George Wilson – a Nuffield Achiever
George Wilson was the Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars Association founding chairman when the organisation was formed in 1976. He served in the role for 16 years, creating a lasting legacy for agriculture in Australia.
After serving in the A.I.F. from 1942 to 1945, Mr Wilson returned home to the family property in Berwick, Victoria. In 1951 he was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study beef and general farming and with fellow Nuffield recipient Pat Meredith, he travelled by boat to England in 1952. On arriving in England, the two Australian scholars were given bicycles so they could travel the countryside on their study tour. Australia continued to send two scholars per year, rotating around the six states, for the next twenty-plus years, funded from the United Kingdom by the Nuffield Foundation.
When Robert Beggs returned from his scholarship in 1970, he spoke with George Wilson and Carl Foster about forming some sort of Nuffield organisation in Australia to look after visiting scholars from other countries. The Australian Nuffield Farming Scholar Association was subsequently formed, with Australian scholars each contributing $150 to set it up. This forward thinking meant that in 1976 when representatives from the UK Nuffield Foundation came out to Australia to inform the Australian Nuffield alumni there would be no further recurrent funding from the foundation to support the scholarship, Australia was well placed to continue the program. The foundation generously gifted £7,000 to the Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars Association as a start-up fund for a locally administered organisation.
From this George started the Nuffield Australian Fund, and during his time as chair there were a number of major benchmarks including:
- The first International Conference in Victoria in 1980
- The fostering of the talents of another Nuffield lion, Harry Perkins AO
As with most Nuffield Scholars, George recognised that Nuffield changed his life and he wanted other Australian farmers to share his experience. He had terrific business and agricultural connections and used them for the everlasting benefit of Nuffield. It included those contacts George made during his own scholarship, such as Peter Jones and Emrys Jones. Peter became the head of the British equivalent of the Department of Primary Industry and Emrys [later Sir Emrys] headed the highly regarded Welsh Plant Breeding University at Aberystwyth. George had a loyal group of essentially Victorian Nuffield scholars, who helped him “run the show”.
His wife, Faye Wilson, supported George and Nuffield all the way, helping scholars and their partners in day-to-day problems as well as supporting George in his endeavours on behalf of Nuffield, even while he ducked off to the UK, twice at his own expense, chasing his dream of the Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars Association. George loved a good time – in 1988 when NSW organised the annual meeting of the association, they asked George what he wanted to see. He answered “I want to see good agriculture and I want a drink in our hands at 5.30.”
George had many achievements in his lifetime:
- Chairman of the Victorian Inland Meat Authority
- President of Victorian Royal Agricultural Society
- Council member of Monash University
- Member of the Victorian Economic Development Corporation
- Honoured as a Commander of St Michael and St George
Ian Macintosh took over the Nuffield chairman’s role from George for six years and was followed by Harry Perkins – who had been encouraged into the job by George and Ron Baillieu. Harry realised that Nuffield needed to change to be relevant to the times and he initiated the Miller & Inall External Review of Nuffield. This review became the catalyst for Nuffield as we know it today and although George was not initially comfortable with the direction the review suggested, he had made peace with the changes before his death in 2003 at the age of 85.
In the past six years there has been a considerable expansion of the Australian Nuffield program, and this could not have happened without the foundations laid by George Wilson. He led the way in serving this association at no cost to the group; an ethic that many Nuffield Scholars have followed. The Board of (the now) Nuffield Australia have implemented the perpetual George Wilson Oration to mark George’s contribution to all our lives.
The 2013 George Wilson Oration was presented by Dr Guy Debelle. A written version can be read via this link.
The 2011 George Wilson Oration was presented by Professor Wynne Jones. A video recording can be viewed here
The 2010 George Wilson Oration was presented by Doug Rathbone, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Nufarm Ltd. An audio interview with Doug, made after his delivery of the Oration can be listened to by clicking here.
The 2009 George Wilson Oration was presented by Ian MacIntosh AM. A written version can be read via this link.