Graduation address given by Dr Albert Neville Thiele OAM

Dr Albert Neville Thiele OAM gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning graduation ceremony held at 2.00pm on 11 April 2008.

Dr Thiele is an Honorary Associate, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning and recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Architecture.

Graduation address

Chancellor, Chair of the Academic Board, Dean, Academics, Graduates and Friends - I must express my deepest gratitude to the University for considering me worthy of the great honour that it has just conferred on me. I have many reasons to have the highest regard, even love, of our University, not only for my first degree but for the part that its members have played in advancing my work and bringing it to international attention.

At this late stage of my career, I think of myself very much as a survivor, a survivor firstly of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, though the real survivors then were my parents, when my father had to sell the gold medal that he had won at his graduation in pharmacy, so as to feed the family, and I at the age of sixteen had to refuse a scholarship to Queensland University so as to become the regular breadwinner for the family. A survivor too of evening classes in economics at Queensland University, where we learned that depressions, like the present one causing huge misery to huge numbers of people, were part of the natural history of capitalism, and we wondered whether there mustn’t be a better way of organising human society. A survivor later of the fighting in the mountains and jungles of New Guinea, deploying my budding technical skills to killing young Japanese soldiers before they could kill me and my mates. Then after the war, on a Reconstruction Training Scholarship, surviving the rigours of a Sydney Engineering degree, seated at a desk in this fine old hall, staring at the great tapestry up there, striving for inspiration to answer an examination question.

So, as a survivor of private and professional life for so many years, may I offer a few thoughts that might be of use to young professionals starting out on their careers. You may well, of course, have learnt some or all of them already, in which case please forgive me.

The first is that we all of us need a little luck. Of course, to a great extent, you make your own luck. But it does help to have a little more from time to time, to be lucky in love, to be the right person in the right place at the right time. Above all though, luck, good fortune, can grow out of surprising, unlikely, opportunities.

For example, we had at this university in the late 40’s and early 50’s only one revue, the SRC revue, and I became involved in it, writing, directing and performing. We presented ten minute sketches, hopefully funny and perceptive, more usually rough if not downright crude, but performing in them offered a surprising insight.

When you have spent weeks writing material that you are sure is enormously witty and enormously clever, spent more weeks rehearsing and finally performing it, and then the audience responds with frozen silence, you learn convincingly, if cruelly, that everything you write or present must be absolutely clear at first hearing. So I can recommend writing rude revue sketches as a fine apprenticeship for academic or scientific publication.