Retiree's Lunch Update July 2020

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 2 September 2020

Most RACI Vic Branch members know the name “Hartung”.  Many school students also know the name “Hartung” because of the annual lecture named after him.  Some chemists interested in the history of chemistry in Victoria know that Ernst Johannes Hartung was professor of chemistry at the University of Melbourne for 3 decades, from the 1920s to the 1950s.  Several among this group acknowledge that Hartung was renowned for his very enthusiastic lecture style and demonstrations.  A number know that he was chair of the advisory committee on optical munitions during the Second Word War and that following his retirement, he became a very keen astronomer, with his own observatory set up on his property at Woodend (sadly destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983).  But very few people know that Hartung was the author of a series of booklets prepared for officers of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade from the 1930s onwards. 

Fortunately for us, Peter Cockrum is one of the distinguished few, and he was able to entertain the July Retirees’ Group virtual lunch by talking about some of them.  Peter is a volunteer at the Melbourne Fire Services Museum at Eastern Hill, and was able to show a number of these booklets to the virtual (or should that be virtuous?) gathering.   The booklets contain no indexes or references, and it is thought that they might have been texts of lectures given on various occasions.  Because of Hartung’s reputation for his exuberant lecture demonstrations, we imagine that lectures given to Firemen (there probably weren’t any lady fire fighters in those days) involving conflagrations, blazes and explosions, and how to extinguish different types of fire would have been most informative and entertaining (if not life threatening).

The Retirees’ group noted that today, the Commander in charge of the Dangerous Goods Branch of Fire Rescue Victoria (formerly the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade), Frank Besanko AFSM CM is a keen supporter of the RACI and regularly attends and hosts Victorian Branch HS&E Group seminars as well as the informal gatherings concerned with the handling, storage and transport of dangerous goods convened by Jeff Simpson.  

We then set about considering what sort of chemistry education and training tradespeople of today receive in their TAFE (and other similar) courses.  We noted that the RACI accredits university undergraduate degree programs (and has done so for three decades or more), recognising the content of courses has changed over the years, and that criteria for accreditation have also changed from measuring inputs to assessing outcomes.  The retirees then wondered if there was a role for the RACI to be involved in assessing education and training courses other than undergraduate degree programs, for example for plumbers and electricians, or for technicians and painters.  All use chemicals of various types (whether they realise it or not) and it would be good for them to know their properties, potential hazards and toxicity.  Even garbage collectors and handlers ought to be given some basic training in chemical handling and waste disposal.

Whilst trying to solve the problems of the world, especially chemical problems, our retirees group had to admit that taking responsibility for all post school chemistry education, whilst admirable in theory, was probably beyond the scope of the RACI.  At least for now!


Go to back to Newsletter




Chemistry in Australia
Magazine free subscription

RACI Members can enjoy an annual online subscription to Chemistry in Australia, the RACI’s member magazine.

Join Now