Prof Graham Durant AM valedictory address
Director Graham Durant says goodbye to Questacon, ABC News, 13 August 2022
Professor Graham Durant has been the man who’s driven the popularity of Questacon in the ACT, but after 19 years as the director, he is retiring. Grahams’s valedictory address below (& ABC acknowledgement of Graham here).
Graham Durant Valedictory Speech 15 July 2022
Good evening. Yuma
Thank-you Governor General…..Auntie Violet
Thank-you all for coming this evening.
Each of you here has made a difference to the work of Questacon and to my life as Director – I thank you all for that.
We are meeting in a new city on an ancient landmass.
Australia has a continuous culture dating back some 65,000 years.
Humans have a much longer history on Earth, yet a very short history on a geological timescale.
Australia is an ancient continent with zircons in rocks dating back some 4,400 million years.
Our planet was formed from a swirling mass of gas and dust some 4,500 million years ago
Early Earth was hot and covered with a molten lava ocean heated by decay of short-lived radioactive elements and the energy of accretion from bombardment with meteorites and small planetary bodies.
Earth progressively cooled as these heat sources reduced.
Then it rained. Water was able to condense from water vapour and accumulate on the planet’s surface as liquid water to form lakes, seas and oceans.
Life developed in those waters and signs of this life appear in 3,800 million-year-old rocks from Western Australia
Eventually this early microbial life was able to turn a reducing atmosphere into one with free oxygen. From this time some 2000 million years ago exposed ferrous iron in rocks was able to oxidise to ferric iron. The age of rust had begun and red sandstones first appeared on Earth becoming more common from around 1000 million years ago.
Some 450 million years ago life emerged from the lakes, oceans and seas to begin colonising the land, breathing oxygen and following plants onto the surface of the Earth as it started to turn green.
This was about the same age of the oldest rocks in the Canberra region and fossils such those found near the airport show what life was like in the shallow seas around 400 million years ago.
We have to look elsewhere to find rocks with evidence of the early life on land.
The early fishes of Canowindra provide such evidence with their fossilised remains forming in the 360 million year old deposits of a drying up pool.
Hominids have been around for some 6 million years with our species, homo sapiens, emerging about 300,000 years ago.
Current evidence suggests that our species developed in Africa and spread out from there arriving in what is now Australia around 65,000 years ago.
This is very recent in geological time but ancient on a human timescale.
In more recent times Ngunnawal and Ngambri ancestors visited, gathered and settled this place we now know as Canberra.
We acknowledge them as the first custodians of this land on which we meet and pay our respects to the elders, past, present and emerging.
I extend that respect to any Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders or First Nation people here tonight.
Understanding geology requires an understanding of deep time
Studying geology gives one humility as well as a perspective of time and an understanding of profound planetary changes.
Small incremental changes make big differences over geological time scales.
Mountain chains can be lifted up and eroded away
Continents can dance around the planet’s surface
Oceans can open up and disappear
I studied geology and completed a PhD at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth.
This was followed by a 25-year career as a geologist and museum curator at the University of Glasgow in Scotland
I was able to undertake many interesting research projects, present lectures on courses of igneous petrology, volcanology and marine science, undertake some memorable exhibition projects and work with many interesting people.
I was able to work with academic colleagues from many different disciplines and immerse myself in the university geology and scientific instrument collections.
I was not aware of the pressures that face universities today, it was a happier time
I progressively became more and more involved in science communication activities and was awarded a personal professorship in science interpretation and communication from the University of Glasgow.
It was my geological studies that made me aware of the 4th dimension of our lives, the dimension of time.
Geological time is incredibly long.
Human time is measured in just a few generations, parents, grandparents – children and grandchildren.
We find it hard to imagine more than a generation into the future.
We talk of 2050 as the distant future and sincerely hope that human society will survive the 21st Century with the 22nd Century just 78 years away.
And yet humans have lived on this continent for 65,000 years.
