Dr Roger Francey '58

Written on the 2 May 2018 by Old Collegians Association

Dr Roger Francey

Excerpt from 2004 Rostrevor Magazine

It was briefly reported in Red & Black in November 2003 that Roger Francey ('58) had been granted a $7million fellowship. The news prompted Red & Black to invite Roger to contribute a little more about his lifelong work and that is what is presented here.

Roger Francey.

Roger was Captain of the School in 1958 as well as Dux. He received the Maths I and II awards and was a member of the 1st XVIII and 1st XI, both teams being captained by David David. He was also a gymnast of some skill. Roger was a boarder from Poochera on the West Coast.

The invitation to contribute to Red&Black coincided with my retirement. CSIRO was unable to meet commitments to the Federation Fellowship reported in the November 2003 edition of Red & Black and now key members of the fellowship team have been snapped up by overseas institutions. My own reaction is mixed disappointment at a missed opportunity to play a key role in research of global Importance, relief at the lifting of responsibilities that would have stretched me beyond a conventional 'use-by date', and interest at other opportunities that almost always emerge from changes in circumstance. (It is consoling that the abandoned task is of such importance that it will be done somewhere, sometime, in the next decade). 

After leaving Rostrevor in 1958, I secured an Honours degree in physics at the University of Tasmania. This time is remembered more for football rather than academic achievement -a brief stint with St Virgil's old boys, then with University, a best and fairest, captain, Blue, all Australian selection, association best and fairest and State amateur squad. A 1962 move to Sandy Bay in the TFL yielded a best & fairest and runner up association best first-year player (to future triple-Brownlow medalist Jan Stewart). A groin injury put a sudden halt to football, but meant I resumed gymnastics and in 1964, spent a year at Mawson, Antarctica as Cosmic Ray Physicist. Francey Hill (perhaps the least conspicuous topographical feature ever named in Antarctica?) is a legacy of this time.

From the 1958 Annual - Happy Crowd at the Prefects' Ball.

In 1966, a Commonwealth PhD scholarship facilitated my joining an Adelaide-Tasmania X-ray Astronomy team, at the same time persuading a beautiful young Melbourne woman (my wife of 38 years) to share my life. Astronomy took me to Adelaide University for two 6-9-month stints (briefly playing footy with Rostrevor Old Boys). to Bristol UK, and to rocket launches at Woomera {a highlight was our discovery of the first variable x-ray star). Hawaii and Hudson's Bay in the Arctic. The last two took place during a 3-year stint, as a post-doctoral fellow, with Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada (during which I was privileged to lead their Cricket Club teams to their first ever championships). 

In 1973 I relinquished an offer to work on the first X-ray satellite (for reasons to do with not wanting to raise a son and daughter in New York, and an ailing father back home}, and joined CSIRO in Melbourne to work on atmospheric turbulence (about which I knew practically nothing). This well-established field had little potential to surprise and after 3-4 moderately productive years I managed to secure support to mount a series of tree-ring expeditions into the ancient Tasmanian rainforests. The hope was that isotopic information stored in many thousand-year-old Huon pines would provide clues about increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

We uncovered reasons why this approach would fail, bringing to an end similar international studies (however the expeditions yielded a near-continuous sequence of annual wood samples extending over the last 10,000 years; beyond, allowing collaborators to extend radiocarbon dating and demonstrate the unique nature of recent global warming) Meanwhile, at the small hillside community of Upper Beaconsfield, I registered as owner-builder and built a family home: I served as chairman of the local progress association, foundin8 editor of a surviving community newsletter The Village Bell; and was honoured with "Citizen of the Year in 1981. At CSIRO we refocused, and in a scientific coup, accurately reconstructed atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and isotopes over the last 1000 years from air trapped in Antarctic ice.

From the 1958 Annual Gymnastic Team Under 19 (left lo right)
Back Row: D McMahon, 
M Freeman, R Francey.
Front Row: B McNamara. P Jones.

The Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, sited at the NW tip of Tasmania is Australia's principal commitment to Global Atmosphere Watch. It has frequent exposure to strong   winds off the Southern Oceans ('the roaring forties'). As first scientific director at Cape Grim during 1982-1983 I oversaw transfer of measurements into a permanent building and expansion of the science program through national and international collaboration. The whole family enjoyed living in Smithton. By the late 1980s, Cape Grim was described as the premier station in the GAW network, and by Minister Barry Jones as the 'jewel in the crown' of his federal science portfolio. My Cape Grim CO2. isotope program, complemented by the ice core results, provides the best constraint on year-to- millennia isotopic Variability in models of the global carbon cycle. Meanwhile, in the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, we lost our rented-out Upper Beaconsfield home (and the Village Bell proved a community boom).

With recognition by the federal Government in the late 1980s of global warming, I was able to upgrade CSIRO measurements of gases capable of influencing climate. This resulted in GASLAB (Global Atmospheric Sampling Laboratory), providing the most comprehensive monitoring of greenhouse gases in the Southern Hemisphere. We launched innovative collaboration and comparison activities to aid merging data from different laboratories around the world, Important new laboratories in France and Germany are closely modelled on GASLAB. A GASLAB­ developed 'LoFlo CO2 analyser' outperforms conventional analysers, with units currently being delivered to France, the European Commission, Germany, Korea, Malaysia and Japan.

Both the Federation Fellowship and the 2001 Victoria Prize ($50,000 shared with Paul Steele) recognised GASLAB and the LoFlo development and applications.

From the 1958 Annual - Cricket First XI (left to right)
Back Row: R Francey, D Pak Poy, l Lambert. M Day. J 
Gaffney, C Wakefield.
Front Row: T Hodgson, P Kierce, D David 
(Capt.), K Hancock, B Honner.

Other achievements over the last 30 years have been supervising 11 post-graduate students (from Melbourne, Tasmania, Sydney and Monash Universities) and authorship on 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers and many more reports.

For the next 6 months some nice overseas offers are on hold and top priority goes to redressing the neglect that has accumulated with regard to family, home and exploration of the Australian outback. An honorary CSIRO fellowship means I will continue unfinished work, training and participate on two European science advisory panels.

For most of the time with CSIRO, I have been privileged to pursue objectives which have addressed problems that coincided with my own values and interests. CSIRO provided intellectual freedom and the opportunity to combine work and ethical values in a non-political way. Rostrevor provided a key ingredient; I attribute to it the confidence to tackle important tasks requiring as yet undiscovered methods, and resources well beyond those immediately realizable. The message that stuck was the obligation to do your best whatever the circumstance, and to be satisfied with your best; the message stuck in large part because of the integrity and ardent commitment of the Brothers. These complemented values from my parents: from my father, a 1920's refugee from Irish sectarian violence and a skilled pugilist, tolerance, honesty, idealism and humour; from my mother add the dismissal of doubt.

From the 1958 Annual - Football First XVlll (left to right)
Back Row: J Sullivan, D Harrison. 
R Rabbitt, P Waller. J Broadbent
Second Row: K Moore, P Salkeld, A Honner. D Stratford, J Connell K Hancock, B Honner, R Kalvatis.
Front Row: I Lambert M Day. B McNamara, D David (Capt.). D Pak Pay, R Francey, K Altschwager

A strong lifelong motivation has been to redress some of the enormous damage that our species inflicts on the earth and the life-forms that we share it with. X-ray Astronomy, apart from yielding astonishing new insights into physics and the workings of the universe, provided a perspective on the smallness, fragility and uniqueness of our planet. Previously, seeds of concern about the human impact on fragile environments were sown during my lime at Rostrevor- this was a time when some 70% of Eyre Peninsula was being cleared, with government endorsement, as a drought­ relief measure for farmers. I still remember the shock of an otherwise very enjoyable holiday stay in the mid­ North - it was an ecological desert by comparison with the rich complexity of a seemingly limitless arid bush at home. Tim Flannery', Director of the Adelaide Museum (and an old boy of St Bede 's in Mentone, Victoria), gives eloquent words to my slow-to-crystallise concerns.


To Old Collegian Profiles


Author:Old Collegians Association


Glen Stuart Rd Woodforde Sa 5072 Australia


Please tick to verify that you are not a robot