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FORGOTTEN AUSTRALIANS – a survey of Australians who were world leaders in their field but have now been all but forgotten 

Our speaker this month, Tony McCurdy, reminded us how easy it is to forget those Australians who once were the best in their field of expertise and gained worldwide recognition but, sadly, are now almost forgotten.

Tony has a degree in mathematics from London University and has extensive experience working at a senior level worldwide with a leading consultancy to major international clients. He moved to Australia in 1988 and since his retirement in 2003 has been a sought after speaker for both U3A and Probus.

In his talk, Tony discussed the life, achievements and worldwide recognition received by the following Australians:

Edwin Flack (1873-1935)

The first Australian Olympic champion who, at the 1896 Olympics, won the 800 metres and 1500 metres and went on to compete in the marathon (which he didn’t finish) and the singles and doubles tennis. His achievements were acknowledged in a number of ways, including appearing on the 45 cent stamp in 1996.

Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958)

Worked initially as a cinematographer in UK newsreels but went on to photograph the war on the western front and recorded the first round the world flight of the Zeppelin. He also accompanied Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition and flew across both the Arctic and Antarctic. He was knighted and also awarded an MC and bar by General Monash.

Maude Bonney (1897 – 1994)

First woman to circumnavigate Australia (12,800 kms) in her Gypsy Moth, and the first to fly from Australia to the UK and Australia to South Africa. She continued to fly her plane until it was requisitioned during World War II. She was awarded an MBE and inducted into the California Flyers Chapel.

P.L. Travers (1899 – 1996)

A well-known actress in Australia and NZ who also wrote under the name of P.L. Travers. Her first major achievement was to write Mary Poppins, followed by seven sequels. She received an OBE in 1977.

John Eccles (1903 – 1997)

Professor of medicine who did extensive medical research, particularly into brain cells and nervous diseases. He won the Nobel Prize for his achievements and was also knighted.

Francis Webb (1925 – 1973)

Although committed to an asylum suffering from schizophrenia, Francis wrote lots of poetry which was often illustrated by Norman Lindsay. He was acknowledged by Poets Laureate of the time as one of the best.

Albert Lance (1925 – 2013)

Joined the Melbourne Opera in 1950 but also sang with many international opera companies and became a leading French tenor. He was the President of the Paris Opera Jubilee and in 1967 he was recognized as one of the top 8 living tenors.

Ken Warby (1939- )

After building his first boat at the age of 14, Ken built the fastest boat in the world and attempted many world water speed records. He is the only person still to have exceeded 300mph and received an MBE in recognition of his efforts.

Heather Mackay (1941 - )The best female squash player in the world, who was also good at tennis and hockey. She won the British Open in 1962 and for the following 15 years, losing only 2 games. She retired at 40, undefeated for 20 years. She was awarded and MBE and an AM.

Tony has obviously done a lot of research on his subject and broadened our knowledge of our “forgotten Australians”.





Wheelchair Sports NSW (WS NSW)

We were lucky to have not one but two inspiring speakers representing Wheelchair Sports NSW – Jim O’Brien and Sarah Stewart.  Jim recently retired after 20 years as CEO of the organisation while Sarah is a Director and medal-winning Paralympian.

Jim has a wide and diverse background in sports management (both disability sport and able bodied sport) and the charity sector having worked at national, state and club level in full time professional roles in both government and non-government sectors.

Jim explained that Wheelchair Sports NSW was established in 1961 with five paraplegics. It is now the highest profile and one of the largest disability sporting organisations, and is recognised as an innovator, risk taker and leader in the field.  WS NSW has over 20 staff in fulltime, part time and casual roles. They cater for people from 8 – 80 with varying degrees of disability across a number of wheelchair sports, and now have over 600 members. Jim mentioned as an example, one particularly successful athlete - Ryley Batt - who has won 2 Paralympic gold medals and is considered to be the best wheelchair rugby player in the world. He has also received an OAM in recognition of his skills.

Sarah is a member of the wheelchair basketball team and has represented Australia at three Paralympic Games. She explained that a fall down some stairs at the age of 16 lead to her disability. She was introduced to wheelchair basketball in 2001 when a roadshow visited the university she was attending. She tried the sport and became hooked on it.

Sarah played her first game for Australia in 2003 against America where she scored a goal on her birthday. Her training is extensive and includes long swims and visiting the gym 3-4 times a week, as well as learning on-court skills.

She competed for the Australian Gliders at the Athens Paralympics where they won silver, then at Beijing winning a bronze and in London where they won another silver. Sarah described the thrill of coming into the arena as part of the Australian team and the wonderful reception they received.

Sarah said it is important to realise what a community they are off the court as well as on. All the athletes are encouraged to work and study as well as play their sports.

There were many interesting questions from our members which Sarah and Jim were very happy to answer. We came away from the meeting feeling inspired by the wonderful stories of how people can overcome their disabilities.


Guest Speaker April 2019 – Hans Rupp

Our April guest speaker appearing for a much anticipated return engagement was retired Detective Inspector Hans Rupp. Hans had a distinguished 41 year career in the NSW Police Force during which he was honoured with the award of the Australian Police Medal. A significant proportion of his later career was spent with the Armed Hold-Up and Homicide Squads.