So what will Earth be like 65,000 years from now? What will this place be like?
Will humans still exist?
Will we have developed a sustainable existence rather than the dystopian outlook portrayed in our science fiction novels
There has been much change on Earth during geological time
The atmosphere has changed from reducing to oxidising.
There have been times of elevated oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
There have been times when the entire planet was covered in ice
There have been 4 mass extinctions that have determined the nature of life on Earth today
It is these mass extinctions that have ultimately led to the evolution of mankind.
Unfortunately we are living through the 5th mass extinction right now.
It is happening very rapidly on a geological timescale but slowly on our human timescale.
We are losing species at an unprecedented rate as ecosystems are degraded and humanity is consuming resources at unsustainable levels.
We are also poisoning the planet with a host of synthetic chemical compounds.
But we are now aware of these challenges.
What we do and how we act in the decades ahead will determine what life on Earth will be like hundreds, thousands and even millions of years into the future.
Earth is expected to exist and support some life-forms for another 5 billion years before being swallowed up by our dying Sun.
I suspect that the species homo sapiens will have a much shorter lifespan.
Some people are now proposing that we should change our species name as we do not deserve the homo sapiens species name meaning ‘wise man’.
Humans can be very clever but as a species are we wise?
Look at the human history books. What have we learned about getting on together and managing our planetary life support systems?
What have we learned about the nature of artificial geographical, ideological and political borders?
What have we learned about the futility of war?
Seemingly not very much.
Having said that, I am here because of war.
My parents met in London during the turmoil of World War II and I seem to have been conceived during the 1951 Festival of Britain as Britain and Europe slowly recovered from that devastating period of history.
Also, somewhat paradoxically, Questacon would not be here if it were not for Adolph Hitler and World War II.
Why do I say this?
To understand we have to consider the story of Ivan Moscovich and it is a terrible story.
Ivan was a Serbian Jew with Hungarian parents. He survived the day when Hungarian facists killed his father amongst 6000 others and threw their bodies into the Danube.
He was amongst those later rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.
He left the camp daily with work parties repairing rail lines.
One day he remained in the camp with an injury and was kidnapped by the commandant of an adjacent camp who had lost a prisoner and had to keep his numbers up
Ivan joined many others on the Bergen Belsen death march
He survived the last two weeks of the war sleeping on a pile of dead bodies
He was rescued by British troops and eventually brought back to some form of health
Sometime after the war Ivan emigrated to Israel
In 1959 Tel Aviv established a Museum of Science and Technology, the first of its kind in Israel. Ivan worked non-stop for two-and- a-half years converting five disused British army barracks into a museum, begging and borrowing every available resource.
The museum finally opened in 1964 with Ivan as its curator and director.
This was the first science museum to emphasise hands-on, interactive exhibitions, and it quickly attracted international attention.
It is interesting to reflect on why Ivan developed hands-on experiential learning
His experience trying to instruct multi-ethnic work parties during the war and its immediate aftermath may have played a role.
Ivan had a fascination with maths and puzzles.
He eventually moved from Israel to the US and became Mattel Corporation’s lead designer of puzzles, problems and games.
During WWII in the US, Robert Oppenheimer was running the Manhattan Project at the Oak Ridge laboratory. His brother Frank, also a physicist, was also there working on separating radioactive isotopes.
Frank Oppenheimer’s wartime experiences also significantly influenced the development of science centres
He became persona non grata in the post-war McCarthy era because of alleged pre-war communist sympathies. Before the war he had a girl-friend who was a young communist.
Frank was not allowed to remain as a practising physicist or physics teacher. He was not allowed to leave the country.
However he was able to sell a Van Gogh painting that the family owned and bought a farm with the proceeds.
He was only able to return to physics teaching after 10 years on the farm but he did not want to return to a research role.
In 1965 Frank travelled to visit science museums in Europe on a Guggenheim bursary and during this trip went to Israel and met Ivan Moscovich in Tel Aviv.
