This week a remembrance by Catherine Bloor (nee Urquhart) of her exceptional father:
A Tribute to My Father, Donald Urquhart
I think of my father every day, not only on Father’s Day. I loved him deeply; admired his intelligence, his resourcefulness, his warm sense of humour and his courage in adversity. He loved the Australian landscape: the desert; the mountains; the coast; the rainforests. He won a scholarship to Sydney Boys Grammar and, while he completed a Science degree at Sydney University, he also embraced the Arts and Humanities. In the 1930s and 1940s his family took long summer holidays camping at Gerringong and later Mollymook, and Dad was a strong swimmer. Later in life he wrote about some of those early experiences and his love of the Australian countryside.
Dad was first employed in 1945 as a radio-physicist with the CSIRO but he soon obtained a more preferred position as a geophysicist at the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Melbourne. Geophysics was perfect for Dad as it combined classical physics with the outdoor life. He completed seismic surveys to determine whether the sand in the Burdekin River Queensland was of sufficient depth to support 31 floating bridge columns. He was seconded to the RAAF helping the British with their long range weapon testing facility at Woomera. After marrying, he whisked Mum across the Nullarbor Plain to Kalgoorlie where he had been sent to work for a gold mining company. His task was to map old underground river channels, a possible source of alluvial gold deposits.
Sadly, Dad contracted polio the year I was born. After being hospitalised for 12 months followed by a period of rehabilitation at Jervis Bay, he recovered enough to walk (or “jump”) with calipers and crutches, but as he aged he was confined to a wheelchair, an electric trike for a time and then an electric wheelchair. He continued to work full time, and in 1961 he secured a position at the AAEC, Lucas Heights (now ANSTO) as a nuclear radiation physicist where he created the Australian Standard Calorimeter – one application of his work being the accurate measurement of the dose received by patients undergoing radiation for the treatment of cancer. He travelled alone to Washington, London, Germany, Paris and Hawaii to give papers at conferences at a time and in a world which was much less disable-friendly than it is today.
Dad’s retirement was as full as his working life. He read voraciously; he played bridge regularly; he swam; he went to cooking classes; writing workshops; art classes; continuing education courses and contemplated tackling an Arts Degree. He travelled with Mum to the UK on an extensive holiday. They travelled to Tasmania and New Zealand and to Northern Queensland and across the Nullarbor to see the desert again. They had yearly holidays, always in February, in Mollymook (Cliff Cottage … another “room with a view”) and other South Coast destinations. He began, but did not complete a memoir: “Bits of a Bloke”. For a long time, he tried to care for Mum in her decline, redesigning the kitchen so that he could prepare meals for her. She was to die in 2010. Unfortunately, his post-polio conditions meant that he was confined to a nursing home for the last 12 months of his life. He had felt that life was over once his GP determined that he should no longer drive at the age of 86.
Donald Ferguson Urquhart (1924-2012)