretary. And she calmed things down, did she? Well, to cut a long story short, I left the next day. So, fundamentally, the idea is to set up an institute which will train PHD students? Yeah, it was to set up pretty well what I set up in Sydney and carried out for over 50 years, which has made the university such a great thing, back at the University of Sydney. Well, being made head of the school at 30, obviously meant you'd become a manager too. That means you'd give up your research to a fair extent. Well, not quite so fast, because I didn't want to give up my research that quickly because I was in the midst of solving some very difficult mathematical problems and theoretical physics problems and writing all these scientific papers. I was able to juggle the amount of time I work. One of the things you've got to understand, Peter, I've lived at least three or four lives. Now, people always ask me, how do you do it? Well, I tell you how. While you slept, I worked.

I mean, everybody goes around in a semi-conscious state, goes to bed and sleeps 8-10 hours a night or 12 hours, and thinks it's smart. I sleep two or three hours and think it's great and I think that's quite enough for me. Pursuit of excellence. My motto's always been honouring excellence. I feel good when I get to the board again. It just feels great. (LAUGHS) You're back at it again! 'When I went to the School of Physics as the University of Sydney, I wasn't particularly interested in competing with the physics departments in Australia.

I was interested in competing on the world stage.' 'Forthright speeches on the need for more scientists are often made by Professor Messel. A Canadian, he is head of the School of Physics at Sydney University, posted here from a school with only one professor to a school with five.' 'I became interested in computers because I really had to for my own scientific work on cosmic ray shower theory. The electronic computers were just coming in to the vogue in America.' This was one giant room in its day. This was all once space where SILIAC, the computer, went. We switched it on, it was one of the most exciting and emotional times of my life.' If you can't explain it, then you don't know it very well, OK? 'The most exciting thing of my scientific career was the establishment of the International Science schools for high school students. We've churned out about 4,000 of these incredible people who have become movers and shakers around the world.' In four years time, there will be thousands and thousands of boys and girls in this country who know the lot. APPLAUSE This is Science For High School Students - the famous blue book known to hundreds of thousands of former students in New South Wales and around the world, in Great Britain and Russia and many other places. This, of course, is one of the most important things which I've done during my career in bringing about compulsory science for students in high school.

'When I came to Australia and my children started to grow up, I immediately got them involved in camping, which they loved. We used to go camping or fishing every one of their school holidays. I bought a boat and then we took up waterskiing in earnest. Every Saturday and Sunday, we'd be up on the Hawkesbury, waterskiing with my three daughters and their friends and I taught dozens and dozens of their friends how to water-ski.

How many practises did it take to do that? Not at all, I was a great water-skier.

I skied in the Australian marathons when they first started out and I think I came second in one of them. In one of them, I would have come first but my partner got a cramp and fell off so I missed getting first prize in the marathon. Now, SILIAC was the second computer built in Australia, you had some money kicked in from a Melbourne Cup winner? Yeah, exactly! I mean... ?50,000 he won from the Melbourne Cup, he gave to us for SILIAC which allowed me to do it and then when the Melbourne Cup... the second time, he gave us that as well. So, the money for this computer in Australia came from Adolf Basser, believe it or not. Not from the government, not from anybody else but Adolf Basser. You even persuaded Frank Packer to part with his money. Oh. Frank was the first member of the Science Foundation of Physics. In those days, Peter, it was known as the Nuclear Research Foundation. In those days, the word nuclear wasn't a dirty word. Packer said to me, look, Messel, what do you want? I said, Frank, I want your money. And what will I get for it? I said, I can give you a golden guarantee. He said, what's that?

I said, I can guarantee you'll absolutely get nothing. He said, the cheque will be in the mail, get out.

And so it was and he became the first member of the Science Foundation for Physics. And that's wonderful and later became the chairman.

You've been on the World Conservation Union for a long time around species protection... Yeah. ..which is an interesting thing, given that one of the things, which as been a passion through life has been hunting. People often ask me that question, Peter, you know, how can you be a hunter and a conservationist at the same time? No problem, just look at me. I'm happy doing both. I was busy hunting polar bears and Kodiak bears

