President’s Report, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
Sydney, 19 October 2013
Following 13 years service as Vice-President, I assumed the role of President of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows (AAvHF) on 26 November 2012, when Professor Robert Robson’s work commitments saw him step down from office mid-term. I am honoured to serve in this capacity and see the role of President as an opportunity, with the support of the other members of national executive, to acknowledge the extraordinary generosity of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, of which we have all been beneficiaries.
This report will highlight significant Association matters since its previous biennial meeting:
- Death of Founding President
- Conclusion of Second President’s Term
- 2013 Humboldt Alumni Award for Associate Professor Kay Double
- Promotion of the von Mueller Fellowship
- Joint Colloquium
- Leichhardt Symposium
- Awards Sub-Committee
- Collaboration with the Royal Society of Victoria
- Service of AAvHF Executive
Death of Founding President
The Association’s founding President, Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, passed away on 20 August 2013 after a long illness. Messages of sympathy and esteem came in from AAvHF members who were saddened to hear of Peter’s death. Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson and I travelled to Adelaide for his funeral, which was also attended by Fellows Dr George Gream, Associate Professor Murray Hamilton and Professor Rolf Prager. On behalf of the Association, I was pleased to pay a tribute to Peter at the funeral (The text of this tribute has been placed on the AAvHF website, https://www.humboldtaustralia.org.au/).
Peter had a profound appreciation of the opportunity provided to him (and other Fellows) through the award of an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. For at least 10 years prior to the formation of the Australian Association, Peter was a strong advocate for the creation of a regional structure to enable Australian Fellows to further the spirit of Alexander von Humboldt. Through his subsequent leadership role in founding the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows and his dedication to its preservation and development, he repaid his debt to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation handsomely. Peter devoted considerable time and enviable skill to furthering the interests of the Australian Association, including to computerising details of AAvHF members. He served as its President from 1983-2009. Without his untiring efforts the AAvHF would not have an unbroken 20- year existence and a history of successful biennial conferences, annual celebrations of Alexander von Humboldt’s birthday across major Australian centres and a warm relationship with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn. In a message of condolence, the latter paid tribute to Peter as a distinguished and passionate researcher and a committed, enthusiastic Humboldtian.
In recognition of his services to the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, Peter received the Association’s Distinguished Fellow award, which recognises members who have excelled in their professional field and/or provided service to the organisation. As a further tribute to Peter, the Association designated its biennial award recognising the academic or professional achievement of early career Association members, the Peter Schwerdtfeger Award.
The AAvHF will always be grateful to Peter for all he did to establish and lead the Association and expresses its sincere sympathy to Peter’s wife Arija and his family. His death represents the end of an era for the Association. At the AAvHF’s 2013 biennial meeting, I propose that we hold a minute’s silence to pay tribute to Peter, the soul of our Association in its founding years.
Conclusion of Second President’s Term
At the previous biennial meeting Professor Robert (Rob) Robson generously accepted a new term as AAvHF President, indicating that he would be available and willing to serve in this role for approximately another year. The executive welcomed his further contribution, putting in place a second Vice-President in preparation for his mid-term resignation. Rob formally concluded his term as President on 26 November 2012.
Rob served the Association with great generosity and distinction. Like his predecessor, he was committed to the growth and development of the Association and tireless in his efforts to promote the AAvHF. A number of new initiatives were established during his presidency, including the Distinguished Fellow and Peter Schwerdtfeger Awards, the mentoring scheme with the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), and the National Humboldt Lecture Series. The Association offers Rob its sincere gratitude and honours him as immediate Past President.
2013 Humboldt Alumni Award for Associate Professor Kay Double
Scientific Ambassador for the Humboldt Foundation in Australia and AAvHF member, Associate Professor Kay Double was awarded one of six 2013 Humboldt Alumni Prizes for Innovative Initiatives at the annual meeting of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin in June. The award with prize money of 25,000 Euros was won for her application seeking support for a national mentoring scheme for early career researchers in Australia. Entitled the Research Ambassador and Mentoring Program (RAMP) and established by Kay and the past Director of the DAAD in Sydney, Dr Andreas Jäger, the scheme represents a collaboration between the DAAD and AAvHF. The Association congratulates Kay warmly on this significant achievement.
Promotion of the von Mueller Fellowship
Australian research has been the beneficiary (to 2012) of 510 Alexander von Humboldt Fellowships and 73 research awards to Australians and 108 Feodor Lynen Fellowships to German researchers joining Australian research groups – 24 Feodor Lynen Fellows have remained in Australia. In recognition of this significant input to Australian research by the German Government and Australia’s indebtedness to Germany, the AAvHF is committed to having in place an equivalent fellowship funded by the Australian Government and, pleasingly, in 2004 agreement was reached between the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvHF) for the introduction of von Mueller Fellowships administered under the ARC International Linkage Scheme. The AvHF favoured the concept of one fellowship per year, as is the situation for the comparable annual Julius von Haast Fellowship for a German researcher to visit New Zealand.
