Tag Archives: Peter Waite

Historic expansion of animal & crop research on Waite Centenary

Story orginally posted in News from the University of Adelaide, Wednesday 6 March, 2013

The largest expansion of university-based research into animal and crop health and production in Australian history has been outlined by the University of Adelaide today.

Investing more than $50 million from its endowment, the University will create six new research professorships at its Waite and Roseworthy Campuses, a new animal research centre at Roseworthy, new postdoctoral fellowships, and purchase new research equipment.

“These initiatives will make a major contribution to international research in agriculture and animal production, and confirm Adelaide as the leading centre for animal and agricultural research in Australia,” says University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Warren Bebbington.

“Its now a century since Peter Waite made his extraordinary gift of his Urrbrae estate to the University. Today Waite is the focus for key major research organisations, and we wish to help the Waite achieve global prominence as an agricultural science research consortium. Not since Peter Waite have we seen an investment even close to this magnitude for agricultural science research in this country.”

The funds come from investment of the gifts of two benefactors, JAT Mortlock and JS Davies, whose express wishes were to support these fields. “We are extremely proud to be able to honour their memories in a way that will not only support South Australia’s farming community, but also address global issues of food security and climate change adaptation,” says Professor Bebbington.

At Roseworthy Campus the University will establish:

– The JS Davies Animal Research Centre – building on existing strengths with a focus on production, global food security, biosecurity and animal welfare;
– Two professorships – the JS Davies Chair in Animal Health and the JS Davies Chair in Animal Production – to take leading roles in the new Centre and including research equipment and research infrastructure and post-doctoral research and technical support staff.

These two new professorships will supplement the existing JS Davies Chair in the area of epigenetics and genetics.

At Waite Campus the University will establish:

– The JAT Mortlock Chair in Agricultural, Horticultural and Pastoral Science, who will also be Director of the Waite Research Institute;
– Three professorships – the JAT Mortlock Chairs in Plant Stress, Crop Protection and Crop Improvement – supported by research staff in crop epigenetics, stress response biology, plant-pest interactions, genetics of resistance, reproductive biology and crop performance.

“Developing here in Australia a critical mass of specialist researchers in these fields will help to transform international animal and crop production and health, as the world faces more volatile climates,” says Professor Bebbington.

Professor Bebbington highlighted the impact that philanthropic giving can have on university research. “We take donor intentions very seriously, because philanthropy can make a major contribution to the University’s ability to develop research for the growth of the economy of our state and nation,” he says.

Peter Waite: Action and Optimism for Australian Agriculture

Peter Waite - circa 1908

Peter Waite - circa 1908

Imagine it’s 1865. Six years ago, when you were 25, you followed your older brothers to South Australia from Scotland. Your eldest brother has since died and now you are responsible for managing over 2,000 square kilometres of property running 40,000 head of sheep at Paratoo in the semi-arid north of South Australia. There is no railway anywhere nearby and horses and bullock teams are the only means of transportation to and from the town of Adelaide 260 km away. A year ago your Scottish fiancée, now wife, came to join you, bringing her heavy British clothing and a harmonium. And there’s a drought: one of the worst in the colony’s history. After losing 8,000 sheep, even more lambs and 50 bullocks, and with your wife begging you to give up and take her back to Scotland, you decide to send 12,000 sheep south to better grazing country near Penola over 600km away in South Australia’s south-east. It would take 12 months, but ultimately your action and optimism would save your enterprise when the drought broke a year later and an even larger flock returned.

Peter Waite was a remarkable man. His tenacity and resourcefulness are seen in his ability to not only survive, but thrive in the harsh conditions faced by early Australian pastoralists. He made many improvements to the properties he managed to reduce the impact of climate variability such as fencing, providing permanent water sources and spelling the land. His ability to implement new ideas with drive and intelligence meant that his career and social standing progressed rapidly. By 1877, when his family took possession of ‘Urrbrae’ in Adelaide he was a partner in Thomas Elder’s Beltana Pastoral Company and could afford to return to Scotland to purchase high-quality furnishings for his new home. Amongst the beautiful furniture was an oak sideboard inscribed with Waite’s motto Fac et Spera or ‘Action and Optimism’. His business interests continued to thrive and both his family and his social position grew. He was a keen supporter of sports, in particular hunting. Urrbrae appeared regularly on the social calendar for hunt breakfasts, dinners and balls. Waite also had keen interest in art and was a patron of Sir Arthur Streeton, acquiring 31 of his works. He was an ‘early adopter’ of technology: electricity, refrigeration and automobiles. By 1909, at 75 years of age, Peter Waite was not only the Chairman of Elder Smith & Co Ltd. but Managing Director of three pastoral companies, a director of three commercial companies including British Broken Hill Mining Co. and a member of the Council of the Pastoralists’ Association of South Australia and West Darling.

