Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis AC, MBE

The contributions that Professor Nancy Millis made to agriculture, protection of the environment, science, medicine and engineering were immense.

Honour Roll

Without her leadership, genetic engineering would not have flourished in Australia. Born in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton in 1922, Nancy Millis was the fifth of six children, whose enlightened parents made sure the family was well educated even during the Depression. Her father's ill health meant Nancy had to leave school at 16, but she went to night school and matriculated and then studied Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne.

In 1948 she went to England to obtain her PhD at the University of Bristol and did her thesis on the fermentation of cider, her introduction to industrial process technology. On her return to Australia she was appointed Lecturer in the Microbiology Department at the University of Melbourne and a Professor in 1982.

Nancy's main leadership was in the introduction of genetic engineering to the fledgling field of biotechnology in Australia. The first course in biotechnology at the University of Melbourne was taught by Nancy to chemical engineering students. From 1980 to 2000, she chaired the Federal Government's genetic engineering surveillance committees (RDMC and GMAC), which set up guidelines that have become models for most of the South-East Asian region.

Nancy Millis was also a leader in the environmental management field. She was aware early of the importance of the purity of water and one of her main projects was the development of techniques to treat excess or wastewater after industrial use.

Professor Millis served on a wide range of committees and boards. Her integrity, persistence, forthrightness and the ability to collaborate with others to achieve a successful outcome are some of her outstanding characteristics. She had great skill in determining the path science should take and leads others to follow. In 1992, Professor Millis was appointed the first woman Chancellor of La Trobe University. She was Chair of the Victorian Government's Water Strategy Committee that advised on the supply and use of water for the Melbourne area. In 1977, she became a Member of the British Empire (MBE) and in 1990 was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

In 2002, Nancy and her work was honoured and recognised by being part of the Australia Post Legend Stamp series. Nancy Millis was someone with the rare combination of having scientific knowledge, industrial application and the ability to liaise with political, business, educational and scientific workers not only in Australia, but worldwide. Her knowledge and advice was greatly appreciated by her many students over four decades of lecturing and PhD supervision.