Heather Rossiter

Breakfast with Beaverbrook: Memoirs of an Independent Woman by Ann Moyal

reviewed by Heather Rossiter, July 1996, WISENET Journal

While the title might suggest something too flippant for review by WISENET, Moyal's biography has three strands of serious interest for our members. One is her professional evolution from modern historian to science historian increasingly involved in science and technology policy scholarship. The second assesses academe.

The third is her personal development from a clever, charming young honours graduate eager to take on the task of satellite (who wrote to Sir Keith Hancock in 1958, after four years as Research Assistant to Lord Beaverbrook, 'I like to work with highly distinguished men') to one who would be the centre of a cause celebre at Griffith University in 1979 and would have this written about her: 'Ann Moyal did not behave obsequiously to those in positions of power above her... Her style was to pull no punches and to refuse to put up with hectoring and condescension. For many elites used to obeisance or toadying, such independent behaviour by someone in a lesser position could be seen as insubordination, especially if a woman.' [Martin: Intellectual Suppression. Australian Case Histories 1986]

It was recognition of the value of her work as Assistant Editor of the embryo Australian Dictionary of Biology from 1958 to 1962 while a Research Fellow at ANU that enabled her to be appointed Research Associate jointly by the History Department, ANU, and the Australian Academy of Science, with the brief to gather an archive of Australian scientific papers for the recently endowed Basser Library and to amass a material record of the intellectual history of Australian science and technology.

So the historian entered the world of science and has never left it, although her role has changed within the discipline.
Her first two publications in this context were A guide to the Manuscript Records of Australian Science and Scientists in Nineteenth Century Australia: A Documentary History. Within a decade, Moyal was in the US and writing the first of her critical case studies. Change in Argonne National Laboratory, published in Science, 1971, began a national (USA) discussion of large scientific issues such as funding and government direction of scientific research, demoralisation of scientists and increasing bureaucracy. (Is there a familiar ring?)

Again in Australia and lecturing at the NSW Institute of Technology to undergraduate engineers and scientists, Moyal's science policy research resulted in an evaluation of the Australian nuclear establishment. Published in Search, September 1975, this catalysed a public debate on Australia's nuclear policies that has not ceased. Many other important investigations have followed, some commissioned.

Appointment as Director of the Science Policy Research Centre at Griffith University in 1977 must have seemed both reward and opportunity. Unfortunately her pre-appointment research had not covered Willett, the VC, who referred to her field as 'notable for portentious (sic) claptrap'. Her suspension and the two tribunals that followed read as more star-chamber than Australian academe procedure.

Her survival and the defining of her role as independent scholar and critic, funded by Australian Research Committee grants with interludes as Visiting Fellow in many academic institutions, is a tribute to her resilience and academic worth.

The book's second strand is the picture of Australian academe. Returning to Australia in 1958 she found, both in Science and in the Humanities, a male-dominated world where women were marginalised, struggling in vain with the malestream, disempowered by male silencing, relegated to invisibility by relatively minor men. In this context Moyal's review in WISENETJournal February 1996 of the recently released report of an Advisory Group of WISET makes sad reading. It seems little has changed.

Moyal has sorted her material well and eschewed the trivial, but it is as though her editor slept. I drowned at Lennox Crossing: sometimes it carried the Molonglo, sometimes it was the Murrumbidgee flowing across the rocks. As I can't find it on the maps it is probably buried by Lake Burley Griffin and in a way does not matter. But to Hodgson/ Hodgman such carelessness probably did matter. Diurnal is a word unfortunately misused and the punctuation is a disaster because it is so distracting and one must struggle for the meaning of the maltreated sentence. Strange that one who has many times been an editor, of different vehicles with differing degrees of status and reward, should have been so ill-served.

It would be wrong to dismiss this book as an interesting study of evolving self-awareness. Moving from glamour with Beaverbrook to the realities of Australian science and technology, it is a record of courage and endurance in which her quote from Emerson 'The best life is conversation and the greatest success is confidence' must have been a guiding principle.


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