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Mann Tom

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual





I grew up mostly in Elgin, Moray, Scotland, and went to school in Elgin Academy before going to Aberdeen University. Soon after graduating in science I migrated to Australia under the ‘Ten-pound Pom’ scheme. To be frank, I did not know much about Australia apart from the test cricket team that toured England at the time. But a friend had settled in Melbourne and it was cheaper than going to New Zealand or Canada.

I arrived on April Fool’s Day, 1964, and spent two years in Sydney as a research assistant at the Department of Animal Nutrition, University of Sydney, and was about to go back to Scotland for a visit when my family decided to emigrate to Australia. No turning back then, and we all settled in Adelaide — a much quieter city for Mum, Dad and my sister, Mandy. It was a difficult time for us all as we had lost my brother, Frank, on the sea voyage out to Australia.

I spent three years as a livestock research officer with the Agriculture Department of South Australia investigating neonatal lamb mortality. At Minnipa Research Centre we observed and recorded from hides, for the first time in Australia, the activities of lambing ewes under threat from foxes, wedge-tailed eagles, crows, ravens and, unexpectedly, a town dog. A lot of fun and the town dog came off the worst as far as wrecking havoc on lambs and ewes. Primary predation accounted for a small percentage of lamb deaths, but for farmers there could be a rogue fox.

I married Liz in 1967 after a whirlwind courtship. Following a year in Aberdeen, Scotland, where Liz worked as a nursing sister in a hospital and I taught Science and Maths in a high school, we returned to Adelaide. I found temporary work driving a taxi, pruning vines for Penfolds, and managing dairy farms while their owners went on holidays. Then I joined the CSIRO Division of Animal Nutrition supervising experiments at Glenthorne Field Station, O’Halloran Hill. We carried out studies looking at the best way to provide trace elements, cobalt, selenium and copper, to ruminants. The cobalt and selenium bullets superseded the traditional drenches, and were placed in the rumen to release the required amount of trace element. Everything was thoroughly tested as too much of the trace element could be toxic. We added a grub screw to rub against the bullet and keep it clean.

Then in 1974 I joined Roseworthy Agricultural College, located 12 km north-west of Gawler, to look after the sheep research flocks and to run animal science courses. In the closed flock of Merino ewes we selected for increased clean fleece weight and for improved fertility while monitoring all the fleece components. Under Don Williams as director, the College flourished with new courses in Natural Resources, Wine Marketing, Agricultural Production, Farm Management, Horse Husbandry, and Dry Land Farming for overseas students, all adding to the traditional courses in Agriculture and Oenology. We thrived in a community environment with staff and students living on the college. Lasting friendships were made with colleagues and with local and international students.

We linked up with Gawler people through the Baptist Church, community organisations and our daughters, Rachel and Linda, going to school and taking part in concerts run by Tina Dimmick. As a keen cross country runner I prepared for the first marathon run from Gawler to Adelaide by running round the college farm. I completed the run in just less than four hours, about an hour behind Premier John Bannon.

Over my 20 years at Roseworthy Agricultural College, later to become Roseworthy Campus of the University of Adelaide in 1990, I was involved with Gawler Community Aid Abroad to help raise money for overseas projects. One of the highlights of the year was the Gawler Walk against Want from Pioneer Park to Dead Man’s Pass Reserve, returning along the Para River to Willaston, up to the Willaston Cemetery and on to Clonlea Park. On the way, an historian enlightened us about Gawler’s past.

I was also a member of the Gawler Refugee Association which assisted in the settlement of migrants into the Gawler region, many of whom arrived as boat refugees from Vietnam, including Hieu Van Le who became the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia in August 2007. One of our international students, Sarwar Ghaider, had come to Roseworthy to study dry land farming during the Russian occupation of his country, Afghanistan. Because of the danger of going back, the Gawler Refugee Association sponsored his family under Australia’s humanitarian scheme to settle in South Australia.

In 1980 I spent eight months in Algeria as a livestock consultant with SAGRIC International to help carry out resource surveys and formulate plans for rehabilitation of a pastoral area in Algeria, known as the steppe, which had suffered from overgrazing. Liz and our daughters, Rachel (11) and Linda (8), joined me in our temporary home at Ksar Chellala, a village in the project area. We tried out our French, played volleyball with our local counterparts, visited tent dwellers, observed nomads moving north in camel trains, minded out for scorpions, and existed on couscous, lentils and Algerian baguettes.

After Algeria we moved to Edinburgh where I spent six months of study leave at the Animal Breeding Research Organisation analysing sheep fertility data. To our surprise we discovered a single gene responsible for fecundity in one of the sheep breeds. Back at Roseworthy College, I continued to lecture and look after our sheep breeding flocks. In my spare time I became involved in livestock improvement programs in India and Bangladesh. On one of my trips to India I met up with former Roseworthy student, Rick Shipway, who managed a farm for destitute children at Tanakpur, close to the border with Nepal.

