Peter Pockley, a familiar face at any Glebe Society event, died on Saturday 17 August at home, aged 78 years. The Glebe Society will miss him as a member of our community who gave more than he took. We offer our sympathy to Jenny and the family.
Robyn Williams, the ABC Science Show presenter, gave a wonderful eulogy at Peter’s funeral at the St John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Gordon on Monday 19August. Extracts from the eulogy appear below:
[Peter] gave a lifetime to the effective communication of science. Even before broadcasting he’d penned a decent chemistry textbook. At the ABC he set up programs such as Insight, The World Tomorrow (which was the predecessor of The Science Show), Heritage (a series that led to the setting up of the Heritage Commission under Malcolm Fraser), Innovations, and specials on PNG.
And on air Peter was marvellous. During our Apollo coverage, as the hours of continuous live commentary continued, a fine producer with no inclination to flatter wandered into the studio, stopped and listened, and said simply: “Gosh, he’s good!” And he was.
Peter was versatile. After the ABC he went on to universities to set up science communication and training facilities, at University of NSW and University of Technology, Sydney. He wrote for the journal Nature, Australasian Science and was on the board of Questacon, recorded long interviews for the National Library of Australia archive and did plenty of freelance work for me and many others in the ABC.
And any enemy had to be the biggest windmill on the hill. No small targets would do. The general manager of the ABC, Sir Talbot Duckmanton, assorted Vice Chancellors, even the head of CSIRO were taken on – sometimes with success. Later, for instance, it was charming to see the former CSIRO head Geoff Garret, now Chief Scientist in Queensland, approach Peter Pockley and say to this Don Quixote who’d vanquished him, “OK Peter, that’s behind us, now let’s work together”. Peter looked doubtful.
Finally, Peter never stopped being cross about the way we science writers are being marginalised by the philistines. He fretted, sometimes too much, about our fate and we admired him for it.
All this was recognised a couple of years ago by the awarding of the Academy medal, the supreme achievement in our field. Peter postponed hospital treatment to receive the award from the Governor General.
I’ll always treasure Peter’s steadfastness, his loyalty, his unswerving love of family and friends, his talent and pioneering spirit. It was a brave and significant life.