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Virus Myth Australia

Frank Macfarlane Burnet Revealed

Macfarlane Burnet
Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899-1985)
The father of "immunology"

'Specifically to the Australian situation, the most effective counter-offensive to threatened invasion by overpopulated Asiatic countries would be directed towards the destruction by biological or chemical means of tropical food crops and the dissemination of infectious disease capable of spreading in tropical but not under Australian conditions.'
Frank Macfarlane Burnet in a report to the Australian Parliament, 1947

The Macfarlane Burnet Index

ABC Radio AM Program - Frank Macfarlane Burnet revealed

Burnet's solution: The plan to poison S-E Asia

Burnet's family complained to the Australian Press Council about this article

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ABC Online

ABC Online

AM - Frank Macfarlane Burnet revealed

[This is the print version of story]

AM - Saturday, 28 August , 2004  08:28:00

Reporter: Jayne-Maree Sedgman

TANYA NOLAN: He's been described as Australia's greatest biologist, but it's emerged Frank Macfarlane Burnet was a lot more complex than many people realised.

His immunology research led to cures for a number of diseases that plagued the third world. It also earned him the Nobel Prize in 1960, and the following year, saw him named Australian of the Year.

In recent times the world learnt of Sir Frank's darker side and involvement in top secret biological weapons research, designed to curb Asia's growing population.

But, ABC Television's Rewind program has found years later, after extensive traveling, he realised the error of his thinking.

Jayne-Maree Sedgman spoke to Rewind host, Michael Cathcart, about the enigma that was Frank Macfarlane Burnet.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Well, Michael Cathcart, we know that discoveries made by Frank Macfarlane Burnet in the field of immunology helped cure some diseases, but he also feared that his work might lead to a population explosion in Asia, and that led him to become involved in biological weapons planning.

Now, what do we know about that research?

MICHAEL CATHCART: Well, after the Second World War, there were extensive programs in the United Kingdom to develop chemical and biological weapons, and the Australian Defence Department decided that it had to get involved as well, because of course we had just come out of the Second World War, we'd been invaded by the Japanese, and the chance of another onslaught from Asia was very real.

And Macfarlane Burnet was our top man in the field, and he was enthusiastic, I think you could say, about the potential of biological and chemical weapons for keeping the Asiatic hordes, as he saw them, at bay.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Now I understand that your program seeks to emphasise that as abhorrent as those ideas obviously were, Sir Frank was a product of his time.

MICHAEL CATHCART: Well, I think… that's true, he was, I think it can be fairly said, a white supremacist in that period. He would write phrases such as – the Europeans, Americans and Russians were the best genetic stock of the human race. He referred to the people of Asia as the Asiatic races who had to be kept in check by various means.

He was really filled with those images of the swarming hordes of Asia that were so common in the thinking of Australians in that post-war period.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: But then in the 1960s I understand he had an epiphany of sorts?

MICHAEL CATHCART: Well, this is what's so wonderful about the story. You could stop the story at the point where you say – great scientist but we discovered that he held all these racist ideas back in the '40s and '50s – but what is beautiful about this story is that in the late '50s, he traveled.

He gets out of the laboratory, he takes his face out of the microscope, and he meets the human race face to face. He goes to Ceylon, he goes to India, he goes to the Soviet Union, and there he meets not swarming hordes or faceless Soviets, he meets flesh and blood people, and really has this enormous change of heart.

And when he comes back to Australia in the 1960s, his attitude to the human race and to the place of life on the planet in general is almost Buddhist.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Michael Cathcart, did he ever publicly denounce his previous way of thinking?

MICHAEL CATHCART: I don't think he ever said 'I was wrong back then, I believe these things now.' He wasn't the kind of man to admit error. There was a kind of stubbornness about Macfarlane Burnet.

But there is an astonishing journey there, in which he goes from being a man of his times, as people keep saying, to really a leader in progressive and humane thinking.

By the early '60s he can be fairly called visionary.

TANYA NOLAN: Michael Cathcart speaking there to Jayne-Maree Sedgman. And the full story can be seen on Rewind on ABC TV tomorrow night.

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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The Age

Burnet's solution: The plan to poison S-E Asia
By Brendan Nicholson
Poltical Correspondent
March 10 2002

This is the print version of story

World-famous microbiologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet, the Nobel prize winner revered as Australia's greatest medical research scientist, secretly urged the government to develop biological weapons for use against Indonesia and other "overpopulated" countries of South-East Asia.

The revelation is contained in top-secret files declassified by the National Archives of Australia, despite resistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Sir Macfarlane recommended in a secret report in 1947 that biological and chemical weapons should be developed to target food crops and spread infectious diseases.

His key advisory role on biological warfare was uncovered by Canberra historian Philip Dorling in the National Archives in 1998.

The department initially blocked release of the material on the basis it would damage Australia's international relations. Dr Dorling sought a review and the material was finally released to him late last year.