As Vice-Chancellor, I’m proud to lead the ANU community to celebrate the 70thanniversary of this extraordinary institution.
August 1, 1946, is an important date in the history of our great University. It is the day when the national Parliament passed a Bill to establish The Australian National University.
Its mission sounded simple enough.
Following the Second World War, the nation was determined to be more self-reliant. So the concept was born for a truly national university, which could undertake Australian research for the benefit of all Australians.
Ben Chifley’s Minister for Postwar Reconstruction John Dedman had a clear vision. He wanted a University that would take its place among the great universities and would help Australia “align itself with the enlightened nations of the world”.
Despite the great sense of optimism, our founding in 1946 attracted little fanfare - we garnered a few paragraphs on page 5 of The Canberra Times.
But it was a nation building project of unique proportions. Where the university stands today was a sheep paddock in 1946.
Big things do not necessarily have glorious beginnings. They require patience, persistence, and an unassailable belief by a community of people that they can build something extraordinary together. That is what happened with ANU.
Seven decades later, ANU can proudly state that it has fulfilled the founding mission.
On a personal note, this place nurtured me. It gave me an opportunity to push the boundaries as a young researcher. It provided me with the environment to develop and grow through the stages of my career, to learn and be mentored by those who came before me.
My ambition as Vice-Chancellor is to pay that forward, to foster a culture where we can all reach our full potential, where excellence is cultivated, expected, understood and celebrated.
In 2016, ANU is the University our founders imagined but didn’t get to see. ANU now counts in its community more than 100,000 alumni, many who have made their home and careers in Canberra. We are proud to count amongst our alumni the majority of Canberra’s political leaders, business leaders and civil society leaders.
ANU is also central to the life of Canberra and has grown with the city. We directly employ 4,000 people around Canberra, and we are proud to attract students from around the country and the world to come and live in our national capital.
This University is known for its great achievements. It is where Sir John Eccles did his Nobel Prize-winning work on synapses in the 1950’s, where John Harsanyi did his Nobel Prize-winning work on Game Theory in the 1960’s, where in the 1970’s Peter Dougherty and Rolf Zinkernagel made their Nobel Prize-winning discovery of how T-cells attack viruses, and where in the 1990’s, I was part of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the accelerating expansion of the cosmos.
These four Nobel Prizes didn’t happen at ANU by chance. They, and many of the other discoveries and research we have done here, happened because this institution and city created an environment that allowed something big and unexpected to occur.
It is the same reason that we count a long list of achievements as an institution. From Frank Fenner’s leadership in eradicating Small Pox, to playing a key role in the development of digital synthesisers, leadership in the development of the field of demography, modelling of photosynthesis, discovering the DNA sequence related to Lupus, and so much more.
We’ve been at the centre of social transformation in Australia as a source of policy ideas, many of which have changed the country.
Our 70th Birthday is a day both to celebrate our achievements and to look forward. We are a young institution, and those at ANU today have the privilege of writing the next chapter of this University’s history, and the responsibility of handing to coming generations an institution even greater than the one we have inherited.
Our collective vision is clear. We want to be a university and a community that thinks big and bold, that is audacious in ambition.
We want to be a university that stands and is counted amongst the best in the world.
We want to be a university that is distinctive in its service of the nation and the world.
We want to be a university that brings students from across the country, the region, the world, from all social backgrounds and all economic circumstances, and brings them together in Canberra in a community of learning that gives them the grounding and confidence to change the world.
As we celebrate our birthday, we can be proud of our achievements and confident the next 70 years will bring even greater achievements and success.