Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet dies

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet dies, peacefully, three days before what would have been his 86th birthday.

He is honoured with a state funeral, at which Sir Gustav Nossal delivers a moving eulogy to his mentor:

“His passing leaves an irreparable gap. But as we celebrate this phenomenal life, I can declare that the Burnetian legacy lives on within the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. I and the many whom he set on the pathway to discovery cannot emulate the elegance of his mind, but we can remember and sustain the pure flame of his passionate search for truth.

“Let us recap the unique spectrum of Sir Macfarlane’s gifts: originality, imagination, intuition, naive honesty, conceptual breadth and daring, and, yes, wisdom of an almost spiritual kind. No one who has known him will lightly apply the adjective “great” to another. No one who loves Australian science will ever forget his example.”1

A nation in mourning

In Canberra the House of Representatives moves a condolence motion, an unusual honour for a non-Parliamentary figure.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke says of Burnet:

“His work has made life safer and better for generations of people in this country and right around the world. He gave his life to service – service to his profession, to his talents and to his country. That work was done quietly and with modesty, but we all know that we have been enriched by his life and work.”2

1 Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Annual Report 1984-1985, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Parkville.

2 Commonwealth of Australia, 1985, Parliamentary debates: House of Representatives official Hansard, vol 143, p618.

View related events
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet begins his research career at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
Burnet wins the Nobel Prize, for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance.
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet becomes the third director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (1944-1965).
The award is one of the most respected science prizes in the world, and frequently points to future Nobel Prize recognition.
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet retires as director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, handing the torch to his protégée Sir Gustav Nossal.