Inspired by this visit Frank Oppenheimer founded the world famous Exploratorium in 1969, bringing together his love of science, education, art and technology to create a new type of institution.
It was a chance visit to the Exploratorium by Mike Gore and his family in 1977 that was the inspiration for the establishment of Questacon.
Everything that Questacon now achieves tracks back to the influence of the Exploratorium and of course the support of Australian and Japanese governments and business communities that provided this facility as a Joint Australia-Japan Bicentennial project.
It is my pleasure to share this evening with you all in our Japan theatre.
So World War II influenced Ivan Moscovich to set up the first hands-on science and technology museum in Tel Aviv in 1959
World War II directly led to Frank Oppenheimer setting up the Exploratorium, having been influenced by a visit to Tel Aviv in 1965.
And it was the Exploratorium that influenced Mike Gore leading to the establishment of The Questacon in Ainslie Primary School.
We have some direct evidence of this link with our harmonograph, an exhibit first designed by Ivan Moscovich in Tel Aviv, copied by Frank Oppenheimer in San Francisco and then by Mike Gore in Canberra.
Another exhibit, my favourite, the Gravitram, also owes its origins to WWII. Shab Levy, a Bulgarian Jew, also travelled to Israel after the war and worked for Ivan in Tel Aviv.
He left Israel for the US becoming an exhibition developer in a science museum. In his spare time he started to build gravity machines. Our exhibit is Gravitram 5, his 5th major work that took 500 hours to make in Shab Levy’s basement.
There has been a spectacular growth of science centres around the world since 1969 and that growth is continuing
We are now approaching a 3rd generation of science centre leaders, firstly the pioneers who established centres, then the second generation that worked to stabilise business models and now the 3rd generation of leaders will take science centres forward to exploit new communication media while hopefully remaining true to the core philosophies of hands-on exploration.
Science centres exist to excite and motivate visitors through inspirational learning experiences.
As we see here in Questacon, we seek to develop novel spaces and experiences for our visitors to engage creatively and attentively with science, engineering and technology.
We seek to provoke curiosity rather than transferring knowledge.
We seek to facilitate open-ended, free-choice learning.
We seek to help people move from inattention to attention; from attention to action; from action to sustained action through influencing attitudes and behaviours.
Above all we seek to help young people prepare for futures rich in opportunities and challenges. A nudge in the right direction at a key stage.
Our various exhibitions are created to get people into the mood to be receptive to new ideas and to share them through social interaction.
Our next experience will take us back to the Moon.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the last time man stepped onto the lunar surface with Apollo 17.
It was a major achievement of global significance and 50 years later we are now talking about returning to the Moon. This time to stay.
NASA have announced that they expect to return to the Moon by 2025 and then onto Mars. Other countries and even the private sector are planning to embark upon a similar journey.
I was 17 when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface in 1969 and just about to leave school
Another event that year had profound consequences. In the US a river caught fire.
You would think that it would be quite hard for a river to catch fire but just one week after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, the Cuyahoga River that flows through Cleveland into Lake Erie was so polluted that it caught fire and burned for 12 hours.
The same Time Magazine issue that reported the moon landing also carried an article about the Cuyahoga River fire describing the river as one that oozes rather than flows in which a person decays rather than drowns.
This river on fire was one of the series of events, coming just a few short years after Rachel Carson’s book ‘A Silent Spring’ drew attention to poison in the environment that led to the establishment of Earth Day in 1970.
This marked the beginning of global consciousness about the risk to planetary life support systems from poisons, pollutants and other threats.
I was born in Warrington, England on February 18 1952 at 3.15.
Not 3.15am nor 3.15pm but rather 315ppm.
That was the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Today it stands at 420ppm and it is still rising.
We are on the way to at least 3 degrees of global warming and temperatures will keep on rising until we have reversed the cause
This is critically important when you think about longer periods of time.
