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Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 19: 1991–1995 (A–Z)

V

VALLANCE, THOMAS GEORGE (TOM) (1928–1993), petrologist and historian of science, was born on 23 April 1928 at Guildford, Sydney, elder of two sons of New South Wales–born parents Alfred Sydney Vallance, commercial traveller, and his wife Edna Vera, née Taber, who died in 1931. Tom and his father moved in with the boys’ strict non-conformist paternal grandparents at Sutherland; his brother Douglas lived with his maternal grandparents at Menangle. After primary schooling at Sutherland, Tom attended Canterbury Boys’ High School, matriculating in 1945. He studied at the University of Sydney (BSc, 1950; PhD, 1954), turning from an initial interest in chemistry to geology, particularly petrology, under the influence of William Rowan Browne [q.v.13]. He graduated with first-class honours and the university medal, and was awarded the Deas Thomson [q.v.2] and John Coutts (shared) scholarships.

As Linnean Macleay fellow (1951–53), Vallance undertook research in central-western New South Wales and the Broken Hill region for his doctorate. With Browne he produced papers on the Cooma metamorphic rocks and on the Kosciuszko landscape. He would maintain an attachment to the Linnean Society of New South Wales for the rest of his life, being elected president four times (1959, 1968, 1974, and 1988) and councillor emeritus (from 1992).

Having received a Fulbright-Smith Mundt award and a post-doctoral fellowship, Vallance worked at the University of California, Berkeley (1953–54). After the death in a plane crash of the University of Sydney’s petrology lecturer, Harold Rutledge, he was appointed to replace him. Returning via England he met the historians of geology Victor and Joan Eyles, and he soon began collecting historical material, particularly related to Australasia. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1956. On 18 May 1957 he married Hilary Brinton Krone, also a geologist, at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney.

A dedicated teacher, Vallance lectured every term, led vacation excursions, and supervised numerous graduate students. In 1965 he was promoted to associate professor of petrology. He undertook sabbatical leaves in Britain, Switzerland, and Germany; in 1961 he visited the University of Cambridge on a Nuffield travelling fellowship and delivered the inaugural Bennett lecture in natural science at the University of Leicester, and from 1977 to 1978 he was a visiting professor at the University of Geneva.

Vallance’s major achievement, later acknowledged worldwide, was his petrological study (1960) of spilites (altered basaltic rocks). This—initially disputed—work contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms acting during hot water circulation through the oceanic basaltic crust, ideas confirmed later through exploration of the sea floor by submersibles. Although G. C. Amstutz is recorded as sole editor of Spilites and Spilitic Rocks (1974), Vallance edited a number of the papers. He continued spilite studies into the 1970s.

About 1960 Vallance began compiling a bibliography of Australian geology, based on his extensive card index of geologists and miners who worked in Australia, or on Australian material. In 1975 he published an important paper on ‘Origins of Australian Geology’. His strong comments about the absence of scientists in the early Australian Dictionary of Biography volumes were a major factor in the inclusion of many such figures in later ones. As well as contributing thirteen articles, he became a constant adviser to editors and authors. He was a foundation member (1967) of the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO), and later a vice-president. His historical research was acknowledged with the award of the Sue Tyler Friedman medal by the Geological Society of London (1993).

A member of the Commission for the Geological Map of the World, Vallance was the major compiler of and contributor to the Metamorphic Map of Australia (1983). From 1955 to 1956 he was federal secretary of the Geological Society of Australia (GSA), organising one of the society’s earliest large conventions, and chairman of the New South Wales division (1958–59). Elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London, he was also a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Although his research output was not large, it was of marked quality. He had high standards, and his editorial reviews of others’ work could be scathing, but they were intended to push researchers to improve, and those who persevered benefited from his comments.

