Helen Morgan - Snapperup of unconsidered trifles

Irene Crespin and the trial of half pay

March 8th, 2013

Irene Crespin, prior to retirement

What better day to break the blog drought then International Women’s Day.

Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce, quoted in today’s Age newspaper (in the article ‘All-female team is an aide first for GG Bryce’), says we “‘must never take for granted’ the freedoms won by females of previous generations”.

So, Happy International Women’s Day to you all!

Picking a woman at random from the recently launched exhibition From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women’s Contributions to Canberra, I light upon Canberra-based micropalaeontologist Irene Crespin, who, when she succeeded Commonwealth palaeontologist Frederick Chapman in 1936, did so at half his salary.

These issues still exist! Let us not forget!

Irene Crespin is a great case in point for illustrating the importance of a gender specific resource like the Australian Women’s Register. The summary description for her in the Encyclopedia of Australian Science reads:

Irene Crespin was Commonwealth palaeontologist from 1936. She travelled widely in Australia and to Java and Sumatra carrying out important research. Crespin collected fossils for analysis and studied rock and sediment formations. She chaired the Canberra branch of the Territories Division of the Geological Society of Australia in 1955 and was president of the Royal Society of Canberra in 1957. Both institutions granted her honorary life membership in appreciation of her work. Source

And her summary description in the Australian Women’s Register:

Irene Crespin was a micropalaeontologist. After graduating from the University of Melbourne in 1919, she worked for the Geological Survey of Victoria, describing macro and micro-fossils found in sediment on the Mornington Peninsula. In 1927 she was appointed assistant palaeontologist to Frederick Chapman in the Geological Branch of the Department of Home Affairs. In 1936 she succeeded him as Commonwealth palaeontologist at half his salary and was located in Canberra. Source

Half his pay! I ask you!

Download Irene Crespin’s memoir ‘Ramblings of a Micropalaeontologist’ from the Geoscience Australia website. I love the first page of her chapter “My ever increasing interest in micropalaeontology” – how she describes palaeontology as ‘an integral part of my existence’; how, tellingly, without rancour, she states ‘Although I had been successful in the higher examinations in music, it was decided for me that it would not be my career’. And on that salary business:

Of course, being a woman, and despite the tremendous responsibility placed upon me with the transfer to Canberra, I was given a salary of about half of that which Chapman received. Later the Chairman of the Public Service Board told me that I was being put on trial. Later on he congratulated me on the success I was making in my new position.

‘Ramblings of a micropalaeontologist’, Irene Crespin, 1 January 1975, 1975/083 – Catalogue Number: 13323; Geoscience Australia, Commonwealth of Australia.

Once again, I celebrate International Women’s Day and these great resources about Australian women!

Read more:

Tea bags and wheelchairs

May 26th, 2011

Oh dear, oh dear. I have twice this week been asked (at my gym and another weekly activity I participate in) to keep my tea bag labels/tags for a research project which will, upon receipt of certain (undefined) numbers of tea bag tags, donate wheelchairs to people who need them.

Is it because I am a slightly bitter cynic that I don’t believe this? Would a slightly bitter cynic actually keep four tags before deciding to put on her research hat?

It struck a chord with me, because during the research for my book on stamps, Blue Mauritius, I came across similar stories dating back to the nineteenth century, which promised to build a hospital/ward for sick children if the [insert your local hospital here] could get a million stamps (or variations of this theme). Just search the wonderful Trove database of digitised Australian newspapers on million stamps hospital and you’ll see ample evidence of this, back to at least the 1890s.

This current tea bag thing sounds similar. Sure enough, a Google search on tea bag label tag wheelchair turns up a scan in Google News from the Connecticut Sunday Herald, dated 15 October 1972, “Tea Bag Mystery”, reading:

Can’t get any confirmation on those reports concerning a drive to collect tea bag tags for wheelchairs. Readers tell us many in town collecting the tags with the understanding it will help the handicapped. Rehabilitation Center knows nothing about it nor do the local hospitals. Sounds like the old cigarette package drive that fooled so many people a few years back.

So that’s almost forty years ago, referring to another even older scam, with antecedents pre-1900.

The only other thing of note I found was a comment on an article about raising funds for wheelchairs through Rotary, dated 15 May 2011, asking “Our Croquet Club is collecting tea bag labels for the purpose of buying wheelchairs, how does this work, where do the labels go, and how many are needed to buy a chair. Our contact says they are collect at Dandenong hospital, more info please.” It seems a few other people/groups have collected tea bag tags over the years, but right now there is nothing concrete on the web to verify this collecting drive in Melbourne, Australia.

Fascinating, don’t you think?

The Man and the Woman and the Edison Phonograph

June 28th, 2010

A song performed and filmed at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, April 2010. My boss, Gavan McCarthy, plays the double bass in it, and sent the link around at work. It moved me, ergo, I share.

You can read more about Fanny Cochrane Smith here and listen to her singing, recorded in 1903 here – “the first and last recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal songs and language”.

Vale Phillip Law

March 1st, 2010

April babies, Dr Law and Iris

Dr Phillip Law died yesterday, at the age of 97, in Melbourne. I had known him since 1999, when I first started working on the arrangement and description of his records at his home in Canterbury. I should write more about this, but right now I’d just like to remember him.

When he moved from Canterbury to Balwyn Manor, we kept in touch, and a few times we went out together for morning tea – we both absolutely loved the passionfruit kisses (sponge, real cream and passionfruit icing) at the cafe close by.

I went to visit him regarding further work on his papers in March 2008 and took Iris, my then 11 month old daughter. She was in to everything of course, knocking over wine bottles and curious about it all. I thought that perhaps Dr Law, not having had children of his own, might find her annoying. But he didn’t. He thought she was wonderful and loved her curiousity. He held her for this photograph, and said it had been the first time he’d held a baby in a very long time, and I know it gave us all pleasure. If she grows up to be half as curious as Phillip Law, she’ll be lucky, like him.

Vale Phillip Law.

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