Return to Oz

Ava Helen Pauling with a group of women at a restaurant overlooking Sydney Harbor. Australia trip, May 1973.

[Part 2 of 2]

In early 1964, China conducted its first nuclear test, an event that catalyzed the second Australian Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament, which took place in Sydney from October 25-30, 1964.  Organizer and Australian peace leader Professor Sydney Wright extended an invitation to the Paulings to attend this gathering which they gladly accepted, hoping to arrive early to sight-see around Australia’s less populated northern and western regions.

As in 1959, the second conference was shrouded in controversy. This time the Australian federal government refused to grant visas to the two delegates that were from Iron Curtain countries, Russian Orthodox Church Archbishop Alexei and Mayor of Leningrad Mr. Isaev. While it was no secret that Pauling already did not hold the Australian government in high regard, the barring of the Soviets from the conference caused his opinion to go “right down because of this action,” saying “there is no excuse for this backwards attitude.” By this point in Australia, certain smaller-scale social events had become political in nature too: the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, for one, outright refused to hold a civic reception for overseas guests of the congress.

At the meeting itself, the Paulings gave two key lectures. Ava Helen delivered a seminar about international cooperation at the citizen level and Linus spoke of the threat of nuclear and biological war, with much of his talk centering on the heightened risk of cancer resulting from nuclear testing. Around the time of the congress, France had forthcoming nuclear tests planned for locations in the Pacific Ocean. According to Pauling’s estimates, the radiation emanating from these proposed tests would deleteriously affect 500,000 unborn children. This was a hot topic for discussion and inspired the congress to organize a large rally. Ultimately, an official count of 4,000 people (Pauling estimated 6,500) marched through the streets of Sydney, representing diverse groups including trade unionists, educators, writers, academics, and churchmen. Noticeably absent were representatives of Australia’s political parties.

After the conference in Sydney, the Paulings headed north to the Queensland territory for a stay in Brisbane. They had actually already made a stop in the city two weeks prior, when Linus lectured on the molecular theory of anesthesia. This second visit was a busy one, filled with rallies, lectures, dinners, and receptions. On their first day, a local television station filmed “An Evening with Professor Pauling” special, a round table discussion with Pauling chaired by the Dean of Brisbane. Later that afternoon, the couple attended a Lord Mayoral reception, delivered addresses at a public rally and attended a supper party. The next day had them meeting with executive members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the local Trades and Labor Council, and ended with Dr. Pauling lecturing at the University of Queensland. Before departing Brisbane, the couple picnicked in a rainforest.

From there, the duo traveled to the other end of the country to visit Adelaide, in the southern region. In Adelaide, Pauling met with the South Australian Peace Committee and caught up with others involved in the Pugwash Conferences. Meanwhile, Ava Helen spoke at town halls and addressed a Women’s Luncheon.

Also a part of their itinerary were stops in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Canberra. At the University of Melbourne Linus was awarded an honorary degree, which he accepted with his “Science in the Modern World” stump speech. It was a hectic time for Pauling as he’d given three lectures in Perth the day before and was bound for Sydney to deliver another lecture later that night. In Canberra he was recipient of a Key to the City. He also gave a highly technical lecture on nitrogen-oxygen bond lengths and the diffusion of ions through oxides.  All par for the course for a man of many interests.


The Paulings returned to the region a final time in the spring of 1973 on a trip organized by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. The Institute had previously invited Linus to visit in the early 1960s but Pauling was unable to accept the invitation. The 1973 tour had two main purposes: to help inaugurate a new chemistry foundation and to give a series of lectures about recent advances in orthomolecular medicine. As with before, this trip saw the Paulings visiting a number of universities, namely in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Hobart.

Pauling posing with sixty-seven glasses of orange juice, which would provide the equivalent of his daily vitamin C intake at that time. The Age (Australia), May 18, 1973.

The couple arrived at a townhouse in Sydney at the end of April where they spent the following two weeks. On their first day they kicked off their visit with newspaper, radio, and TV interviews. Over the course of their stay, Pauling delivered several lectures on orthomolecular medicine and met with the Sydney Group for Social Responsibility in Science.

After a busy few weeks in Sydney, the Paulings arrived in the capital city of Canberra. While there, Pauling, who at that point in his career was heavily promoting the use of vitamin C, met with the Mister of Health. Then in Melbourne, Ava Helen lectured at a luncheon held by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She spoke on “The Quest for Peace in America” to the many different NGOs, peace and conflict resolution societies, and service organizations in attendance. While in town the couple also reunited with members of the Australian Congress for International Cooperation and Development.

While the purpose of Pauling’s visit was not necessarily political, French nuclear tests were at the forefront of current issues and Paulng’s opinion on the matter was often queried. Unsurprisingly, he voiced his support when Australia appealed to the International Court of Justice to halt the tests taking place in the Pacific. He also spoke to the Attorney General, Senator Murphy, and announced that he would back Australia’s case at the World Court. This favorable opinion of the government’s actions was a turn-around from previous years, during which the government’s knee jerk fear of communist influence was a consistent source of consternation for the Paulings.

