Fiona Stanley interview, 12 March 2013

Dublin Core


Fiona Stanley interview, 12 March 2013




During this interview Fiona Stanley discusses her career and experience of the University of Western Australia. As a child, inspired by her upbringing and her father, Neville Stanley, who was a researcher on polio, Fiona aimed to sail away to assist indigenous people on far away islands helping to cure them of disease.
In 1956 the family moved to Western Australia from Sydney when Stanley's father took the Foundation Chair of Microbiology. She went to school at St Hilda’s before studying Medicine at the University of Western Australia, graduating in 1970.
In the 1970s she worked in the paediatrics clinic at Perth's Children's Hospital. She worked with sick aboriginal children, travelling, to “every mission camp, reserve and fringe-dwelling group in Western Australia.” It was through this process that she aimed to better understand health issues and the impact of life chances and living conditions on children.
She traveled and studied overseas in Ireland and London England, before coming back to Perth Western Australia inspired. She helped set up a pioneering database in maternal and child health with the likes of Professor Michael Hobbs. She was instrumental in better understanding population health and causes and prevention of cerebral palsy.
She is the founding Director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, which has received major funding from Telethon. In 2002, largely as a result of her lobbying, Prime Minister Howard launched the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) of which she is Chairperson. She was named Australian of the Year in 2003. A planned hospital, Fiona Stanley Hospital, named in her honour, will open in 2014.
Throughout the interview she draws on the colourful experiences that she had at the University of WA, both as student and a member of staff. She recollects numerous influential people that she was exposed to at the University. Fiona is convinced of the importance that universities play in education and the community at large and speaks of current UWA standing on the international academic stage.


Stanley, Fiona


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


John Bannister


Fiona Stanley


Interview 1: 27 minutes 58 seconds
Interview 2: 1 hour, 10 minutes, 43seconds
Interview 3: 39 minutes, 56 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

rack 1
00:00:00 Background Fiona Juliette Stanley. Sydney 1946. Father’s father geologist in PNG. Grandfather’s death. Neville was a great pianist. Mother was artistic. Father’s Adelaide studies. Mother can’t afford to go to university.
00:05:14 Wonderful home life. Brother Richard interested in cytokines and leukaemia. Childhood in Sydney. Hospital, Long Bay gaol, Bunnerong powerhouse, Botany Bay. Seeing children in iron lungs. Soldier settlement infant school. Maroubra junction. No television. Creative mother. Reading book about John Carver scientist in America. Inspired to go into science.
00:08:55 Neville builds a boat. Sailing experiences. Inspired to vaccinate the natives. Coming to WA in 1956. Non-medical scientist and Lindsay Hensel. Neville Stanley has a live polio vaccine before Sabin. Annie Get Your Gun phase. Experiences of sailing on the Kanimbla ship coming to WA. Experience of staying at the Highway Hotel.
00:13:04 University houses in Monash Avenue. Professors meet at Monash Avenue. Professors’ families get to know each other. Support group. The academic community and excitement setting up a medical school. Male professors except Mary Lockett. Camaraderie. The university was a playground. Joan Pope and Muriel Stanley set up the Children’s Activity Time Society. Productions in the sunken gardens. Memories of Joan Pope. The Somerville Auditorium opera and Kings in Grass Castles. Mary Durack Miller. The Festival of Perth.
00:18:10 Thoughts of going to university. Choosing to do medicine while parents were on study leave. Unsure of self as an adolescent. Confidence. Mother was not supportive. Rebellion. Inspired by Marie Curie and Albert Schweitzer. Humanitarian interest in doing medicine.
00:22:15 Experiences of UWA. Medical students sequestered. Memories of first year science. Mixing with everybody. Elitism. Memories of the women in the course. Feeling abnormal. Experience of 1st year. 2nd year was not so free. 3 and 4th year off at the clinical course.
00:26:00 Creating own electives. Enjoying ambience of the University. Organ installed at Winthrop Hall. The New Fortune Theatre. Love of sitting in the library and looking out to Whitfield court. Creating electives. Unqualified nursing aide. The flying doctor run.

Track 2A
00:00:00 Foundation professors. Playing with Simmons and Lugg. Gordon King. Cecil B De Kidd. Mary Lockett, dealing with women as the opposite sex. Cecil Lewis and clowning. Normal extraordinary people. Era of radical eccentric people.
00:03:36 Macdonald inspires. Child in the family, family in the nation and the nation in the world. Global sense of child health. Bill Macdonald has no pretensions. Memories of Rolf ten Seldam wonderful Dutchman. Professors King, Lewis, Rolf ten Seldam do stints in foreign developing countries. Kingsley Mortimer missionary. Anatomy subject for the plodder. Outrageous and radical.
00:07:00 Neville coping with setting up the Medical School. Basic science and understanding. Snobbish arrogance. Debate and robust charting out of the territories. The Vice Chancellor reputation. Foresight and vision. Jim Crawley and Griffith and the medical school. Untrained nursing aid and other electives. Volunteers and the Busselton survey. Bill Curnow and Kevin Cullen. Memories of the PNG experience. Brenda Payne ex-pat devoting life to PNG. 3rd world experience and setting up a blood bank. Remote tribal experiences.
00:12:50 Covering the obstetric ward. Experience of false breach birth. Appreciating the pathways to child health. Prevention and global health. Future direction. The effect of experience to PNG.
00:16:04 Kevin Cullen and his importance to students. Putting the students into clinical science. Choosing Kevin Cullen for general practice. Advice given by Kevin Cullen. Second top of the medical school. Reputation of the university.