in Alaska in 1966, when I realised some of these species were becoming endangered. So, I thought, here was an opportunity to, perhaps, build a package for tracking by satellite, for tracking Polar Bears and trying to find out their movements and save them in the north. At once, I decided to set up a laboratory for the design of tracking devices. I decided I'd go and launch an expedition in 1971 to northern Australia, to find out about the salt water crocodile. Interesting that in the 17 years that I worked in northern Australia, I was never taken. We talk about uranium, we talk about coal, what you want to realise, fellas, that right here, today, you're witnessing something which will be every bit as great. Absolutely every bit as great as those and, furthermore, it doesn't pollute. In the mid 1970s, when I started out solar energy program at the School of Physics, University of Sydney, it was very, very difficult to get any support, financial support for this whatsoever. The person who saw its potential and sponsored his support was Honourable Neville Wran, then Premier of NSW. I came to Bond University in 1992. It had been open for three years at that time. When I arrived, of course, the university was in great turmoil and that then started the most difficult, the most challenging six years of my whole lifetime. That was the ultimate challenge - how to save that wonderful, beautiful, private and independent institution. 'Messel's mean machine has meant massive sackings of what he would call the non-essential staff and the dead wood but it doesn't stop there.' Can you imagine any of the public institutions throwing out any of their full-fee paying students from overseas? Not on your life but at Bond we did it. And I simply said, well, we've now got Messel standards here. Messel's here, now. And out they go. If they're not good enough, out they go. Take your money and go home. When you went to Bond, you took on the job as Chancellor, then you took on the job as Chancellor and Vice Chancellor combined? That's right. I mean, that's unheard of. That certainly is, it just about bloody near killed me. Even you! That was right. That was 24/7. When you're talking about working and not sleeping much, that was it. Now, you're doing this when you're in your late 70s? In your late 70s. That's right, yeah. Plenty of other people just want to retire and have a quiet life. So, suddenly at Bond, I had to make people redundant. Let me tell you, that made me cry. I hated the idea of putting people off. Understand that, I think that's one of the most difficult things in life for a chief executive with a heart, is to make people redundant, special people like this who you know are good or top-class, who are good academics and so forth.

I find that extremely distasteful then and I would at any time. How are you going to be remembered? Do you think primarily as an educationalist? No, probably as a bastard. (LAUGHS) Well, maybe that, too. But, also, a great part of what you've done of your work and, really, the gift to the country is you working as a promoter. Oh sure, education... ..education has been my life

and to give leadership in education and in quality and in standards. I'm immensely proud of what's happened at the School of Physics in the University of Sydney. Immensely proud at what's happened at Bond University because there is an example of what leadership can actually do. Throughout my life, fishing has played a very important role, a recreation role and, of course, I do a tremendous amount of it these days now I've retired. Now I'm really having fun. Another exciting hobby of mine is photography. Very fascinating when I spend a tremendous amount of time keeping all the family photographs together. I have five of these giant albums and it took an enormous amount of work to prepare these but I'm very proud of them and I think they're our most prized possession. Pip, my wife, is in Tasmania right now, in Hobart with my eldest daughter, Naomi,

and my four grandsons down there. I almost live on the computer, the emails keep piling in. A lot of my emails have to do with travel, since I'm travelling almost continuously. I'm coming down to Hobart tomorrow night, I'll give you a tingle. There's only a certain number of hours a day

and I seem to be using up about 20 of them already. Just two weeks ago, this vehicle

which looks so shiny and bright and clean right now, returned from another desert trip to the Strzeleckian and Sturt Stony Desert and Coongie National Park and Innamincka Regional Reserve. The outback absolutely fascinates me, its vastness, its openness reminds me of my birthplace. I'm just too frightened to stop. I reckon, if I stopped,

somebody's going to yank my number out of the barrel and that'll be the end of me. Harry, how has Pip managed to put up with you for more than 60 years? Man, she's crazy. (BOTH LAUGH) I keep asking her that question all the time! How that dear woman ever put up with me all these years is absolutely beyond me. She deserves a medal. Of all the things you've done, what gives you the most pleasure?

I think the International Science School has given me the greatest kick. I think it's the greatest thing that will last. Bond University, the School of Physics, I have a lot of stuff cos I've done so many different things between. Tough as hell, I've taken the big challenges

and enjoyed taking them on and got a lot of pleasure and happiness out of them. Harry, it's been great talking to you. Thank you. Thanks for coming on Talking Heads. THEME MUSIC Closed Captions by CSI - Carmel Robinson

'Next week on Talking Heads - Glycemic Index pioneer, Jennie Brand-Miller. The GI concept overturned our dietary ideas about carbs but many said she was just plain wrong, including her own dad. That's Monday at 6:30. 'Wednesday on The Cook & The Chef -

all the tea, and China.' My grandfather would be quite astonished to see so many around our age wielding chopsticks. (LAUGHS) 'That's The Cook & The Chef, Wednesday 6:30.' This Program Is Captioned Live. Tonight, the World Bank warns global Australia hard. Old fears resurface after a deadly resurface after a deadly attack in Northern Ireland. Manly fullback to play despite assault allegations assault allegations and Australia's young protege Australia's young protege makes another ton another ton and cricket history. Good history. Good evening, welcome to ABC to ABC News. I'm Virginia Haussegger. here might not use the R word but the World Bank has no hesitation in recession for the global economy. The bank economy. The bank is forecasting the first World War. The trade World War. The trade slow-down that comes with it will hit the Asian Swan says it will have