The last leg of the trip consisted of a few days in Tasmania, Australia’s small island state. The couple arrived there in the city of Hobart, where Pauling delivered a university lecture, and after which he and Ava Helen were whisked off to the Tasmanian wilderness. They toured the remote area of Strathgordon and stayed a couple nights in a chalet on Lake Pedder. Strathgordon is located in the Southwest National Park, an area known for its natural beauty and attractiveness to tourists looking to fish, bushwalk and rock climb, among other activities. It was a lovely way to end their visit, the final one that they would ever make to Australia.

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The Paulings Down Under

[Part 1 of 2]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling journeyed to Australia and New Zealand three times across the span of three different decades. They visited for scientific and political reasons, and grew to admire many aspects of the region; in particular the people, their peace movement and the scenery. But the couple’s feelings toward the Australian government were decidedly mixed.

In November 1959, the couple ventured to the southern hemisphere for the Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament and Festival of the Arts, held in Melbourne from November 7-14. The gathering was a high-profile and mildly controversial event, sponsored by people from many different professions: professors, lawyers, scientists, writers, doctors, church leaders, Australian labor party activists and trade unionists. By day the congress consisted of meetings and conferences, while at night members traveled to different town halls around Melbourne to do promotional work.

Cold war tensions ran rampant throughout the Congress as, at the time, the Australian government was wading through its own period of McCarthyism. Trade unions, whose leadership positions were widely held by Communist Party members, were represented by large numbers and heavy influence at the Congress.  Due to consequent perceptions of communist influence, the Australian government had officially denounced the Congress prior to its start. Asked by the press for his views on the issue, Pauling framed the government’s actions as “politically rational but morally irrational.” One of the few additional foreign guests at the conference, British writer J.B. Priestly, who was actually well-known for his socialist views, threatened to walk out if the conference was dominated by communists.

For her part, Ava Helen found the sentiment ridiculous. She wrote in her journal

I made a statement in most of the talks that I gave that I saw no use whatsoever in holding a conference to discuss peace unless communists were present; we have communists in this world and it is with them that we must come to some agreement about the world in general.

Despite the controversy, many international figures lent their names in support of the conference, including such major figures as Eleanor Roosevelt and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mark Oliphant.

An especially controversial member in attendance was Sir Mark Oliphant, an Australian physicist known for his role in the creation of the atomic bomb and a friend of the Paulings. (Following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oliphant, like Linus Pauling, became a peace activist and a harsh critic of nuclear weapons.) Oliphant created quite a stir when he withdrew his sponsorship midway through the Congress. This action understandably led members to assume that the withdrawal was due to some lack of belief in the peaceful goals espoused by the Congress.

However, in later correspondence, Oliphant revealed his motivations as being both more nuanced and ambivalent. His concern centered on the fact that the focus of the Congress was to create momentum to pressure governing bodies to disarm. During the proceedings, Oliphant was disappointed that more tangible solutions were not being discussed, but later came to agree with the goals of the Congress and expressed regret over his withdrawal. Later their trip, the Paulings made a point of visiting Oliphant in Canberra at the Australian National University, where he was director of the School of Physical Sciences – clearly there were not hard feelings between friends.

After the week-long Congress came to a close, the Paulings left, buoyed by a feeling of optimism. Ava Helen hoped that another congress would happen very soon, and that the next time around an actual plan could be put in place.

Their obligations completed, Linus and Ava Helen ventured on to other cities in Australia: Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle, and Wollongong. While travel plans often revolved around her husband, Ava Helen had her own agenda for the trip. In her diary she noted, “While I am here in Australia for five weeks, I want particularly to learn as much about Australian women as I can.” Viewed in this light, Ava Helen, who worked for the US National Board of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, deemed the trip a success. In particular, she took the opportunity to speak to various women’s groups while her husband was delivering his usual chemistry lectures at high schools and universities.

While traveling about, the Paulings were particularly impressed with the Australian labor movement. They had visited coal mines, gas and electric plants and railroads, and met with the leaders of various unions. As it turned out, Australia’s trade unions were huge proponents of the peace movement. Ava Helen noted,

The broad support of the Congress by the labor unions both officially and by individual members is one of the chief reasons it was so successful… We became well acquainted with many aspects of Australian life because of meeting many people in these various cities, and we were particularly impressed with the labor movement in Australia. As far as we could tell, most of the trade unions in Australia definitely want world cooperation and peace and are willing to work for it. They feel that the cold war is detrimental and that it should be stopped.

When not busy fulfilling their commitments as scientists and peace delegates, the couple took in the famously lush scenery of the countryside. Drives along the coast and mountaintop picnics were worked into the itinerary. After making their way through Australia, the pair moved on to New Zealand, where they made stops in Wellington (and had lunch with the Prime Minister), Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, and Auckland. All the while, they promoted their message of peace from the congress.

After a five-week long adventure, the Paulings embarked on the long trip back to the States.  It would be five more years before they made a return trip to Oz.