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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 138

Senator LEES (10:45 PM) —I rise this evening to mark the passing of Professor Brian Medlin, a great South Australian who died on 27 October this year. Professor Medlin will be remembered by many South Australians for his very public leadership of the campaign to stop the war in Vietnam. For many, the enduring image of Brian is as the long-haired professor of philosophy, spreadeagled between two policemen and dragged from the front of the anti-Vietnam War march in September 1970. Along with many others, Brian Medlin was arrested that day and, after a trial that was widely condemned for its distorted, incoherent and contradictory testimony, he was imprisoned. He was released three weeks later but his incarceration was noted publicly and, indeed, supporters kept a candlelight vigil outside the Adelaide jail. Few of us are ever called upon to go to jail for our beliefs. However, as public as his own contribution to the antiwar movement was, throughout his life Brian Medlin continued to insist that there were many campaigners who did much more than he did, and that in itself tells us a lot about the man.

Brian Medlin was born in 1927 in Orroroo in the mid-north of South Australia. He grew up in Adelaide, attending Richmond primary and Adelaide technical high school. While at secondary school in Adelaide, the Adelaide poet Flexmore Hudson introduced young Medlin to the work of Bertrand Russell and thus set him on his life's course. After graduating from Adelaide tech in the mid-1940s, Medlin took a position as a storekeeper on the Victoria River Downs station. Already a prodigious reader, the 18-year-old spent his time reading the books he would be sent up regularly from Mary Martin's bookshop. Staying on in the Territory after resigning from Victoria River Downs, Brian Medlin was variously a kangaroo shooter, a stockyard builder, a horse breaker and a drover with his own plant. Once, at the request of a boss drover Matt Savage, Medlin took a mob of 60 horses across the Tanami to the Western Australian coast accompanied only by Savage's 12-year-old daughter and her uncle. He was immensely proud of his time and his achievements in the Territory. Indeed, they marked him for life.

Returning to Adelaide in the 1950s, Medlin worked as a clerk for Ansett Airways and as a teacher at Adelaide tech. Meanwhile, he enrolled at Adelaide University to study English, Latin and philosophy. At this time he became increasingly active in the cultural and literary life of Adelaide. He wrote poetry and he moved in Adelaide's literary circles, which included the likes of John Bray, Mary Martin, Charles Jury, Max Harris, Douglas Muecke and Michael Taylor. Brian Medlin's intellect and capacity for comprehension were reflected in his academic results. He graduated with first-class honours in 1958, having established himself as a brilliant philosopher of great promise.

He then went on to Oxford on a Kennedy research scholarship and with some financial support from his friend Charles Jury. During his overseas sojourn he taught philosophy for a year in the newly independent Ghana before returning to England in 1961 to take up a research fellowship at New College, Oxford. Brian Medlin was highly regarded at Oxford and it was here he met Iris Murdoch with whom he corresponded off and on for most of his life.

In 1964 Brian Medlin returned to Australia to take up a research readership at the University of Queensland. In 1967 he was appointed Foundation Professor of Philosophy at the Flinders University of South Australia. By this time he had published significant articles in several areas of philosophy, including the much anthologised `Ultimate principles and ethical egotism' and `The unexpected examination'. Medlin also contributed very significantly to work in the area of the philosophy of the mind.

It was in his academic post at Flinders University that Professor Medlin came to wider attention. He brought to his teaching charisma, dramatic flair and rigorous argument. His students remember him as a teacher who demanded hard work and who was scathing of shoddy thinking. Brian Medlin was nonetheless a sympathetic, generous and amusing teacher. He encouraged his students to see philosophy not merely as an intellectual pursuit but as something integral to their daily lives.

Australia's participation in the war in Vietnam appalled Brian Medlin. His own experiences in the antiwar campaign and the attacks on him and his fellow campaigners led him to study the nature of the society that gave rise to wars such as the one in Vietnam. Committed to democracy in all areas of society, including the workplace, Professor Medlin set up a democratic staff-student consultative committee. In the following years under his stewardship a number of courses that were then seen as very radical were introduced, including the first women's studies course in Australia as well as the highly innovative and influential course, politics and art.

After a serious motorcycle accident in 1983, Professor Medlin retired early, in 1988, after which he was named emeritus professor. He settled in the Wimmera with his wife, Christine Vick, and they worked there to return what effectively were 10 completely rundown acres into wonderful bushland that was covenanted, and they published their findings as they went. Medlin and Vick were awarded an Environmental Hero Award, Wimmera, 2004, for their work.

In his later years Brian Medlin maintained his passionately active interest in all things including history, current affairs, science, natural history and photography. To the time of his death, he continued to write philosophy and exchange correspondence with friends and academics all over the world. Brian Medlin is survived by his wife, Christine, his children Barnabus, Margaret, Jake and Bruno, and his stepdaughters, Alice and Rebecca.