Last night, I had the privilege of being in the audience for the first episode of Q&A to be broadcast live from Perth. Although I didn’t get to ask a question, I really enjoyed the show, despite agreeing with @ScientistMags that the episode did not do justice to Western Australian viewpoints.
When I came home, I decided to have a scan through my twitter feed, to see what people watching on TV had thought of the episode. What I discovered was that quite a few people think people in WA are arrogant, bigoted, backward whingers with a chip on our shoulder and a world-class persecution complex. I realise that a lot of the comments may well have been intended in a good-natured spirit, but to quote @Louiseontwitr,”Wow there is some serious WA bashing on twitter tonight #qanda #qandaperth why do you all hate us so much?”
One tweet which did a particularly good job of triggering my WA defensiveness was the following from @mikestuchbery:
Now, I’ve followed Mike for a little while now on twitter, and he seems like a lovely guy who likes a bit of a laugh, so I’m pretty sure this was meant as a light-hearted comment and nothing more. However, I’m going to have to disagree with that tweet. In 2005, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two Western Australian scientists: Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. They won the prize for “for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease,” which I think most people could agree is a fairly significant achievement. The 2005 Australian of the Year was the WA surgeon Fiona Wood, known for her work in burns research and the development of spray-on skin. Another WA scientist, Fiona Stanley, was named Australian of the Year in 2003.
WA is also one of the two final candidate sites for the location of the Square Kilometre Array, a radio telescope which will be the world’s largest ground-based telescope array, enabling scientists to study the origin of the universe. Although the final site is yet to be announced, supporting projects are already well underway, resulting in a thriving astronomy and astrophysics community in Western Australia.
As well as the large-scale, high-profile projects, many smaller groups work on diverse areas of research within WA. I have had the good fortune to work closely with, and be mentored by, Professor Tim St. Pierre. Earlier this year, Tim won the Clunies Ross Award for his work developing “a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based method of measuring and imaging tissue-damaging iron deposits in the human liver caused by iron-overload diseases such as thalassaemia and hereditary haemochromatosis.” His MRI analysis service is now known as FerriScan, and is the core product of Resonance Health, a Perth-based healthcare company which “specialises in the development and commercialisation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) related technology for the diagnosis and management of human disease.”
I could go on about science in WA, or even other non-mining stuff, such as our excellent wine, or the mega-diverse ecosystem of South-West Western Australia. However, I think it is more important to point out that although we may be most well-known over east for our mining industry, WA has a lot more to offer. Like any other state, we have a diverse range of people, and can’t by summarised by a single stereotype. Sure, we may have some general cultural differences, but that’s to be expected when Perth is one of the world’s most remote capital cities and WA is the second-largest subnational entity in the world (thanks, Wikipedia). I’m willing to accept that life in WA may not be your cup of tea, but please do not judge us solely on the basis of the questions on Q&A.
As an aside, WA also has been the home of some pretty good music, including bands such as The Triffids, Jebediah, Eskimo Joe, Tame Impala, Birds of Tokyo, Little Birdy, Gyroscope, and The Waifs (and that’s just what @dbydnevs could think of off the top of his head). I know that many people on twitter liked the Pendulum remix of the ABC theme – Pendulum is also from WA.