Never a sportsman, Vallance kept fit largely by chopping wood and through daily timed walks to and from the railway stations en route to the university. Few students could keep up with him in the field, where he revelled in intellectually dissecting an outcrop before striding to the next point of interest. Fond of chamber music, particularly the work of J. S. Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, he and Hilary for many years attended Sydney Musica Viva concerts. He was a convivial associate and—with Hilary—an excellent host, and enjoyed relaxing by the fire after a long day in the field, discussing with animation a wide variety of topics, from politics—on which he had strong socialist sympathies—to European and Australian history.

The first signs of cancer appeared not long after Vallance retired in 1989. A long-planned library-cum-office was constructed in the grounds of the family house, and he continued his research. He had almost completed a study on the work of Robert Brown [q.v.1], undertaken with D. T. Moore and E. W. Groves, at the time of his death; it was later published as Nature’s Investigator: The Diary of Robert Brown in Australia, 18011805 (2001). Survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter, he died on 7 March 1993 at Roseville, and was cremated. His card index of Australian mining scientists and geologists was posthumously compiled and published as a CD-ROM. In 2011 the Earth Sciences History Group of the GSA, with funding from his wife, established the Tom Vallance medal for work on the history of Australian geology to be awarded biennially.

Barkas, John. Personal communication; Branagan, D. F. ‘Thomas George Vallance, 1928–1993.’ In Useful and Curious Geological Enquiries Beyond the World, edited by D. F. Branagan and G. H. McNally, ix–xxi. Springwood, NSW: Conference Publications, 1994; Branagan, D. F., ed. Rocks—Fossils—Profs: Geological Sciences in the University of Sydney, 18661973. Sydney: Science Press, 1973; Johnson, Laurie. Personal communication; Vallance, Hilary. Personal communication; Vallance, T. G. ‘Presidential Address: Concerning Spilites.’ Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 85, part 1 (1960): 8–52; Vallance, T. G. ‘Presidential Address: Origins of Australian Geology.’ Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 100, part 1 (1975): 13–43; Vernon, Ron. Personal communication.

D. F. Branagan

VAN GRAFHORST, EVE (1982–1993), HIV/AIDS child activist, was born on 17 July 1982 at St Leonards, Sydney, daughter of Dutch-born John Van Grafhorst, nurseryman and later painter, and his New Zealand–born wife Gloria Ann, née Taylor. Eve was born prematurely and required several blood transfusions. Her family would later learn that one was contaminated with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Following three months in hospital she joined her parents and older half-sister, Dana, at their home on the New South Wales central coast.

In February 1985 Eve began attending the Michael Burns Child Care Centre at Kincumber. Soon after, she was diagnosed as HIV-positive. She was excluded from the centre in June, and her condition became public knowledge. In late September the New South Wales Department of Health provided assurances that Eve’s attendance presented ‘no excessive risk’ to other children (Javes 1985, 9) and she was permitted to return. Many parents remained unconvinced and boycotted the centre. In October she was expelled after biting another child.

Wanting their daughter to have the opportunity to play with her peers, Eve’s parents rejected an offer from the Council of the City of Gosford to pay for alternative care. The stand-off attracted huge media interest. At a time when little was known about the virus and how it was transmitted, fear of infection led to extreme reactions: the family were evicted from their rented home, a neighbour erected a high dividing fence, and some locals crossed the street to avoid Eve. One commentator would reflect that ‘the Van Grafhorsts’ fight to have Eve accepted in the community (waged through television and newspapers as much as directly with the locals) generated almost as much ill-will as Eve’s illness’ (Whelan 1990, 70).

In April 1986 the journalist Robert Stockdill launched an appeal, entitled ‘A Life For Eve’, that raised funds to help relocate the family to New Zealand. They left Sydney in June and moved to Gloria’s childhood home of Hastings on the North Island. Eve attended St Aubyn Street Preschool and then the local Rudolf Steiner School. By the end of that year her parents had separated and John had returned to Australia. When aged six, she developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The development of the condition was played out in the public eye: birthdays, hospital visits, and holidays appeared in the news. In mid-1991 journalists reported on her trip to Disneyland (California, United States of America) which was a gift from lottery winners who had read that Eve’s condition was deteriorating. After a new drug, dideoxyinosine (DDI), failed to be effective, she was given a cocktail of antiviral medications to help suppress the disease.

