Professor Peter McDonald '59

Written on the 19 April 2018 by Old Collegians Association

Professor Peter McDonald

Excerpt from 2000 Rostrevor Magazine

Professor Peter McDonald ('59) is the son of James Alexander McDonald ('30) and the brother of Michael ('65). 

Peter J. McDonald - Professor and Head, Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Flinders University.

In its reporting, Red & Black endeavors to highlight old scholars and showcase their successes to the old scholar community as well as the current student and parent body as they are also recipients of the 'Rostrevor publication'. Peter McDonald's lifetime's achievements in microbiology, immunology and medical research continue to make him a source of pride for all Christian Brothers, old scholars and teaching staff of Rostrevor as well as an inspiration to all our current students.

Peter's father, Jim, was an extraordinary contributor to developments at Rostrevor over a long period of time. As Surveyor General, Jim donated many weekends of his time surveying for the Seminary, the Memorial Ovals, the handball courts and the Rice Wing. Jim was also extremely good friends with John O'Loughlin ('29) who became Rostrevor's first Bishop as the Bishop of Darwin. In fact, Peter's first memories of Rostrevor are as a seven or eight-year-old, working with his Dad on weekends 'on the wrong end of a theodolite' traipsing around the orchard that was to become the Memorial Ovals. He spent 8 years at Rostrevor through primary and secondary school.

Peter entered Medical School at Adelaide University in 1960 and when he graduated he chose to pursue a career in infectious diseases which involved post-graduate studies in microbiology at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Sciences.

In 1974 he ventured to America with his wife Helen and their 3 young children, Stephen, Joanne and Deborah to the University of Wisconsin. He was a research fellow before being approached by a Flinders University professor to come back to Adelaide as inaugural head of the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Flinders University School of Medicine. He returned to Adelaide in 1976. 

For many years Peter chose not to work in the AIDS area but in 1988 after an approach from Dr Neal Blewett, Peter accepted the challenge of heading the Australian Aids Research Programme and has worked in that area ever since.

From the 1959 Annual. Scholarship Winners
Top: P. McEvoy, 
(Fathers' Club Scholarship), P. McDonald (Intermediate Bursary), E. Lewis (Fathers' Club Scholarship)
Bottom: R. Weyer, W Padarin, D. St. Vincent (Rostrevor Scholarship)

Peter's work in this area has given him very clear ideas on the direction that AIDS research needs to take. He has been part of an internationally successful AIDS control program with Australia contributing to vaccination solutions at the same rate and at the same level as the rest of the world. He has been 'privileged to be in an Australian group working with Great Britain and American researchers with the Australian group being a major player in developments.' During his recent visit to Rostrevor he commented that, 'Australia's research into AIDS has been quite radical and has seen a ten-fold reduction in AIDS and AIDS transmission. Australia is aware of the need to pay more attention to the issue with the spread of AIDS in the Asian world. The international group Ausaid is drawing on Australian know-how to confront the problem. AIDS has now become a major socio­ economic problem as well as a medical one because it is the marginalised who are more likely to contract the virus.'

Peter believes, 'The outcomes of investment in research should be of benefit to the whole community. With AIDS research it has got to the stage where researchers have had to bury their egos and work collaboratively to get on top of the problem. This is still not the case in other critical areas - for example cardio-vascular research. 

Fifty years ago, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory would have worked away on a vaccine. With privatisation, research has become commercially motivated but in the case of AIDS research, there is a need to invest for the public good - not for commercial return. It is pleasing to see that this is the case where US Foundations (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and international agencies (World Bank) as well as US, British and Canadian Governments are investing large sums for humanitarian reasons.'

However, there are economic and political reasons that now also motivate the concern. Third world productivity and political stability are being affected by the decimation of entire generations of potential lead in a similar way to nations exposed after great human losses in war.

Although Peter's field of work as ti coordinator of the Australian AIDS vaccine development is a tremendous challenge, he is buoyed by that challenge and works tirelessly both in Australia and on frequent trips to all points of the globe.

From the 1959 Annual. Officers and NCOs of the Cadet Unit.
Back: Sgt A Brady, Cpl. T. Klug, Sgt. R. Nelligan, Sgt. P. Skerrit, Sgt. S. Amadio, Cpl. M Coughlin, Cpl. P.O 'Neill
Third Row; Cpl. Michels, Cpl. R. Duke, Cpl. D. Hodgson. Sgt. M Freeman, Sgt. P. Walsh, L/Cpl, M. Giesecke, L/Cpl. T Daly, L/Cpl. N. McConnell.
Second Row: Cpl P DuBois, Cpl D. Hambour, L/Cpl. A. Gaal, L/Cpl. D. McFarlane, Cpl. S Davies, S Sgt. R. Green, Cpl. K. McEntee, Cpl. G. Cock, Sgt. B. Mayger.
Front. Sgt W. Szmidel, W/O D. Grubb, U/O T Slaven, U/O P. Hamilton, U/O K. Hancock, U/O T Beal. Sgt. P. McDonald. W/O B. Osmond.

In June of this year it was reported in 'The Advertiser' that his team bad been awarded a $27 million grant to develop human trials of an AIDS vaccine and that 'Peter McDonald has been the person more than anybody, who got all these people around the table.

Professor McDonald had remarkable vision from the outset to bring the groups together as a consortium.' His period of time spent overseas has limited his contact with old scholars, but he has maintained contact with a few on an irregular basis; contemporaries such as Peter Gluyas ('60) and Brendan Osmond ('59) and in the medical world Brendon Kearney ('61) and Phillip Harding ('60) On his visit to the College in August he was also pleased to reacquaint with Br John Vianney Bourke who was a great friend of his fathers and a teacher at Rostrevor when he was a student in the 50s.

Of his teachers during his time at Rostrevor he maintains a great admiration for the work of Br Linus Kelty. "I was a different type of person with different capabilities' (Peter is an accomplished pianist and was heavily involved in the Cathedral Choir as a student) and Br Kelty encouraged individuality. Space was made for the students with non-conventional interests.

Peter's great sporting love was tennis and he played in the Drive Team from as early as Second Year and was an Under Age and Open Tennis Champion of the College.

From the 1959 Annual Drive Tennis Team:
P. Waller, P. McDonald (College and U/16 Champion), D. Stratford, R. Bannear, T. Barns, E. Russo

Peter McDonald's life's work, intentional or otherwise, has reflected certain values we hope to find in all Rostrevor scholars.  His commitment to others and his appreciation of the humanitarian issues in his work, rather than the commercial, have set a fine example to the community and as an excellent role model for this year's graduates. 'While at Rostrevor I was encouraged to pursue my interests and feel comfortable. I am sure this has provided me with the fortitude to try something different. to question mediocrity and to try to lead by example.'

The Rostrevor Old Collegians' wish Peter and his family well and thank him for the credit he has brought to the work of the Christian Brothers at Rostrevor. Palma Merenti.


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Author:Old Collegians Association


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