Professors Mark Oliphant, Professor Keith Hancock and Sir Howard Florey (right) looking over the undeveloped university site, 1948.

Professors Mark Oliphant, Professor Keith Hancock and Sir Howard Florey (right) looking over the undeveloped university site, 1948.

Turning the ANU vision into reality

Visions of a world-leading institution contrasted greatly with the practical reality of a large paddock when the University’s founders met over Easter in 1948. JAMES GRUBEL reports.

Of all the photographs of the history of ANU, one image stands out.

With their backs to the camera, three men in suits are looking out across an empty field.

The year was 1948 and the men were three of the world’s greatest minds, photographed as they looked over the chosen location of The Australian National University and discussed their vision for the new university.

On the left is Physicist Mark Oliphant, standing next to pipe-smoking historian Keith Hancock. Medical researcher and Nobel Laureate Sir Howard Florey stands to the right.

They were photographed during a break from the 1948 Easter Conference - a key event in the development of ANU.Along with New Zealand-born anthropologist Raymond Firth, all held distinguished positions in the UK.

In 1947, the four men had been appointed Academic Advisers to the new ANU and for the next 12 months they met regularly on weekends in Oxford and London to draw up plans for the University.