Audio: Interview: Dr Desmond Griffin

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Interview with Desmond Griffin, Museum Director 1976 - 1998. Interview conducted by Jeannine Baker in 2009.

Excerpt taken from 00:22:35. Audio IRN 1366353. Duration: 4 mins 21 secs

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© Des Griffin and Australian Museum


Jeannine Baker: You met with Frank Talbot and he told you that Elizabeth Pope was Deputy Director. Was there in your mind, at that point, that that was a position that you wanted? Did you have your eye on it or was Frank grooming you or...?

Des Griffin: No, it wasn’t until I think in late 1971, early 1972 that I thought that it might be possible that I could be Assistant Director or whatever. I think in 1970 though, in the Smithsonian, I did become very interested in organisations and the way they worked. Why were certain decisions made, why others not made, why persist down that, whatever, and of course, the Smithsonian was incredibly interesting. The Secretary was an outstanding man, an ornithologist called Dillon Ripley. He had encouraged a very strong role for the scientific staff, kind of parallel to a university, I think the scholarly staff, say, because the Smithsonian includes people of all different backgrounds, experiences and qualifications in art, history, science and technology and that sort of thing. I think it was called The Academy.

But in addition to that, of course, being in Washington you can't ignore the politics. And the Smithsonian itself was very interesting, politically, with its structure, the relationship between the secretariat in a building called The Castle, the original Science and Industry building I think it is, which is across the other side of the mall where Dillon Ripley and his people were ensconced there.

Then there were the directors, in their empires, in each of the museums or bureaus, or whatever you want to call them. That was all very interesting and it was also very interesting in the way that the director of the Natural History Museum, for instance, was regarded. What they did, how they related to people and so on and so forth. So I suppose from that time, perhaps influenced to some extent by my interest in animal behavior and social groupings, and so on and so forth, I certainly became interested in human organisations, human society, and it encouraged my interest too, I think, in minorities.

In my very early life, my father was active in union politics and other politics, minority situations I think. I developed a very strong interest in minorities and in disadvantaged people no matter how they were disadvantaged, by virtue of age, or gender, or race, or creed, or whatever it was. So I suppose all of that came together when I got back then.

So when I came back from the Smithsonian and travels and all the excitement, I continued research work. Elizabeth Pope retired from the museum in 1972, I can't remember when now, and I can't remember the application process and all that, but I got to be appointed, not as Deputy Director but as Assistant Director working with Frank Talbot. And I was kind of thrown into the deep end because about a week after I became Assistant Director he went off on an overseas trip so I was Acting Director.




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