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Germaine Anne Joplin (1903–1989)

by John Richards

The ANU old guard will remember 'Joppy', as she was popularly known, as an effective Steward of University House during its formative years. The first Master, Professor Dale Trendall, recently said of her that he 'relied greatly on her sanity, wise judgment, and understanding of human beings'.

Dr Joplin was on the University House Board of Fellows from its inception in August 1953. Such was the impression she made, it comes as a surprise that she was Steward only for the brief period March 1955 to August 1957. She took the task seriously, to the extent that she vacated her Yarralumla house during her period of office, and 'lived in'.

But that was not all, even through those busy three years. Dr Joplin was first and foremost a geologist, and her contributions kept appearing. Her colleagues in the former Geophysics Department (now Research School of Earth Sciences) remember her with respect and affection, for her knowledge and for her friendly accessibility.

Germaine Joplin was always concerned for people. She made a late start as a science student, at age 23, because she first trained as a nurse on leaving school. Subsequently, by 1950, she had qualified as a social worker and then served for a time in Sydney before accepting the call back to geology, in Canberra.

She worked for a year with the Bureau of Mineral Resources and then, in 1952, accepted a tenured post in Jaeger's newly formed Geophysics Department. This was her first established post, after years of short-term and non-tenured appointments at Sydney University. She took on at once a full load of supervising PhD students and of researches in her new and well-equipped laboratory.

But even that is only part of Germaine Joplin. She enjoyed, and was good at, the traditional domestic arts; a party at her place was memorable; she was proud of her garden. She was skilled with brush and pen, as is very evident in her books. It pleased her greatly, when asked some years ago, to provide the extra illustrations needed for a new edition of the well-known petrology text written by her hero Professor Tilley; the art of depicting, by pen drawing, what can be seen through the petrological microscope has now been displaced by the camera.

She maintained an active role in what is now the Federation of University Women, and participated, in the late 1960s, in promoting an appeal by her old Cambridge college, Newnham.

After her retirement at the end of 1968, Dr Joplin continued for a time with her publications, and also served on the University Council from September 1969 to September 1975, elected by Convocation. Dr Joplin's major works were three critical compilations of analytical data on Australian rocks, initiated during her short time with the Bureau of Mineral Resources and published in their Bulletin series, plus two petrology monographs and a book for high school readers. A Petrology of Australian Igneous Rocks (1964) has passed through two more editions (1968, 1971) and was also published in New York. A Petrology of Australian Metamorphic Rocks also appeared in Sydney, in 1968. Finding the Age of Rocks (Sydney, 1972) was written in collaboration with John Richards and Christine Joplin.

The eventual appearance of the Bulletins and her two monographs is a tribute to her resilience. In July of 1960, a disastrous fire destroyed partly completed manuscripts, many of her records, and her lifetime collection of rock specimens. She had the strength to start again, and publications continued. Her list of some fifty research papers represents a significant contribution to the world of science. It was appropriate, therefore, that in 1986 the Geological Society of Australia awarded her the prestigious W. R. Browne Medal 'for distinguished contributions to the Geological Sciences of Australia'. The same year she was made Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).

Germaine Joplin made these contributions in circumstances far from easy, but she surmounted them through her scientific skill, her great capacity for hard work, her admirable determination and, not least, her wonderful good humour. She died, in hospital in Sydney, on 18 July 1989.

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Citation details

John Richards, 'Joplin, Germaine Anne (1903–1989)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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