When the ARC International Linkage Scheme ceased in 2009, the von Mueller Fellowship scheme was abolished. Since this time, the Association has sought to have the Fellowship re-instated. To that end, Vice-President Professor Jeff Malpas, Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson and I met with ARC Chief Executive Officer Professor Aiden Byrne, a former Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, at Melbourne airport on 14 February 2013. He encouraged us to brief key Federal parliamentarians prior to the election. Accordingly, Professor Malpas, Associate Professor Finlayson and I went to Canberra on 20-21 March and met with targeted representatives across the main political parties and succeeded in promoting awareness of the Alexander von Humboldt and Feodor Lynen Fellowships and gaining some support for re-instating the Australian award. Professor Malpas later held meetings with certain politicians who were not available in Canberra in March. The subsequent Federal election interrupted the Association’s promotion of this named Fellowship but the executive intends to further these discussions in early 2014 with the new Federal Government.
Our Tasmanian colleagues had previously offered to host the 2013 AAvHF colloquium but graciously postponed their hospitality to 2015, to allow the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvHF) to hold for the joint AvHF-AAvHF colloquium in Sydney. As the Foundation’s only international colloquium in 2013, this event represents a singular honour for our Association and for Australia. The choice of Australia is to mark the bicentenary of the birth of renowned German-Australian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. It has been a pleasure to support the Foundation in its preparations for the colloquium and, in particular, I proposed the dinner speaker, that the Association’s awards be presented during the colloquium dinner and that the President of our New Zealand sister association offer the toast to the Foundation on its sixtieth birthday. Our Association was asked to nominate five coordinators for the symposium discipline areas, who subsequently had the task of reviewing the presentation abstracts submitted by early career researchers.
To celebrate the Leichhardt anniversary, the University of Queensland will hold the Leichhardt Symposium on Biodiversity and Conservation on 23-24 October 2013. The Association is pleased that Fellow and Queensland AAvHF State representative Dr Judith Reinhard and Fellow Professor Peer Schenk from the University of Queensland have played leadership roles in this initiative. The symposium will bring together researchers, students, decision makers and the general public from Australia and Germany who are interested and engaged in work on biodiversity and conservation. Attended by representatives of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German Embassy in Australia, and supported by the Foundation and Australian Embassy in Berlin, the symposium follows the Sydney colloquium and is intended to initiate a series of annual conferences on these central themes that will alternate between Australia and Germany.
I acknowledge with gratitude work of the awards sub-committee with membership of Professor Jeff Malpas (chair), Associate Professors Kay Double and Murray Hamilton and Dr Judith Reinhard. They considered the nominations for the 2013 Peter Schwerdtfeger Award and Distinguished Fellow Awards and, with respect to both awards, the decision of the sub-committee was unanimous, namely that:
- Dr Robert Mailhammer be the recipient of the Peter Schwerdtfeger Award for 2013; and
- Both Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson and Dr George Gream be recipients of a Distinguished Fellow Award in 2013.
On behalf of the Association I was pleased to accept the recommendations and prepared the citations to be read at the colloquium dinner. The Association congratulates the awardees most warmly.
Collaboration with the Royal Society of Victoria
During his visit to Melbourne in early 2012, Professor Helmut Schwarz, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation initiated discussions with the Royal Society of Victoria in relation to a joint symposium honouring the contributions of Germans to Victoria. Preparations for the symposium are now well advanced with Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson, Professor Jeff Malpas and myself providing the link to the AAvHF and the Foundation. The symposium entitled “Celebration of German Contributions to Australian Science and Victorian Scientific Institutions – Past and Present” will be held on 1-3 October 2014 at the Royal Society of Victoria, Victoria Parade, Melbourne.
Service of AAvHF Executive
Our Association is very fortunate to have a dedicated executive providing leadership across the country through the State/Territory representatives and outstanding support to the respective Presidents through the professionalism and selfless work of Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson, Treasurer Professor Gary Byrant, Vice-President Professor Jeff Malpas and Webmaster Associate Professor Patrick Kluth. I thank them most sincerely for their commitment to the AAvHF.
A valued role of the State/Territory representatives continues to be their organisation of an annual function locally to mark Alexander von Humboldt’s birthday. I was pleased to join the Melbourne function which was held at the Swiss Club on 24 September 2013.
It has been an honour to serve as President over the past 11 months. I wish the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows well for its future development and hope that it will always remain true to the ideals of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation from which it draws its inspiration.
Gabrielle McMullen AM
President, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
19 October 2013