Diminutive in size, wide-eyed, bubbly, and occasionally feisty, Eve confounded stereotypical images of the AIDS victim. Dubbed a ‘small teacher’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1993, 3), she spoke to schools and community groups, helped to found the Kiwi Kids with AIDS trust, and ‘sold’ hugs and kisses in Napier to promote better understanding of the disease. She was acutely aware of her mortality and tried to pack life’s experiences into her final years. In 1992 she dressed as a flight attendant and served passengers on an Air New Zealand fundraising flight to Wellington for the trust. At her tenth birthday party she was married in a mock wedding. In 1992 she was presented with a New Zealand Variety Club Heart award.

Survived by her mother, father, stepfather, two half-sisters, and two half-brothers, she died on 20 November 1993 at her Havelock North home and was cremated. More than 600 people attended her funeral at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Hastings. Later that month the Angel Eve House trust was established to raise money to provide a hospice for children suffering from serious illnesses. She was the subject of two television documentaries that screened in 1994, Eve—Gloria’s Story and All about Eve, and a patio rose was named after her.

Bailey, Paul. ‘The Gosford Dilemma.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1985, Good Weekend 10–14; Dekker, Diana. ‘Life After Eve.’ Evening Post (Wellington, NZ), 19 February 1994, 13–14; Hunt, Tom. ‘Remembering Eve: From Hurt to Hugs.’ Dominion Post, 23 November 2013, 21; Javes, Sue. ‘AIDS Girl Eve Just Wants to Have Fun.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 1985, 9; Lichtenstein, Bronwen. ‘Creating Icons of AIDS: The Media and Popular Culture.’ In Intimate Details & Vital Statistics: AIDS, Sexuality and the Social Order in New Zealand, edited by Peter Davis, 66–80. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996; Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Shame and Grief Mark the Death of a Small Teacher.’ 22 November 1993, 3; Whelan, Judith. ‘Eve Turns 8 Against the Odds.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1990, 70.

N. T. McLennan

VIERTEL, CHARLES (CARL) (1902–1992), accountant, businessman, and philanthropist, was born on 23 November 1902 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, and named Carl, eighth of eleven children of Julius Herman Viertel, an engineer who had been born in Saxony, and his English-born wife Henrietta Louise, née Dunn. At the Kangaroo Point State (Boys’) School, Carl won prizes and in 1915 gained tenth place among males in the State-wide scholarship examination. Continuing his education at the high school department of the Brisbane Central Technical College, in 1917 he passed seven subjects in the junior public examination, concurrently qualifying for entry to the State and Commonwealth public services. By this time he was known as Charles (or usually ‘Charlie’).

After working for three years with the Agricultural Bank of Queensland, Viertel joined Offner, Hadley & Co., public accountants. He had been studying part time with Hemingway & Robertson, and in 1923 he met the requirements for enrolment as an associate of the Federal Institute of Accountants. By 1929 he was heading his firm’s cost accounting department, responsible for evaluating and reducing costs and, in some cases, retrieving companies in difficulty during the lean economic times of the Depression. In 1934, the same year in which he completed degree studies at the University of Queensland (BCom, 1935), Viertel went into business on his own as a cost accountant. He involved himself in professional organisations as an examiner for the Federal Institute of Accountants and as president (1952–53) of the Australasian Institute of Cost Accountants.

