WISENET Journal No. 34, March 1994, pp. 10-12
Australia's museums have a fine record as scientifc institutions - a record to which talented female staff have made a significant contribution.
As a sample of their achievement, WISENET in this special Northern
edition features the work of three distinctive
women scientists associated with the Queensland Museum. They are:
Dr Elwyn Hegarty, current chairperson of the
Museum Board of Trustees; Dr Patricia Mather, an eminent marine
scientist at the Museum in Brisbane for two decades;
and Dr Carden Wallace, Curator in Charge since 1987 of the Museum's
Townsville branch, the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
by Allion Specht
Dr Elwyn Hegarty is the first woman to occupy this position, which she has held since I990. The Board is a statutory authority and is responsible to the Minister for Queensland Museum's policies, displays, services and research throughout Queensland. Elwyn has had a long association with the Museum, in a voluntary capacity, before this appointment.
Recent policy actions include the establishment of an advisory committee to advise the Board on developing policies on issues relevant to women's interests and concerns. A similar committee, representing to the Board the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples, has also been established. Dr Hegarty is particularly happy that the scientific team at the Museum is of extremely high calibre, and has an enviable record of achievement in research and publication.
Dr Hegarty is a plant ecologist whose major interests are rainforest strucwre and development, and naturalisation of weedy species in and around rainforest. She is one of the foremost authorities on lianes, having published a number of reviews and research papers on their distribution and contribution to rainforest structure and productivity. She also works with her husband, a plant chemist specialising in compounds with biological activity, on recognition and development of potentially useful compounds obtained from plants.
by Margorita Bowen
Although their careers commenced two decades apart, there are some
interesting parallels in the lives of Patricia Mather and Carden Wallace.
Both centred their research on invertebrate biology and expanded their
interests into wider issues of policy and management in marine science.
Like Elwyn Hegarty, each faced the task of combining a career in science
with a commitment to raising a family: an achievement in itself.
A pathbreaker on many occasions in Australian marine science, Patricia Mather achieved international stature with her research on marine invertebrates during a career of over forty years, and has received a number of honours.
In 1970 the University of Western Australia awarded her a Doctor of Science for her scientific research. Then in 1990, with the award of an honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Queensland for her contribution to marine science, she became one of the few women to receive that honor from an Australian university. The following year she was awarded the Queensland Museum Medal.
In 1992 Patricia was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO), and received the Jubilee Prize for Marine Science from the Australian Marine Sciences Association.
After completing a Bachelor of Science with an honours thesis on marine bristle worms in 1948 at the University of Western Australia, Patricia was employed until 1955 at the CSIRO Fisheries Division in Sydney as a Research Officer. In her spare time, at the suggestion of the Division's chief, she studied his large collection of ascidians (sea squirts), and extended that collection through field trips along the southern coasts.
A highlight of that time was the award of a CSIRO overseas studentship to the famous Plymouth laboratory in the United Kingdom. There Patricia pursued her research on what was to become a lifetime interest, the ascidians or sea squirts.
While admitting that 'I sometimes wished I worked on something with a more dignified name', Patricia's research on them has led to recognition as a world authority. Her achievements included describing three new families, 12 new genera and hundreds of new species of ascidians. That work also provided the foundation for a range of studies on their ecology, symbiotic relationships and chemistry.
Patricia sees her most important contribution to science as the elucidation of an important group of marine invertebrates of which litde had been known.
'However, I think my own greatest satisfaction in my work came from moments of recognition - of roles, relationships and functions, of organs and organisms. For instance, in being able to predict habitat and even behavior of an organism from a knowledge of its structure - and vice versa.'
Patricia is keenly aware of the pressures on women as scientists. 'It is really very difficult for women to pursue a career in science, for their mid 20s to 30s - when they have to be most competitive for jobs and post doctoral research - are also the years for responding to the biological imperative to have children.'
'When I was married in the mid fifties it was expected that women would not stay in science after marriage. It was a hard decision to make - whether to be female or to have a career.'
She distinguishes between being female and being feminine: 'Careers put no restraint on femininity'.
Patricia did conform to tradition, leaving permanent employment from 1955. Through the years when her three sons were born, in 1957, 1959 and 1962, her position as a Research Fellow in the University of Queensland was funded by various grants that enabled her to employ the reliable household help she needed. During this period she received an exciting offer of a personal contract with the US National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, to write a monograph on Antarctic ascidians based on collections from American expeditions.