We must avoid 3 degrees of warming by 2100 and increasing thereafter as successive tipping points and feedback loops are activated.
This is a real and present danger to humanity
I have a one-year old grandchild and now for me this is personal.
I don’t know whether to be concerned or hopeful that a technological solution will be found to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
A runaway greenhouse effect will be very bad news for humanity
Our planetary neighbour Venus is an example of a planet with such a runaway greenhouse effect with surface temperatures of 400 degrees C and a dense poisonous atmosphere.
We do not want to go there.
In 1994, the CO2 level was 350ppm. This was the year I first met Mike Gore at a conference in Edinburgh. I was speaking about large scale science demonstrations and performing some of the demonstrations that I was doing that year as a Royal Society of Edinburgh Children’s lecturer and previously at the Glasgow Dome of Discovery.
We will punctuate this talk this evening with two of these demonstrations. The first is a classic demonstration of the properties of CO2
1996 was also a very interesting year. Dolly the sheep was cloned, Peter Doherty was awarded a Nobel Prize for medicine, Charles and Diana got divorced and Mad Cow disease hit the UK
For me it was the year when I was first able to experience the Shell Questacon Science Circus on the Mornington Peninsula and the year when I first visited Questacon in Canberra.
At the time I was living in Scotland and working at the University of Glasgow developing plans for a new science centre in Glasgow.
I wanted to study best practice in university- science centre relationships and of course I had become aware of the ANU Questacon science circus.
With the help of an Association of Commonwealth Universities bursary I came half-way around the world for what was a really transformative experience.
I am not sure how many of the science circus class of 1996 will remember my visit, there is at least one in the audience tonight.
I remember it vividly, not least of all because after experiencing various circus presentations and public exhibition, I had the bonus of a boat trip to Melbourne when my bed and breakfast proprietor asked if I would help him move his yacht.
I then travelled to Canberra for meetings at Questacon and the ANU.
I remember returning to Scotland and telling my wife Irene that I had just met the man who has the best job in the world.
That was of course Mike Gore who in his role as Questacon Director combined his love for communicating science and performing science demonstrations, my passions in Scotland.
Perhaps my view of the role was also influenced by the science circus inspired Science on the Move that had recently been completed in the South Pacific.
Of course in 1996 I had no expectations that I would be returning to Australia as my focus was elsewhere. Nevertheless things turned out well, if somewhat unexpectedly, and here I am having played a pivotal role in setting up the Glasgow Science Centre that opened in 2001.
A surprise message on my answer-phone in 2002 opened up an opportunity for an Australian adventure
I should acknowledge Helen Williams who reached out from DCITA to attract me to Australia from my cosy academic nook in Scotland (an ivory-coloured room in one of the towers of the old University of Glasgow building)
I was appointed by a Minister for the Arts and have served in Departments of Communication, IT and the Arts, Education, Innovation, Industry and Science as Questacon moved around through successive machinery of Government changes.
With the current change of Department Questacon has now been in 14 different departments or variations thereof in three major portfolios
Exciting things happen at borders and boundaries and that is where Questacon sits alongside other national cultural institutions, working in education and working with science agencies. We could sit easily in any one of the major portfolios
But we are very comfortable where we are in the new Department of Industry, Science and Resources
The new Minister of Industry and Science is the 25th Minister or Junior Minister that I have worked with since starting in 2003 and initial meetings have been very positive.
Questacon is of course a politician magnet and over the years we have met very many politicians at Questacon or in their electorates and we continue to engage them through our work in the regions and during National Science Week
I have now had the pleasure of working with 9 Departmental Secretaries
I have been well-mentored by 10 different Deputy Secretaries but have never felt as well supported as I do now by our Departmental colleagues.
Thank-you – that support for the work of Questacon is vital.