From the 1920s Viertel had begun to acquire significant residential real estate holdings and to fund share purchases from the rental income. In 1940 he bought J. Hooper & Co. Pty Ltd, makers of Quill stationery, and was to maintain control of the firm into old age. During the 1940s he purchased properties at Woolloongabba and, cheaply, large tracts of land on the Gold Coast, the sale of which further boosted his cash flow. He read company reports diligently and impressed his colleagues with his remarkable ability quickly to scrutinise and analyse a balance sheet. A shrewd investor, he drew on his extensive experience as a cost accountant in selecting acquisitions. He rarely ‘played’ the market and tended to hold on to stock during a downturn. Investment became an absorbing interest as well as a source of income for him. By 1980 he was reported to hold probably the largest personal investment portfolio in Australia. He regularly attended company general meetings and gained a reputation for tempestuous relationships with some directors, often challenging them publicly if he felt that their performances were not meeting his exacting standards. By the time of his death, his net wealth was estimated at between $90 million and $95 million.

Viertel frequently recounted stories of disadvantage in his upbringing, noting that it inspired him to achieve. A non-smoker and non-drinker, who did not gamble, nor borrow to buy shares, he maintained a lifestyle marked by its express lack of anything that smacked of extravagance. He lived frugally in a relatively modest home at Coorparoo and was notorious for dressing casually. In his own words he ‘wanted a taste of the power that money could bring, not the material things that money could buy’ (Australian 1992, 27). He was far from a recluse, however. Something of a raconteur, he seemingly enjoyed the attention of the print media and he fostered his image of a simple, almost eccentric, down-to-earth investor.

Although Viertel had few hobbies outside his investments, as a younger man he had been a keen and capable sportsman. In addition to being an A-grade club cricketer, he toured (1923) New South Wales as a reserve for the Queensland junior soccer team. He was also well versed in history and literature, readily quoting Shakespeare and Dickens [q.v.4].

On 23 January 1941 at the Methodist Church, Torwood, Brisbane, Viertel had married Sylvia Amy Buchanan, a shop assistant. The couple had no children. Sylvia ‘was a quiet woman … who was apparently unaware of the extent of the wealth Charles had amassed’ (Gregory 2013, 12). After years of eye disease she died in 1980. Viertel died on 23 March 1992 in Brisbane and, following a Uniting Church service, was cremated. In 1982 he had been appointed OBE for his services to the blind, but his greatest legacy was the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation, which he provided for in his will with a bequest of some $60 million. The foundation was established to benefit medical research and to provide services to the aged, through a program of annual grants.

Australian. ‘Player’s Frugal Lifestyle.’ 25 March 1992, 27; Cromie, Ali. ‘Sharemarket Warrior’s Charity Lives On.’ Business Review Weekly, 26 May 1997, 40–41; Grant-Taylor, Tony. ‘Profile: Charles Viertel.’ Australian Accountant: Journal of the Australian Society of Accountants 59, no. 1 (February 1989): 16–19; Gregory, Helen. The Sylvia & Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation: The First 20 Years 19922012. Melbourne: Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation, 2013; O’Meara, Michael. ‘Death of a Boardroom Terror.’ Australian Financial Review, 25 March 1992, 1, 11; Penberthy, Jefferson. ‘Charlie’s $ Million Share Chortle.’ National Times, 23–29 November 1980, 6; Stewart, Andrew. ‘Charlie Sticks to Solid Values.’ Business Review Weekly, 6 April 1990, 32–33.

Mark Cryle

VOS, ROELF (1921–1992), supermarket entrepreneur, property developer, and philanthropist, was born on 4 October 1921 on a boat at Bergum (later Burgum) in the Netherlands, one of seven children of Meint Vos and his wife Janna, née Kuiper. Meint was a bargeman who ferried freight from wholesalers to shops along Holland’s canals and inland waterways; later he bought a truck and delivered fruit door to door. After leaving school at the age of fourteen, Roelf worked in his parents’ delivery business and later in a drapery shop.

