Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

'A special fondness for beetles'

One of Australia's most esteemed scientists — virologist, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (1944–1965), Nobel Prize winner for Medicine (1960) — Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet explored many interests in his long life.

His imagination, discipline and enquiring interest in many fields gave a conceptual breadth and a great originality to his thinking and work. His legacy includes breakthroughs made in understanding the immune system, infectious disease and disease prevention. His scientific, professional and personal papers, held at UMA, reveal not only a man of sharp intelligence but one who had great drive and commitment to social issues.

As a child, and as a University of Melbourne medical student and later medical registrar living at Ormond College in the 1920s, Burnet pursued an intense interest in Coleoptera (beetles), an interest that was sustained throughout his life.

Burnet's archives include many journals from his student days, which reveal much about life in Melbourne during those years. Several of these have been selected for exhibition in 'Primary Sources', including a diary dated February 1920 to January 1922. The pages shown begin with Burnet's work at Melbourne Hospital, noting a case of bronchial pneumonia and a description of laboratory techniques. This is followed by notes concerning research into 'bugs', a case of appendicitis, rowing on the Yarra, letter writing and finally an account of his day seeking beetle specimens along Beaconsfield Creek — a full and varied schedule was typical for Burnet. Burnet often illustrated his journals with humorous sketches of fellow campers and of the beetles he found.


Heading quotation from J.B.S Haldane, 1892–1964.

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