In her contribution to Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939–1945, Cassandra Pybus recounts the story of a late night drinking session in Melbourne in the middle of 1944. Alf Conlon, head of the ‘Directorate of Research’ reporting to the Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the South West Pacific, and Roy Douglas ‘Pansy’ Wright, the Professor of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, were speculating about what might happen if the northern hemisphere was to be really wrecked by the war. ‘Why shouldn’t Australia be ready to be the new Constantinople?’ they asked. There and then, they set about devising a plan to build a new university that would sit ‘in the front garden of the Commonwealth government’ in Canberra and be staffed by eminent Australian academic expatriates (pp. 66–7). Their proposal, drafted that night over beers and whisky, was communicated the next day to the Australian Prime Minister. In time it would come to influence the founding of the Australian National University.

The themes of masculine sociability, belief in academic expertise, optimism and opportunism, that characterise this story, echo throughout the chapters collected in Geoffrey Gray, Doug Munro and Christine Winter’s volume on the activities of a select group of Australian and New Zealand social scientists during the Second World War…

… read the rest of this review at Reviews in History

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