During World War II, Vos was involved in the Dutch Resistance and was forced to hide to evade arrest by the occupying German forces. After the war he opened his own drapery store at Oude Pekela. The business proved successful, demonstrating his entrepreneurial flair and drive. He married Harmina Catharina ‘Miep’ Nieboer on 11 July 1946 at Nieuwe Pekela. With their three children, the couple arrived at Mascot airport, Sydney, on 21 February 1951 and were housed at the Bathurst migrant camp. Their decision to emigrate was prompted by concerns about future conflict in Europe and a yearning for adventure. Encouraged by a fellow Dutch immigrant, Engel Sypkes, subsequently founder of the Purity chain of supermarkets in southern Tasmania, the family settled at Ulverstone, Tasmania, in March.

Vos combined day work as a builder’s labourer with evening shifts at a cannery. He and Miep spoke little English and both suffered from homesickness. Resilient and adaptable, they appreciated the support they received from local people and Tasmania’s relatively large Dutch expatriate community. In 1953 the family moved to Deloraine after Vos opened a gift shop there. His brother, Harry, managed the shop while he worked as a door-to-door salesman for W. T. Rawleigh Co. Ltd. In 1956 he opened a second shop at George Town, allowing him to give up the Rawleigh’s round. The businesses showed limited prospects for growth, and in 1957 Vos sold them and moved the family to Launceston. He became an Australian citizen in 1960.

Food retailing appealed to Vos as a more reliable source of income, and its rapid turnover suited his limited capital. He rented a milk bar at Launceston but soon converted it into a self-service grocery store. The concept was readily embraced and he developed a chain of thirteen Roelf Vos supermarkets in northern Tasmania, employing around 500 people. His success was the result of his business acumen, work ethic, ceaseless optimism, appreciation of the abilities of others, and innovative advertising; footprints painted on Launceston streets attracted customers to his first store. He was also the driving force behind the establishment of Statewide Independent Wholesalers, a buying group that helped cut prices for its members. Vos sold his supermarkets to Woolworths in 1982, but retained the stores’ freehold and name. At the time of the sale, their annual turnover was reported to be approximately $40 million.

Vos looked for new challenges and turned to property development. Inspired by holidays in Switzerland, he endeavoured to recreate a Swiss village and holiday resort in the Tamar Valley, north of Launceston, which he called Grindelwald. It included a residential subdivision and business developments. While criticised by some for its incongruity and prescriptive design controls, the project was commercially successful. After a sudden heart attack, from which he recovered, his son Michael, and later his son Harry and brother Harry, joined him in the business.

Community oriented and a generous benefactor, Vos supported the work of many groups, including Rotary, the Clifford Craig [q.v.17] Medical Research Trust (of which he was vice chairman), the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, and the Launceston Christian School. The family business, Vos Nominees, established the Vos Foundation in 1987 to formalise his philanthropic efforts. He supported the Liberal Party but never joined, despite encouragement from members.

Vos, a deeply committed Christian, was an elder of the Reformed Church of Launceston. His son Michael recalled that ‘He loved God, he loved life and he loved people’ (Vos, pers. comm.). Sunday was devoted to family and church and Vos always took two to three weeks annual leave to spend with his family. His hobbies included woodcarving, painting, and photography.

Five feet ten inches (178 cm) tall, with dark-brown hair, blue eyes, strong features, and a ready smile, Vos wore a neatly trimmed moustache, and sometimes a beard, in later life. Survived by his wife and their six children, he died at his home at Grindelwald on 2 December 1992 and was interred at Carr Villa cemetery, Launceston. More than 1,000 people attended his memorial service.

Examiner (Tasmania). ‘Retailing Giant Put God First.’ 3 December 1992, 1;‘Tributes Flood in For “Great Man”.’ 3 December 1992, 6; Musch, Rodney. ‘Vos’s Village.’ People, 8 October 1984, 50–51; National Archives of Australia. P3, T1960/1340; Vos, Michael. ‘The Life Story of Roelf and Miep Vos.’ Unpublished manuscript held by Michael Vos; Vos, Michael. ‘Roelf Vos.’ In The Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, 376. Hobart: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 2005; Vos, Michael. Personal communication; Walsh, Rae. ‘Thanks a Million!’ Sunday Tasmanian, 28 January 1990, 17.

J. Richards


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