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Dick, Margaret (1918–2008)

by Keith Farrer

Margaret Dick, by Damian McDonald, 1999

Margaret Dick, by Damian McDonald, 1999

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21281745-9

Margaret Isabella Brownlee Dick, who died on 25 September 2008 eleven days after celebrating her 90th birthday, was a pioneer in the development of food microbiology in Australia and in showing that women could hold their places with men in the sciences and in positions of responsibility.

In 1941 she graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology and a Diploma of Nutrition. After brief experience in medical microbiology in Adelaide she returned to Melbourne in 1942 and joined the microbiology laboratory recently established by the Kraft Walker Cheese Company (later Kraft Foods).

Within months an unexpected resignation left her in charge of a laboratory rapidly expanding to meet wartime demands. Almost at once she introduced into Australia the then new microbiological methods for measuring a range of B group vitamins and amino acids. There was then no other method and collaboration with others yielded a series of published papers which led in 1955 to her Master of Science degree.

Contemporaneously, she was developing programs of product and factory surveillance which anticipated the now universally applied HACCP procedures. She set the microbiology standards for all the company products and for decades carried the full responsibility for their safety. At the same time she became an authority on bacteriophage interaction with cheese starters and the occurrence of Staphylococci in dairy products. Ultimately she was supervising a microbiology staff of 20, including PhDs.

Margaret Dick’s ability and experience inevitably led to service on microbiological committees; the Australian Dairy Produce Standards Organisation, the Australian Defence Forces Food Standards Committee and committees of the Standards Association of Australia. But her major contribution was possibly as a member of the NHMRC Sub-Committee on Microbiological Food Standards whose then Chairman, Dr John Christian FTSE, has described her as the voice of industry on it and invaluable in the standard and penetration of her contributions. For similar reasons she was a welcome visitor in university and CSIRO laboratories. Internationally, she participated in technical co-operation programs in Tanzania.

In 1970 Margaret Dick was the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology and in the same year received the Institute’s prestigious Award of Merit. In 1977 she was elected a Fellow of ATSE and in 2001 was awarded a Centenary Medal for her contributions in food science and technology.

Original publication

  • ATSE Focus, February 2009

Additional Resources

Citation details

Keith Farrer, 'Dick, Margaret (1918–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 April 2019.

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