THE ART OF DOING THINGS
After Nancy Millis AC, MBE, FTSE (1922–2012)
The aroma from apples cultured in the rolling
green of Somerset, evoked the Victoria Markets
of her childhood, and her father the fruiterer
(all his ducks were swans). Like an opening
to another landscape, she knew she belonged.
She chose sick cider to isolate the culprit prokaryote,
to pin-prick from pea-green plates to set its doubling
in motion in steel-capped tubes of media. She’d
watch and chart and recall its habits and reactions,
the crude window on the microbe’s soul.
The die cast in her early scholarly life to handle
stains and solutions and shaped glass, even the acrid
scent of spent bacteria and molten agar. I don’t
have ground-breaking ideas; I just did the stuff.
In her sabbatical in Tokyo, she joined two men –
their minds overlapping like a Venn diagram – to
upscale the sphere of Biotechnology. She was positive
as a catalyst for the waste waters in Port Philip Bay
and they’d laud her for that. And more. Blow that
for a lark she said and more, for instance,
about the influx of students in ’52, the flood
was nose-high. To the end, she’d vet ethical checks
on experiments, her company sharp. She’d speak
her mind in a man’s world – they’d laud her
for that. The outcomes I want are curious people…
If you take on students you should not
be anything but right at the edge.
Note: Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis was a microbiologist who introduced fermentation technologies to Australia. The italicised words are those she used in an interview.