In 1913, Peter and Matilda Waite’s son David died tragically and none of their remaining children were interested in remaining at Urrbrae after their parents’ deaths. Later that year, Peter Waite wrote to the Chancellor of the University of Adelaide and the Premier of South Australia expressing his wish to present, on his and Matilda’s deaths, Urrbrae House and property of 54 hectares to the University. The eastern half of the land was for research and training in agricultural and related studies, and the western half for a public park under the University’s control (now the Waite Arboretum). The 45 hectares adjoining Urrbrae was to be presented to the Government for the purpose of establishing an agricultural high school (now Urrbrae Agricultural High School). Waite’s surviving children were adequately provided for and actively supported their father’s decision, making several contributions of their own to the University after their father’s death. Interestingly, in 1917, Peter Waite was offered a knighthood but refused it on the basis of his age, then 83. Before his death at 88 in 1922, and Matilda’s later the same year, Waite purchased more property adjacent to Urrbrae (Claremont and Netherby) and transferred ownership of these to the University. He also set aside shares in Elder Smith and Co. Ltd for the purpose of devoting the income to the University for the advancement of agricultural education. It was one of the largest public benefactions ever made by a South Australian colonist and today would be equivalent to several million dollars.

Waite’s legacy is more than just land and money. The spirit of action and optimism continued from the establishment of the original Waite Agricultural Research Institute in 1924, through research-driven innovations in soil science, plant breeding and wine research, and through collocation of the University of Adelaide with research organisations such as CSIRO, the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and SARDI. Now “The Waite” (as it is known) has over 1,000 researchers across the collocated organisations and hosts major national research centres and facilities such as the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, the Plant Accelerator (part of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility) and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls. There is a rich network of research collaborations between all of the Waite partners, for example The Wine Innovation Cluster involves four partners and undertakes the majority of Australia’s wine-related research.

Agriculture, both in Australia and globally, faces the huge challenge of feeding a growing population sustainably and resourcing the research needed to support innovation and discovery is increasingly difficult. In Peter Waite’s own words, written in 1913: “We have now reached a point when it behoves us to call science to our aid to a greater extent than hitherto has been done, otherwise we cannot hope to keep in the forefront.” Peter Waite’s generous gift, made nearly 100 years ago, ensures that the Waite name will continue to deliver action and optimism for Australian agriculture into the future.

Written by Heather Bray

For more information on Peter Waite go to http://www.waite.adelaide.edu.au/urrbraehouse/pwaite/

The inaugural Peter Waite Lecture – Podcast

Prof Geoff Fincher

Listen to Professor Geoff Fincher’s talk which was given at  the inaugural Peter Waite Lecture on the 21st February, 2011.

Higher plants resist the forces of gravity and powerful lateral forces through the cumulative strength of the walls that surround individual cells. These walls consist mainly of cellulose, non-cellulosic polysaccharides and lignin, the proportions of which depend upon specific functions of the cell and its stage of development.Grasses, which include the common cereals, arguably represent the single most important group of plants for human societies worldwide. Foods prepared from cereals not only account for a high proportion of our daily caloric intake, but also contribute to human health through the provision of fibre in our diet. Thus, polysaccharides from the cell walls of cereal grains are becoming recognized for their potential to lower the risk of serious diet-related conditions such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and diverticular disease.

Residues of cereal crops and a broad range of perennial grasses are also showing considerable promise as future biomass energy crops and a number of groups in both the private and public sectors are attempting to manipulate the composition of cell walls to increase levels of extractable, easily degradable and ultimately fermentable wall polysaccharide in various grass species.

Here, the influence of the fine chemical structure of wall polysaccharides on properties such as molecular size, solubility and viscosity will be related to their beneficial effects in human diets, and manipulations of wall composition that might enhance conversion of plant biomass to bioethanol will be discussed.

Short Speaker Biography

Geoff Fincher is the Professor of Plant Science at the University of Adelaide and the Director of the newly established Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls. Geoff is also the leader of a new CSIRO Food Futures Flagship Cluster on ‘High Fibre Grain, for work on the role of wall polysaccharides in human health and nutrition.

Until recently Geoff was Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. He was involved, with other colleagues, in setting up the ACPFG in 2003 and he was chair of the Executive Management Group from 2003-2010. He has also developed collaborative projects between the ACPFG and the DuPont-Pioneer company, and with ABB Grain Ltd.

From 2007-2010, Geoff and Mark Tester, together with colleagues at the ANU and the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry established the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. As part of this Facility an automated, high throughput phenotyping glasshouse has been constructed on the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide. This component of the APPF is known as the ‘Plant Accelerator’.

Geoff was the Director of the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide from 2003-2010 and has been the Director of a GRDC-funded program on the functional genomics of growth and end-use quality in cereals for seven years. He serves as an editor for the Journal of Cereal Science and is also a long-serving member of the editorial board of Planta. He chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee of Biomime, the Swedish centre for wood functional genomics. For a more detailed CV see here.


Named in honour of the pastoralist and benefactor who donated Urrbrae estate to the University of Adelaide for the study of Agriculture, the inaugural Peter Waite Lecture was given by Professor Geoff Fincher of the University of Adelaide to celebrate Geoff’s significant contributions to the Waite Campus and Australian Science.

Seminars in February

The first distinguished guest lectures in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine of the year will be on the Monday 21st February, and the second on the Tuesday 22nd February, both at 4 pm in the McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus.

The inaugural Peter Waite Lecture
Monday 21st February 2011, 4pm
McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus

Professor Geoff Fincher

Polysaccharide Structure in Cell Walls of the Grasses: From Human Health to Renewable Transport Fuels.

Distinguished Visitor Seminar
Tuesday 22nd February, 4pm
McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus

Emeritus Professor Ulrich Zimmermann

How do plants take up water in a drying climate?

More information on the 2011 Waite Seminar Series, the Peter Waite Seminar, and speakers’ bios are found at https://agwine.adelaide.edu.au/news_events/seminar/