Is Australia on the right road? Who should we listen to?

In this age of marketing noise, media distortion and political self interest it is difficult to be sure on who to listen to for wisdom and guidance.

The most perceptive people of our time is surely whoever can peer into the atom and see what others can’t. One of the first to do this was an Australian physicist and politician, Sir Mark Oliphant who discovered  not only the most sustainable high-energy source in the universe but who offered  valuable insight into the global issues of the future and how to solve them.

The film “Last Paradise” shows how Mark Oliphant worked with Ernest Rutherford to model the atom, discovering the nucleus and subsequently nuclear energy in the form of fission and fusion. Oliphant was so concerned about the future security issues of nuclear fission and the environmental issues of fossil fuels, that he dedicated post-war years to developing a safe and peaceful form of nuclear energy in the form of hot fusion. He set up the Australian National University in Canberra and appointed a New Zealander, Bruce Liley to research how fusion energy might be harnessed. Liley designed a device to achieve this, called a Tokamak. The series of Liley Tokamaks in Canberra University (ACU) were dubbed LT1, LT2, LT3 etc. and formed  the main study centre for plasma physics and fusion energy research in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mark Oliphant obviously had an outstanding grip on reality and combined with his political experience, was renowned visionary in world affairs. In his 1962 Ross lecture in Perth, he described what he considered would the main issues of the future with tremendous foresight, including population growth, environmental degradation and  non-sustainable energy dependency.

It is no coincidence that “Last Paradise” focuses on these issues. At 15 years old, the film director, Clive Neeson was  so influenced by the issues in  Oliphant’s Lecture that he began filming wilderness adventure with these issues in mind and subsequently studied physics under Professor Bruce Liley to pursue fusion energy.

Mark Oliphant was  an environmentalist, humanitarian and one of the world’s greatest minds. He came to understand “how Australia really ticks”. He had an insight to the value and uniqueness of Australia’s flora, fauna and cultural heritage. The things we realise in “Last Paradise” are our “true wealth”.  But so often we trade our wealth for money. Can you see that happening in Australia today?

Even at the age of 95, in this interview of Mark Oliphant we can take wisdom from his words. But they are also an alarming indictment about where we are really going. Most people don’t give much thought to Australia and its future… they just exist. People who do something are not that common.”

Mark Oliphant points out that we need “an accurate point of view” and which Australians we should listen to for guidance and real solutions to future issues. Based on his interview, who would you listen to and why?

Between the lines of Mark Oliphant’s lectures and interviews is also a humble account of how Australia and New Zealand once led the world in science, innovation and conservation. Today we fuel our economy by pursuing an  economic model which depends on endless growth.  Directly or indirectly, all the amazing paradises discovered in the film “Last Paradise” were destroyed by this. Can you describe how this happened in each case and what “wealth” was actually lost?  If we do not wake up to the folly of this way we will surely lose the greatest thing we have – the Last Paradise.


Inaugural A.D. Ross Lecture entitled “Education and the age of science” by Sir Mark Oliphant. 1962. (J S Battye Library of West Australian History Ephemera – Collection Listing PR12401/18).

The life and times of Sir Mark Oliphant. Cockburn, Stewart; David Ellyard (1981).  Adelaide: Axiom Books. ISBN 9780959416404