The role of Questacon Director places one at the intersection of many different networks and provides opportunities to work with remarkable people from all walks of life
In the early days I sat around the table with the heads of the ABC, SBS and other cultural organisations for our HOCO (heads of cultural organisations meetings)
Then it was around tables with the heads of science agencies for the Coordinating Committee for Science and Technology and educational organisations
The work on the Inspiring Australia initiative built strong relationships in the States and Territories.
Serving on the Council of Australasian Museum Directors allowed me to bring together my professional experiences in Scotland with that here in Australia
Working on the Board of the Washington-based Association of Science and Technology Centres and serving as the Vice-President of the Asia-Pacific science centre network connected me to the world
It has been a pleasure to work with colleagues from the various organisations and peak bodies in the science research and university sectors, the academies, the dynamic national and local STEM ecosystems across Australia, the Australasian museum sector, the national cultural institutions, the tourism sector, the education networks and the international science centre network that I have had the pleasure of being part of in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region for around 30 years
It has been a pleasure to work with many enabling and knowledge partners and Questacon would not be able to have the impact that it does without that vital support. Thank-you
As you know, Questacon has an important relationship with Japan through the founding gift and ongoing personal and institutional relationships. I have had the pleasure of meeting 9 Japanese ambassadors to Australia as well as other Ambassadors and High Commissioners to Australia and Australian Ambassadors and High Commissioners when we work overseas
I would like to take this opportunity to express deep sorrow for the death of former Prime Minister Abe.
Questacon had the pleasure of welcoming Mrs Abe to Questacon in 2014.
Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Morrison acknowledged Questacon’s 30th anniversary when they met up in Darwin in 2018.
We are sorry for your loss.
There is no other science centre in the world that has such an opportunity to engage with the international diplomatic community as Questacon does in Canberra. We have hosted visits from princes, presidents, prime ministers, political and academic visitors and many other delegations including international school students.
Through these connections and with DFAT support we are able to play an important role in science and education diplomacy in Canberra and overseas.
Through this work we learn that children are the same the world over even if their opportunities may not be
The science circus is one way that Questacon helps overcome geographical isolation and social disadvantage.
The science circus is now in its 37th year and has now trained over 500 post-graduate science communicators through the association with the Australian National University.
The model of highly portable hands-on exhibits and science shows delivered by enthusiastic presenters has proved to be a very flexible and useful model for science communication in many different settings, in many different communities, and in many different countries.
It has been admired and copied by many science centres around the world and this is something to be very proud about
In addition to inspiring young Australians in their own communities for many years, science circus graduates have also exported their enthusiasm to 58 countries worldwide after completing the year.
Science circus diplomacy is a way that Questacon can support the government’s soft power agenda – Science on the Move Vietnam 2013, science circus Africa 2015, science circus Japan 2014 and 2018 and science circus Pacific 2020, are all examples of this in action.
Humankind has been acquiring and sharing new knowledge throughout its history.
Science and scientists have played and are playing a critical role in developing understanding and knowledge of our world from the smallest scale to the edge of the universe.
Science emerged from classical times, through the dark ages to the renaissance and has developed…..
from the ages of reason, enlightenment to the industrial revolution ….
from individual patronage and largely gentleman natural philosophers to professional scientists and institutions for scientific research…
from small laboratories and notebooks to major research infrastructure…..
from individual country efforts to collaborative international networks of discovery….
from cloistered academia to open science, citizen science and science diplomacy…..
from control of knowledge to public engagement with science through the sharing of knowledge via institutions, museums, science centres and festivals….
With respect to science most countries need a few things:-
A strong science base of institutions and researchers to generate new knowledge and work towards solving problems
Strong technological support, creative industrial processes and analytical capability
A strong supply chain of future scientists, technologists and engineers
A trusting and engaged society
Smart politicians and business leaders
Effective science communication is important across the board whether you are talking to politicians or the public, to investors or lawyers, to students or to the media.
We live in a golden age of science communication
There are more media at the disposal of science communicators and a greater range of science communicators than ever before.
Communication training courses for scientists are increasing in numbers and most scientists now recognise that they need to make some effort towards promoting public engagement with science.
