This is one of 10 biographies in a book by Ross McMullin: "Farewell, dear people: Biographies of Australia's Lost Generation", Scribe Books
As a historian, Mark Tronson Well-Being Australia chairman, imagines the sacrifice made by Clunes Mathison's mother. This was her only remaining child, five others did not survive beyond the age of ten. Her husband died when Clunes was twelve, just at the age when he needed to go to the city for his education. In their community of country Victoria, not many children went off to high school, as it was not available in any nearby town.
This was a common story, in the early 20th century, when death and hardship were familiar companions. Most similar anecdotes that Mark Tronson has heard from family and friends tell of young boys leaving school at 13 or 14 in order to support the family when misfortune hit; either running the farm or working nearby.
But young Clunes Mathison was brilliant at school. Both his parents were teachers, and, despite the untimely death of his father, his mother would have encouraged Clunes to apply for a scholarship to Caulfield Grammar in Melbourne. Perhaps she was supported by a preacher or a doctor in the community. He did win, and then won more scholarships to university where he studied science and medicine. Only the very intellectually gifted attended university in those days; his mother must have been bursting with pride.
Clunes Mathison later travelled England and undertook innovative postgraduate research that has led to successful treatments for trauma victims. At the age of only 29 he was enticed back to Melbourne as the Director of the still-famous Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Two years later war broke out and he became a medical officer at Gallipoli, where he saved many young soldiers' lives before that fatal stray bullet.
As a result of an extremely strong, far-sighted mother who went against society norms of the time, and against her own heart, Clunes Mathison was able to reach his potential. She must have had faith that he would benefit society as a whole. With her support and guidance (as well, one assumes, of his community) he developed self-confidence and apparently had a wonderfully cheerful disposition. Although his life was short by our standards, his influence on society exceeded even a mother's expectations.
His achievements at such a young age amaze us today, but at that time there was less science and technology to learn. Students were often at university by the age of 16, which was also the age that other young men took on responsibilities in their workplace, and young women were encouraged to marry. Many lads of 16 enlisted when WWI started, and some falsely put up ages in order to volunteer.
If we continue back in history to ancient times, we see that young people assumed responsibilities even earlier. The tradition of the Jewish Barmitzvah stems from the days of the Old Testament, when boys of thirteen were considered to be men. Girls were married when they first became fertile at age of about 14 years. Life was very uncertain then and adult life expectancy even shorter than in 1915.
Today we have a better understanding of nutrition and disease (due to the research of Mathison and others); we live longer and expect to recover from illness. We also live in a more complex society. Young people wanting a career in science, medicine or technology need to study for longer, and particularly need to keep up their maths.
Recent research by Australian educationalists has shown that positive parental attitudes can encourage children to continue with maths, even if they find it difficult. Parents might not like maths either, but if they are encouraging rather than dismissive, then their children are more likely to perservere despite initial resistance. (www.smh.com.au)
This research seems to have been predicted by the Bible. Proverbs 1:8-9 says: "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck."
Mark Tronson says how important it is that parents support their children's endeavours. His own parents were exemplary in this; despite not having opportunities beyond primary school, they encouraged Mark and his siblings to aim high, and all three achieved doctorates in various areas of expertise.
Mark Tronson says that, like Mathison's mother, we should support the younger generation so that they have the confidence to use their talents to benefit society to the best of their ability, and we can all take pride in their achievements.
In this sense Well-Being Australia's "Press Service International" (PSI) mentors 28 young writers who submit a Comment or Sport article for each week day of the month which are published in "Christian Today Australia".
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html