In 1973 Patricia joined the Queensland Museum as a curator, and from 1975 remained as Senior Curator of Higher Invertebrates until her retirement in 1990. Her research in those years is refleaed in nearly a hundred published papers. Her Antarctic monograph was followed in 1985 and 1990 with the first three volumes of her Australian Ascidiacea, being published in four parts in the Queensland Museum Memoirs. She sees this as the culmination of her life's work.
Over the years from 1966, Patricia was also active in scientific and conservation organisations. For ten years from I966, as Secretary, Vice President and President of the Great Barrier Reef Committee, she was centrally involved in the activities that led to the establishment of the Marine Park Authority in 1975.
Like her distinguished predecessor, Dr Dorothy Hill, who as Secretary to the GBR Committee in 1946 began organising the construction of Australia's frst permanent marine research station at Heron Island, Patricia made a significant contribution to its development and operation. From 1970 to 1980 she served on the Executive Committee of the Heron Island Research Station Board, and from 1976 to 1979 was also a member of the Lizard Island Research Station Board of Consultants.
She was eleaed to the Australian Conservation Foundation Council and executive committee in 1972-73, and from 1973 was appointed to fauna committees of the Australian Academy of Science.
Patricia's contribution to Reef research and conservation was recognised with her appointment to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Consultative Committee, from 1976 to 1985. She has also served on key national bodies for the funding and administration of marine research: the Marine Research Allocations Advisory Committee (MRAAC) as Biological Panel Chairman in 1987, the Australian Marine Science and Technology Advisory Committee (AMSTAC) in 1987, and the Australian Research Council (ARC) Biological Sciences panel 1988-92.
Now an Honorary Associate at the Queensland Museum, Patricia is continuingwith her research and writing. In all, she believes. 'I've been very lucky as a woman in being able to go on to develop an "identity" in science nationally and even internationally, in my field. Although I may not have achieved the material rewards that a man in a similar position would aspire to in a career, still the satisfaction of the research in science is important to me.'
Patricia considers herself lucky, too, to have been able to combine this with having a family: 'I love my children, and I enjoy my work'. And she has a message for governments.
'We need women in science in all sorts of professions and activities. Women have strengths different from men: we need diversity. Society has to make it possible for women to assume those roles as well as the traditional family role. Decent salaries and childcare are needed. This has to happen.'
'Women must not have to make choices that deny either their professional capacity or their female biological role. A society that forces women to do this will deny itself the benefits that will derive from women being fully engaged in both areas.'
With her appointment in 1987 as Curator in Charge, Carden Wallace became the frst woman to head the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.
Carden began her lifetime journey into the sciences in 1970, with an honours degree in science at the University of Queensland, and a thesis on earthworms. This led to a position as Curator of Lower Invertebrates at the Queensland Museum from 1970-76.
In retrospect, she sees that experience as a valuable basis for her career. At that time, gender bias there was less marked than in other museums - indeed during the 1970s Carden and Patricia Mather were among six female Curators appointed by the Queensland Museum.
Although she believes there has since been a reversal in that trend, Carden's own experience of discrimination has been in subde forms only - chiefly in terms of the male dominated culture of some research institutions.
A more practical difficulty has been the balancing of home commitments since the birth of her two sons between 1974 and 1978. The long hours and field work associated with her marine science research were an additional problem for childcare, too, especially in her later years as a single parent, unti) her sons finished high school.
In 1979 Carden completed a PhD at the University of Queensland, her research still on invertebrates but now directed to tropical marine ecology with a study of soft corals, Acropora.
After seven years in Townsville pursuing that research - two years as Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) from 1979 to 1980, and a further five years as Research Fellow in Marine Biology at James Cook University - Carden moved south in 1985 to the Bureau of Flora and Fauna in Canberra, before returning north in 1987 to head the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
Throughout the period since 1974, Carden's marine science research has been indicated in an extensive list of papers, reports and contributions to significant publications, including A coral reef handbook, edited by Patricia Mather and Ian Bennett, and Coral reefs, edited by L Hammond.
Among the high points in her career was the POL Prize for Environmental Research, awarded in 1992 to Carden along with four other scientists from James Cook University for their exciting discovery of mass annual spawning on the Great Barrier Reef by over a hundred species of coral. This dramatic example of sexual synchronisation is unique among animals, and its discovery by the team in 1984 attracted immediate scientific and media attention around the world.
Carden's own research has focused on biogeography and biodiversity, particularly on corals and tropical biota. Her current interests are directed towards other tropical countries, especially Indonesia. She feels strongly that scientists should give back all they possibly can, in communicating and applying the results of their work.