This was not always the case
When I started work communicating science it wasn’t very fashionable.
University academics and administrators barely supported it and gave little or no recognition to those academics that actively went out of their way to explain their science to the public.
Now they are falling over themselves to communicate the value of their research.
A profession of science communication has emerged with an explosion of science communicators.
So in this golden age of science communication why are there alternative facts so much nonsense in the media?
How can we best help the public discriminate between science, non-science and nonsense?
If we are ‘losing the battle’, it is because we are not recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the different communication media available and not aiming the right weapons in the appropriate direction for maximum effect.
But it is time for another demonstration from my Glasgow playbook.
Magic Jug demonstration
Science exists to serve society, to make the world a better, more understandable place.
Scientists generate new knowledge, identify, measure, monitor and work towards solving problems.
Technologists develop the equipment and new materials to apply science for the benefit of mankind.
Engineers invent, design and build systems, structures and machines to meet functional objectives.
Mathematicians study the quantity, structure, patterns of space and change.
Together these professions are lumped together as the STEM disciplines and STEM education is very much in the spotlight at the moment.
When one adds in computing, cyber-science, medicine, art and design into the mix one has a broader scope than that of STEM alone.
The development of STEM-plus skills are vital for the workforce of the future.
An understanding of STEM disciplines is important for developing informed citizens who can discriminate between the science, non-science and nonsense that pervades our world today.
A functional understanding of the STEM disciplines enables citizens to make rational decisions about what medicines to use, what products to buy, what issues to support, what ecosystems to protect and which politicians to vote for.
A broad understanding of science and engineering makes the natural and built worlds more wonderful and enjoyable.
Education systems have the challenge of developing in young people a functional understanding of those disciplines that make up STEM-plus.
Schools have to support the development of an educational supply chain of future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians as well as the IT, health professionals etc. all of whom need creativity, imagination, team-working and communication skills.
Teachers have the difficult challenge of preparing students to pass exams as well as inspiring them to embark on a long learning journey towards development of mastery of a discipline.
Since people only spend a small proportion of their lives in school and of that time only a relatively small amount of time is spent studying the STEM disciplines it is clear that one has to look beyond the school system to develop the understanding, knowledge and skills needed to flourish in the future.
In any one year, school students may study for 6 hours a day, for 5 days a week for 40 weeks a year.
In the early years the very few hours of instruction in science or mathematics may be taught by a teacher without a science or mathematics background and yet these are the critical years to start building a foundation of knowledge from which a student can branch out later in life.
School curricula are crowded and contested.
There is not a lot of time for students to investigate, experiment and explore.
There are limited options for free-choice learning.
There are insufficient opportunities for teachers to gain scientific or mathematical knowledge and broaden their understanding beyond that which they brought with them as they embarked on their own teacher training.
Deep understanding of subject matter and confidence need to sit alongside learning pedagogies.
A focus on risk and safety combined with under-trained teachers, a lack of technical support and poorly equipped laboratories means that science demonstrations are as likely to be viewed on the internet as they are to be undertaken in the classrooms.
Experiments are often set up with a single objective rather than being the basis for open ended exploration.
Hands-off science is not a way to prepare students for their future. It is not a way to develop deep understanding.
It is not the way to inspire. It is not the way to develop creativity and imagination.
Young people need to be involved in doing science, they need to have the freedom to follow their own lines of inquiry with teachers as guides.
They need time to master the disciplines step by step.
As Director of Questacon and a former university academic I have spent a lot of time thinking about learning.
It is clear to me that we need to do much more to integrate in-school learning with out-of-school activities.
Encouraging students and teachers as well as creating opportunities for families to explore and learn together have always been the mission of Questacon.
Questacon is just one organisation within Australia’s dynamic out-of-school learning sector.
It is this sector that has much to offer in support of students and teachers and as support for life-long learning.