Track 2B
00:00:00 Student community. University Camp for Kids club. Women didn’t go to Steve’s pub. Being exposed to children of different backgrounds. Activities bring students together and campus in the community. PROSH stunts. Lawrence of Arabia. Person ‘jumps’ off the Winthrop tower. Student magazine Reflex. Cementing activities of university life. 40th reunions. Warm rich experiences.
00:06:00 Sense of eccentricity. Alan Rosen. Vivisection and Brian Stokes. Lucky to go through medicine then. Coming of the end of university experience and heading off to a career. Black power movement. Aboriginal problems on missions, Kundalee to Kalumburu. 3% aboriginal intake in medicine. Aboriginal child health. Dissatisfied in paediatrics. Setting off around the world. Meeting husband. Working in Ireland and London in tropical health.
00:13:30 Lights turn on for helping children. Influence Cullen and Rolf Ten Seldam. Influential study of aboriginal people. Debating of appalling conditions. Reputation of UWA. Bringing back ideas and skill to WA. Taught by Geoff Rose, Morris, Eva Alberman. Mentors open their networks. Zena Stein. Role models and generous people. International club. Importance of education in London.
00:18:35 Research foundation, NHMRC, peri natal, epidemiology, childhood monitoring system, databases, Bruce Armstrong, Lucien Coleman.
00:23:50 Memories of Michael Hobbs. Exciting time and success in grant funding. Inviting people to talk about Cerebral Palsy, Pre Term Births. Top international interaction Internationalisation. Cerebral Palsy and Pre Term Birth registry. Getting known pioneering epidemiology analysis of Cerebral Palsy. Reasons for brain damage in children.
00:28:25 Isolation and internationalisation. Doing good things with data. Feeling valued by the community. Consumer and community activity. Feeling humbled. Telethon Institute and philanthropic people like Cruthers. Memories of Telethon and funding. Amazing community activity. Hope and the success of the institute.
00:34:50 UWA in the community more. Students in the Pilbara. Enormous community problems and a community support. Letting down the community. Influence of UWA and Robert Manne and public intellectuals. Over bureaucratisation and the growth of problems at UWA. Population health and brainstorming sessions. Encouraging people.
00:39:45 Alcohol and youth. Social issues. Problems for aboriginal people. Data and university and collaboration and rivalry. Setting up networks. Rational and moral response. Heyday at UWA. Investment in people. Vibrant middle career group of people.
00:43:05 Tony Baston and recruiting to UWA. Reasons for success of recruiting to WA. Telethon and health database. Public support and institutes and university. Centres and measures of success. Sense of opportunity. Future of Western Australia and the Festival of Perth. Institute’s symposium on children’s brain cancer. Creaming off the top. Asia and collaboration. Pioneering and Alan Robson. Robson works tirelessly. Importance of support. The university and international rankings. research vision of the biggest and the best. International networks recruiting. University for this time. Privatisation and the focus on excellence. Emulating University of Melbourne.

Track 3
00:00:00 Audrey Little the albino child psychologist. Sets up child pre-school. People play pranks on her. Influence cohort after cohort. Carmen Lawrence. Infamous Harry Waring. Research on quokkas. Teachers that make learning fun.
00:04:20 John Papadimitriou bounces into lecture theatre. People taught empathy. George Castell and Lex Cohen were very patient-oriented. Outstanding people. Research alliance. Bob Hawke and John Howard. Science council. Paul Keating. Surviving the post Howard period. Achievements.
00:08:45 Australian Research Alliance Children and Youth. ARACY. PIMSIEC. Investing in children. Children and youth on the agenda. Convincing the Prime Minister. Only country in the world to have information on children. Tool for change and monitoring.
00:11:30 Data for science. Passion for having the best data. Major impact. Very proud. The tsunami working group. Disappointed in the lack of Labor Government support. Research with Michael Hobbs, Cullen, Bruce Armstrong. Epidemiology and Preventative medicine at UWA winds up. Setting up the institute. Fabulous contribution. Getting a major grant to set up the institute.
00:15:40 Discussion on the institute and databases. Pat Holt. PMH. Ursula Kees. Group working on the major problems affecting kids. Missing clinical and medical health research. Issues with mental health problems are getting into centre stage. Re-writing population mental health problems. Wayne Thomas. Peter Sly. Offering fame and poverty. Clinical research in the institute.
00:19:05 Pat Holt working on rats and humans. The Raine cohort. Institute leaving a major legacy. The growth of QE2 and PMH embedded together. Focusing on the genetic causes of disease. Making sense of genetic information and environmental triggers. Stepping down. Part of a team working together. Institute must become a major player. Translating information without harming people.
00:24:30 Awards companion of Order of Australia. Invested by a hero Sir William Deane. Centenary Medal and Australian of the Year. Children and youth on the agenda. Major issues. Promoting important issues. Aboriginal support.
00:28:56 Changes in disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Advancing the positive aspects of empowerment. Strong culture and low health problems. Closing of ATSIC. Strict financial controls. Aboriginal people and June Oscar. Aboriginal people know the problems.
00:33:41 Australian living treasure. On a stamp. Princess Anne and Fiona Stanley. Legends on the stamp. Running in a relay. Awards and relating and reflecting on UWA. Research and highly regarded institutions. University and bureaucracy. Investment in education. Climate change has fallen off the agenda. A centre of knowledge and place to debate ideas. Best preparations to participate in a civil society. Must become strong advocates. Looking back and winding up. Very lucky.



Stanley, Fiona, “Fiona Stanley interview, 12 March 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,