Dame Jean Macnamara DBE

In the 1930s, Dame Jean MacNamara was the first person to strongly advocate the use of myxomatosis to kill rabbits in Australia.

Honour Roll

Jean MacNamara was born on 1 April 1899 at Beechworth, Victoria. She was educated on scholarships at Presbyterian Ladies' College and the University of Melbourne. She graduated in medicine in 1922 along with Kate Campbell, Lucy Bryce and Macfarlane Burnet, all of whom went on to greatness in their chosen fields.

From 1923-25, she was a resident at the Melbourne Children's Hospital, obtaining her MD. In 1925, there was a polio outbreak prompting her to study infantile paralysis with Macfarlane Burnet. Together they identified more than one strain of polio virus and their research received international recognition. She became a leading proponent of the use of human immune serum in treatment of patients at the pre-paralytic stage. She worked on treatment and therapy for children with polio in her clinic, seeing up to thirty children per day.

From 1927-51, she was Honorary Medical Officer to the physiotherapy department of the Melbourne Children's Hospital and Adviser to the Yooralla School for Crippled Children. As a Travelling Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation for two years she went overseas to study the latest developments in this field. She was made a Dame of the British Empire for her work in 1935.

While in America in 1931 she noticed some work being done in the field of pest eradication by bacterial means. She saw enormous possibilities for Australia with its rabbit plague. Accordingly, she sent samples of the myxomatosis organism to her husband, Dr Ivan Connor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Customs Officials dumped the specimens into Port Phillip Bay.

After fourteen years of persistence, she persuaded the CSIRO to give myxomatosis a trial. Initially it did not take off, but after mosquitoes spread the disease the results were spectacular and in three years most of the rabbits were eradicated.

Dame Jean had married Ivan in 1934 and they had two daughters. Jean found it difficult to combine her profession with motherhood due to the attitudes of society at that time. She was a very dedicated doctor who was generous with her time and money. Much of her private practice work was unpaid and she was often paid in kind rather than cash.

She suffered her first heart attack in 1949. In 1966, the University of Melbourne conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on Jean. She died on 13 October 1968.