If schools have the role of building foundational knowledge then it is the out-of-school sector that can introduce the curiosity, wonder, imagination and a love of learning.
The out-of-school sector includes science centres, museums, botanic gardens, observatories, environmental education centres, zoos and aquaria.
It includes broadcast media, the internet, books, magazines, cinemas, theatres and festivals.
It includes the educational support opportunities from research agencies, universities, professional bodies and industry.
It includes citizen science projects, excursions, institutional open days, experiences in the natural world, scientist blogs, maker clubs, computer clubs and so much more.
We have to find a way to encourage the exploration by schools, teachers, students and their families, of the opportunities on offer and we have to build a strong informal learning community from a diverse and widely distributed group of institutions.
This was a key idea of the Inspiring Australia initiative.
The successful integration of in-school and out-of-school learning will offer rich dividends for students, teachers and for society.
But let us not forget the adults and families.
People spend most of their lives out of school.
How do adults meaningfully engage with the STEM disciplines once their school and college days are over?
Parents and grandparents are major influencers when students are considering study and career options.
The STEM disciplines and careers today are very different from those a generation ago.
What programs exist to support parents to help them better help their children?
Adults who may not have studied much science and mathematics at school may find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to helping with their children’s homework or in providing advice about career directions.
Families who play, learn and explore together at Questacon are building stronger foundations for prolonged engagement with learning.
Families who make things together at the Questacon Technology Learning Centre are building stronger foundations for creativity, imagination and the development of the technologists and engineers of the future.
The real value of effective STEM-plus learning is not just in the supply chain for future workers, as important as this is.
It is about building a smarter, more skilled and more appreciative society.
It is about enriching lives and opportunities.
Well-equipped schools and brilliant teachers are really important but this is not enough.
We need to build strong learning communities that connect the foundational teaching in school with the best inspirational opportunities out of school.
We need to unlock the full potential for out-of-school and life-long learning.
Then Australia will be able to forge ahead in the global race for talent.
We will be developing a society that values learning through life.
We will be developing a richer more enjoyable society that is confident in the application of science with citizens who can think rationally, know what evidence to value and know who to trust.
Questacon has a very important role to play going forward.
How do we best help prepare young people for the world to come?
I believe that the best contribution we can make is to give them all the gifts of curiosity, of wonder and a love of learning.
We need to create excitement and optimism for the future, for their future, and help them develop the skills to make their hopes and dreams a reality.
We need to promote a positive view of science and technology and do our best to encourage rational thinking.
Above all we need to promote equality of opportunity overcoming geographical isolation and social disadvantage.
We need to help people move from feeling overwhelmed to being empowered.
Many countries around the world are also focussing on the development of science, technology, engineering and maths skills in a global race for talent.
Australia needs to be a strong competitor in the race to the top
Earlier today, I was watching a young family in our MiniQ exhibit and it struck me that the young children will have every chance of being alive to welcome in the 22nd century.
Can you imagine that?
What future will they have?
They will be entering the world of work in 2040, have their own families by 2050 and grandchildren by 2070.
They will be living through this time of significant disruptive technological change and increased globalisation.
They will experience a planet with a human population in excess of 10 billion.
They will see very clearly the impacts of a changing climate and loss of biodiversity.
They will see the development of amazing technology that will be able to do incredible things in health, energy, transport and communications.
They will get to see someone step onto Mars just as my generation experienced the moon-landing over 50 years ago.
But they will also be growing up alongside emerging planetary scale challenges
So as they grow up they will need to become part of a globally connected solutions generation.
Finding solutions to very complex global problems.
They will have to care for their countries, their planet, our only home.
They will need to become planetary scale planners and leaders
We live in a complex and rapidly changing world and we will have to actively manage the various planetary life support systems for a sustainable future.
There is currently no plan for the management of Planet Earth’s life support systems – we desperately need a planetary facilities manager
Indigenous Australians have a long tradition of caring for their country
Planet Earth is now all of our country and together we have to care for it if humans are to have a sustainable existence.