During his previous address, Hans concentrated on the broader aspects of violent crime and the declining murder rate in NSW over the past 50 years. This time he presented a detailed analysis, from the police perspective, of the "Gilham family" murders of August 1993. The short summary of the case was that the parents, Stephen and Helen Gilham lived with their young adult children, Christopher and Jeffrey in the riverside suburb of Woronora.. Christopher lived in the main house with his parents and Jeffrey was in the boat house on the riverbank. The two buildings were connected by intercom. Jeffrey always put forward the view that Christopher and his parents had a tense relationship although others said that there appeared to be no evidence of this. On the night in question, Jeffrey claimed that his terrified mother had called on the intercom to say that Christopher was attacking them. Jeffrey claimed that he entered the house, found his parents dead, believing Christopher to be the culprit. In a fit of rage, Jeffrey pursued Christopher and ultimately stabbed him 17 times. A neighbour heard screams at 3.57 AM and another saw the house on fire. Police discovered that all victims had been stabbed 63 times.

Critical to the case was the fact that important evidence and clothing was not preserved by investigating police. There was also no effective DNA testing available at the time. The Homicide Squad did not get involved for a further 11 years. In the meantime, Jeffrey was charged with his brother's killing but pleaded guilty to Manslaughter under provocation He received a 5 year good behaviour bond.

Stephen's half brother Tony Gilham took up the fight to have Jeffrey further investigated and hopefully charged. Despite two separate refusals from the DPP to proceed, Homicide subsequently investigated new evidence and a trial ensued. It resulted in a "hung" jury but a subsequent trial led to two guilty verdicts in 2008 which resulted in two life in prison sentences.

Jeffrey appealed the conviction citing different interpretations of forensic evidence and in 2012, was acquitted by an Appeals Court majority decision. This is where the matter now rests. Sadly, Tony Gilham died a month after this acquittal and both sides of the family have been split asunder, depending upon their belief of what really happened on the night. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is married to Rebecca with three children and living and working on the Central Coast.

Hans's conclusion is that police failed in their initial investigation, particularly with the failure to preserve evidence and that significantly upgraded procedures and processes now exist for the handling of homicide cases.

Despite the graphic slides used by Hans, attendees were very interested in this presentation and asked a number of pertinent questions. A most informative session.


Guest Speaker May 2019 - Graham Wilcox

Our Guest Speaker for May was amateur historian Graham Wilcox. Graham took us behind the scenes to give a unique perspective on the journey to federation of the Australian colonies through the life of his ancestor. Sir Arthur Rutledge (1843 - 1917) was variously a Minister of Religion, lawyer, politician and later a Judge.

His political drive came from his desire to see all the British colonies on the Australian continent as one country. The use of Pacific Islanders in North Queensland as forced labour could have jeopardised Queensland’s joining the federation, so Rutledge worked to remove this threat. Although elected to Parliament in 1878 in a Brisbane metropolitan seat, he contested and won a seat in North Queensland in 1883. He subsequently became Attorney General. He was a Queensland representative at the 1891 Federation Convention held in Sydney, and took part with others, including Sir Henry Parkes, in the drafting of the Australian Constitution on the steam yacht Lucinda on the Hawkesbury River in Easter 1891. 

In 1893, he attempted to win a seat closer to Brisbane, but failed and returned to the bar as barrister and Crown Prosecutor. By 1899 it was apparent that Queensland would be unlikely to join the Commonwealth, and Rutledge again attempted (successfully this time) to return to parliament, where he again served as Attorney General.

As we know, Queensland became a State of the Commonwealth at federation.

Rutledge’s dream to become Premier of Queensland was thwarted when he again attempted to win a Brisbane seat in 1904, and narrowly failed. He retired from politics. 

Graham’s interest in this story resulted in the self-publication of his book: The Struggle for Unity: a story of the federation of Australia.

Thank you Graham for an interesting talk on a topic that many of us do not know well. 


Guest Speaker June 2019 - Roland Storm

Our June meeting saw us being entertained by Roland Storm who was not only a dynamic vocal performer but a master of the keyboard.  Roland's formal classical vocal and piano training included 7 years at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music which equipped him for his long and exciting career as an entertainer. He has performed around the world as well as Australia.  Roland had us tapping our feet and singing along, bringing back memories of many great Australian performers and songs from our era.

Guest Speaker September 2019 - Martha Jabour

Martha Jabour is the Executive Director of the Homicide Victim’s Support Group. Martha proved to be an inspiring speaker who told the story of the circumstances which led her to set up this group. This group provides counselling, support and referrals for the family members of homicide. Martha soon realised that there was a need for something more specific for children. Over the past three and a half years Martha has been working on setting up a world first residential trauma centre for children affected by homicide. This is a place where children can be counselled, cared for, nurtured and given the skills to survive and has been named Grace’s Place in honour of Grace Lynch, the mother of Anita Cobby.


Guest Speaker October 2019 - Susannah Fullerton

At our October Meeting we were treated to an informative and entertaining presentation by Susannah Fullerton OAM.  Susannah Is a  Canadian born Australian author and literary historian. She has been passionate about English literature for as long as she can remember and now brings to life the lives and writings of great novelists and poets. Susannah is the President of the Jane Austen Society and last year she spoke to us about Jane Austen, giving us an insight into her life and writings. Her presentation for our October meeting was entitled Brief Encounters: Literary Travellers in Australia.  In this she follows the footsteps of several famous writers and what they did when they arrived in Australia and what they thought of Australia and its people.  During the 19th and 20th Centuries many distinguished writers, including Mark Twain, Anthony Trollop, D H Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling Charles Darwin Agatha Christie,  made the arduous journey to Australia