Then in 1987, SAGRIC International offered me a position for a year as a livestock advisor in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Two other Australians and I participated in a development project in Dir District, funded by the United Nations for Drug Abuse Control. On looking back no one in their right mind would have gone. The purpose of the project was to steer local Pakhtun tribesmen away from poppy growing by encouraging them to adopt new enterprises in cropping, livestock and horticulture. We faced danger from Kalashnikov-armed tribesmen in valleys where the poppies were grown. Refugees poured into our district from neighbouring Afghanistan where Pakhtuns fought the Russians. And Afghan communists planted bombs in the town where we stayed. I was a wreck by the time I arrived back at Roseworthy and had to go on sedated study leave at Turretfield Research Centre, Rosedale. Needless to say the Pakhtuns, some of whom are associated with the Taliban, still grow poppies. With extra money earned from my year in Pakistan we moved from our rental home on Roseworthy College to our first home in Allwood Drive, opposite Dead Man’s Pass Reserve, in 1988.

During my time back at Roseworthy College I helped to establish links with the Agricultural University of Urumqi, Xingjiang, China. After organising a visit for the president and two professors I was invited to spend one month at their university. Chinese hospitality overwhelmed me with visits to farms and scenic resorts, including the stunning Heaven Lake in the snow-capped Tianshan Mountains. For my protection, because of unrest with the Uyghur people, a government official accompanied me wherever I went. Maybe it was to make sure I did not cause trouble.

About two years later, I accepted another invitation to spend a month with the Agricultural Department in Baiyin, Gansu province, a very dry region to the north of China. Again, the Chinese organised several country visits to farms and research centres.

In 1994, about four years after we had amalgamated with the University of Adelaide —perhaps I should say taken over — I decided on a change of scenery and left Roseworthy Campus. I started teaching English to migrants at Modbury TAFE and also worked as a weighbridge operator during the vintage at Orlando winery. When the contracts ran out, I studied, for a PhD, the effect of movements of people and the mixing of ethnic groups on resource management in West Timor, Indonesia. I visited about 250 families in six villages, which covered the Timor highlands and coastal areas. The village headman in one of the highland villages said I was the first white man to visit his village since the Second World War when Australians had sought refuge from the Japanese. Incredible!

Teaching English to migrants led me to Woomera detention centre where I taught English to boat refugees for eight months. Somehow I became the teaching coordinator in 2001 for about three hundred children, as well as several hundred adults who wanted to learn English. With three to five Australian teachers it was an impossible task so I enrolled the services of refugees from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan to assist in our teaching program. During the eight months we experienced riots, hunger strikes, breakouts, and dysfunction on a scale that would be hard to imagine as an outsider. I tried to record some of those experiences in Desert Sorrow which was published by Wakefield Press. After I left Woomera I continued working as a teacher of English to migrants and also worked at the Australian Refugee Association to assist migrants in resettlement.

While teaching at Modbury TAFE in 2002, I took part in a 3-month teaching program for a group of Chinese school teachers of English from Harbin, northeast China. Six years later I visited the Harbin schools where the teachers taught, and gave talks on Australia. While there I accepted an opportunity to teach English to postgraduate students and staff at the Harbin University of Engineering. Their research work involved the making of light weight alloys by electrochemical means, often with the addition of a rare earth element. My role was to improve their written English so that they could publish their papers in international journals. If the papers were accepted the Chinese researchers invited me out for dinner or rewarded me with a platter of fruit or, on my return for another three-month contract, with bouquets of flowers. The downside was that I was paid a Chinese lecturer’s salary, but accommodation on the campus of 23,000 students was free and food was about a third of the cost in Australia. Close to Russia, Harbin endured the full force of a Siberian winter bringing the temperature down to minus 40 degrees Celsius — I would take a Scottish winter any day. Known as the Ice City, Harbin drew visitors from all over the world to view magnificent sculptures, carved out of blocks of ice taken from the Songhua River.

From about 2005, I welcomed opportunities through the SA Writer’s Centre to assist people in writing their memoirs. I tried to give helpful hints on how to make their stories more acceptable for publication. Ted Splatt, convicted for the murder of a woman in the suburb of Cheltenham in 1977, approached me to write his story. Following the investigative efforts of Stewart Cockburn, a journalist with The Advertiser, Ted was granted a Royal Commission which, after 186 sitting days, disproved the forensic evidence that had led to his conviction — hence the title of the book Flawed Forensics. Following that story, another man, sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder in Adelaide he says he did not commit, has requested his story be told. We will see.

Liz and I have enjoyed living in Gawler but have concerns about the pace and type of growth in and around Gawler. I would have joined John McKinlay on his journey north but instead walk all around Gawler. My daily ramblings with other Gawlerites in Dead Man’s Pass inspired me to write a poem, published in The Bunyip, March 15, 2012:

Dead Man’s Pass As misty vapours waft the air and dewy blades of dawn drip forth their pearly sheen, raucous calls ring out from atop majestic boughs.

The Pass awakens to autumnal scent, kookaburra laughter gives way to dulcet sounds of warblers soft in orchestral suite.

With well-trod paths of tarnished red, and mallee stems of lacquered brown look down from slopes on lofty gums, some gnarled and bare, yet some so flush with foliage flare, guard the dense watercourse.

Flowering gums host humming bees and parrots search for titbits rare, willy wagtails create a stir and magpies strut and shrill the air, a friendly call, and frisky dogs race round and round while owners meet in carefree watch.

This peaceful scene dreams on and on, when once there was no hope for one who passed this way in summer heat and faded from this earth to toil, his soul rests now to savour all in Dead Man’s Pass.

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