And, there can be no sustainability without equality of opportunity.
Children are the same world over. We need them to have equality of opportunity.
This is why Questacon supports the Sustainable Development Goals.
For us it is core business.
In common with science centres around the world, Questacon will need to maintain its strong focus on young people and the future.
Homo sapiens has come a long way in 200,000 years.
What will the next 50 years bring? Or the next 500 years? Or the next 5000 years?
This continent has been inhabited for 65,000 years.
What will it be like in 65,000 years I wonder?
How can we possibly imagine that? But surely we must try
What do we want Earth to be like? Our Society?
What is our vision and how do we create the future that we want?
It was thought that tool using was the criteria that set humans apart from other animal species but we now know that other animals can also use tools in different ways.
Nevertheless it is a particularly human ability to use our hands and brains together to manipulate things, to be creative, to make things, innovate and solve problems.
There are some big problems to solve.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be speaking tonight as Questacon’s Director – a role that gives me the opportunity and privilege to work daily with creative, imaginative scientists and science communicators who are committed to Questacon’s mission of inspiring young Australians and promoting the engagement and awareness of the science so critical to Australia’s and the world’s future.
It has been a privilege to lead this organisation that generates over $50 million per year for the ACT tourist economy as well as encouraging many young people to take an interest in science and technology with long-term economic benefits through human capital development.
It has been a very fulfilling 19 years as Director. I think that the organisation is in a good place to take the next step forward on behalf of the people of Australia.
The organisation needs to grow alongside our young visitors. The stories of research and innovation need to be told as part of the Australian story in the National Capital if we want young Australians to look to the future with excitement
When Prime Minister Bob Hawke opened this building, as the National Science and Technology Centre (aka Questacon) in 1988 he acknowledged its importance and the importance of placing it in the Parliamentary Triangle
He also said “as welcome as this building is in 1988, it is perhaps a pity that it was not opened 20 years ago. If it had been, there would already have been two decades during which Australian children were brought up with the insights into science and the enjoyment of science that this centre now provides”
This building was one of the world’s first purpose-built science centres and the building still works well but it is now overcrowded on too many days.
Questacon needs more gallery and public space now. I hope that we do not have 20 years of missed opportunity for young Australians if we have to wait for this development.
Our young visitors in MiniQ today will be growing up throughout what remains of the 21st century, a century full of great opportunities and significant challenges.
Questacon needs to grow alongside them. We need a masterplan for the growth of Australia’s national cultural institutions.
I would like to finish by thanking Irene and the family for their support throughout my working life and I look forward to repaying the debt of family-time owed.
I thank my colleagues at Questacon, on Council and in the Department for their support for our work over the years.
I thank my national institution and museum colleagues across Australia for their friendship and collegiality
I thank those of you in the various science organisations and universities who work with us
I thank our various enabling partners for their ongoing support
I thank our exhibit wondersmiths for their creative endeavours
And to our young science communicators, I thank you for the joy and energy that you bring to Questacon each year
Everyone of you here tonight has made a difference to my life and helped Questacon to make a difference to lives across the country. Thank-you.
I have had a great life, I am having a great life.
As I look back I have had wonderful opportunities and wonderful times as a student and research student, as an academic geologist, as a museum professional, as a public servant, as a science centre leader and as a husband, father and now grandfather.
Retirement for me is a beginning and not an end. My plan is no-plan for the first 6 months. I will get back to maximum health and fitness through sea-kayaking, cycling, hill-walking and gardening.
Irene and I will do some travelling in Australia and then early next year we will head to the UK for a few months to catch up with family, friends and familiar places.
When I return some 12 months from now I will focus on how I may best serve in my 3rd career.
As I said at the outset, you have all influenced my life and the work of this small but big-hearted organisation.
I thank you all.
Questacon’s best years lie ahead and I cannot wait to see how the organisation and people step up to meet the challenges ahead.