It’s no secret that I enjoy ABC 1’s Talking Heads. Last night was the turn of distinguished Australian scientist Sir Gustav Nossal, a product of that Middle Europe Jewish world which, following the hideous events of the 20th century, contributed so many brilliant migrants to Australia.
PETER THOMPSON: So let’s chart the life of Gus Nossal and see where it all began.
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: My earliest memory is in Vienna. I went to hear Adolf Hitler give his first major speech after the dreaded Anschluss. At six years old, I didn’t know too much about it but it was dramatic.
My father, being of Jewish extraction, left it pretty late to decide that this 1,000-year Reich needed to be fled from. And we didn’t actually leave Austria for Australia until January 1939.
One of the aspects of the Austrian heritage which has stayed with me for a lifetime is a very deep commitment to the arts and to culture. And I have these memories of the old 78s with Caruso singing away, with all of the Beethoven symphonies, Mozart and so forth. And of my dad sitting in his armchair reading to us – Goethe, Schiller and Heinrich Heine…
Naturally I could only applaud his views on Aboriginal reconciliation:
JOHN HOWARD: I have great pleasure in announcing that Professor Sir Gustav Nossal is the Australian of the Year for the year 2000.
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: Apart from being a fantastic honour, that gave me a terrific bully pulpit to do preaching, if you want, on two main subjects. First of all, Aboriginal reconciliation. And second of all, medical and health research in Australia… I had a wonderful three years as deputy chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The highlight was that wonderful series of moving bridge walks where something like a million Australians voted with their feet.
KEVIN RUDD: As Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: When Kevin Rudd gave his very fulsome and moving apology in the parliament, I was deeply moved and I was also deeply satisfied. Because I’d always been preaching that symbolic reconciliation and practical reconciliation are like the two sides of a coin. They’re inextricably interwoven.
If only Howard had listened to him!
Nossal is also an advocate for GM food, and there many will part company with him; I am not so sure.
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: I’ve got more hate mail over that subject than anything else in my life. I think, fundamentally, people don’t understand what GM foods are. GM foods are doing more smartly that which we’ve been doing for 6,000 years. This is now a way of getting the desirable trait – whatever it may be – into the food much smarter, much faster. And I personally think it’s been a huge boon for the world and will be a much bigger boon particularly for developing countries.
PETER THOMPSON: Do you think the scepticism is that people don’t trust science?
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: I think there’s been an erosion of trust and there’s been an erosion of trust in authority structures generally around the world.
PETER THOMPSON: And rightfully so?
SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: There’s no use pretending that we can go back to Arcadia. That won’t happen. If you take yourself back to before the Industrial Revolution, which was created by science and technology, it really was the case that life was nasty, brutish and short for the vast majority of people. So I think the liberating effects of sciences and technology far outweigh the doubtless very serious harms that technology has wrought.
A great half hour. 🙂