Early History of the Polymer Division

The origins of the Polymer Division date from the early 1960s, and arose from the activities of a number of members of the Victorian branch of the RACI.

Professor David Solomon, who played an important role in the formation of the Polymer Division, has written a short but fascinating history of those times.

The Early History of the Polymer Division

Professor David H Solomon, AM, FAA, FTSE, FRACI

Department of Chemical Engineering
University of Melbourne
Melbourne 3010

Professor David H Solomon

Various versions of the History of the Polymer Division have been published over the years and each reflects the time frame over which the authors have been associated with the Division.

However, the early history of the Division (that is the period 1960-1966) has not been addressed in any detail. The reasons why this period is important include:

  1. The Polymer Division was the first of the “modern” Divisions of the RACI.
  2. The people and branches who supported the idea of Australia wide groups have not been adequately recognised by the Institute, and
  3. The reporting in RACI publications is contradictory and requires explaining in terms of:
    • Symposium numbering – at least three symposia are reported as being “first” and
    • the use of Group v. Division naming.

A number of events in 1960 set the scene for the Polymer Division. Firstly, BALM Paints Pty Limited (later Dulux, ICI Paints and Orica) decided to expand their research activities and to relocate staff from Sydney, Adelaide and New Zealand to their new laboratories at Clayton, Victoria. I was one of those involved and I was the Leader of the Polymer Research Group in these new laboratories. Secondly, Dr John F Pearse was appointed as the Research Manager of this new facility

Up until that time Balm Paints has actively discouraged the involvement of their scientists in the trade societies and one of John’s aims was to change this isolationist culture and to promote involvement in professional bodies, such as the RACI. At this time John was Honorary Branch Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the RACI and it was John who, “encouraged” me (those of you who know John will know what this term means) to become involved and maybe form a group interested in polymers. As a result we organised a meeting at Balm Paints in Clayton of people likely to support a group. This is reported in Minute 112/60 of the Victorian Branch Committee (Appendix 1 ). A subcommittee of Dr Hans. A.J. Battaerd, Mr Geoff. L. Hardy and Dr David H. Solomon was formed to seek approval from the Victorian Branch to form a Group. Formal approval was discussed at the Branch Committee Meeting of 26/9/1960 (Minute 112 – Appendix 2) and final agreement given at the Branch Committee Meeting of 17/11/60 – (Minute 126/60 h – Appendix 3). I note that Dr Jerry Price seconded the motion moved by Mr James.

The Polymer Group was reported in the Annual Report of 1961 as having had a successful first year (Appendix 4). The office bearers were Geoff Hardy as Chairman, Hans Battaerd as committee member and David Solomon as secretary. This committee continued through 1961/1962 (Appendix 5). Geoff and I later changed offices to meet the RACI regulation limit of maximum 2 years.

In May 1962 the Victorian Branch agreed to the Polymer Groups request for expenses for additional interstate speakers (Appendix 6) and the move to a more national focus was beginning and by August 1962 a most important step occurred. The Victorian Branch agreed to support the Polymer Group Symposium to be held in Mildura in August 1963 (Appendix 6). The support of John Pearse and the Victorian Branch in this most important event leading up to the formation of the Division should be recognised. (See also Appendices 7, 8).

So the scene was set for a National Discipline meeting on Polymers and it is worth recording that the Victorian Branch Committee was in favour of Australia-wide groups – not all Branches were. Indeed it was indicated in the Victorian Polymer Group report that a National Charter for the Polymer Group would be discussed at the Mildura 1963 meeting (Appendix 8) and the report by the Victorian Branch President referred to the “eminently successful Symposium” and “the National Polymer Group was formed and an aggressive committee chosen, with a delicate regard for interstate sensitivities”. By this time also we had established the idea of progressing from Secretary, to Chairman to Past-Chairman. Student subsidies were also provided by the Victorian Branch.

In 1963 and 1964 (Appendix 9/10 and 11, 12) the Victorian Branch again indicated their support for Australia wide groups and organised a meeting with the group chairman to discuss ways of helping with this evolvement.

The Victorian Polymer Group following the Mildura 1963 meeting wrote regarding formation of a national group (Appendix 11) and in their report state that:

“Arrangements have now been put in motion for the establishment of a National Group”. (Appendix 12) The Committee was originally the Victorian Branch Group until the 1964 symposium (Appendix 12).

On 5-7th November, 1964 the “first” National Polymer and Petrochemical Symposium was held again at the Grand Hotel, Mildura (Appendix 13). A National Polymer Division committee was formed.

Note the move from the term National Group to National Division. The symposium elected a National Polymer Division committee (see Appendix 8)

The political debate on State v. Division was not of great concern to those of us in the polymer division but in retrospect it is apparent that we owe a great deal to the Victorian Branch, to the President, Dr J.R. Price, who incidentally gave the closing address at the Mildura 1964 symposium, and to Dr John Pearse for the evolution of the RACI to embrace Divisions.


The Polymer Group had always attempted to allow as much discussion time as possible after lectures but even so most scientific meetings ended up discussing what had been done rather than the future. The Polymer Club was conceived as a forum where all present would be expected to contribute and where the topics would focus on the future. The first such meeting was formed by the Victorian Polymer Group (or Polymer Division of the Institute – see Appendix 14). The topic was The Reactivity of Functional Groups – Polymers” by D.H. Solomon. (See Appendix 15).


The Victorian Polymer Group from its inception aimed to bring interstate speakers to Victoria and requested funds for these speakers from the Victorian Branch Committee. Minute 48/62 is indicative of the strong support we received.

However, the need for overseas speakers was clearly recognized and the Victorian Polymer Group had requested funds in 1964 for an overseas Polymer Scientist to visit Australia in 1968. The need for our own Funds was obvious and I was fortunate that my Chief at the CSIRO Division of Applied Mineralogy, Mr A.J. Gaskin, agreed that we could run a Polymer Workshop and keep the profits. My recollection is that this raised £1,100 and this was the “kitty” which enabled Professor Okamura and Professor O’Driscoll to be invited to our 1968 symposium. From there on the Division has built up its own balance.


There are reports of the Symposium in Mildura 1963 being the First (Appendix 15), of the second Symposium in Mildura 1964 as first or second, and of the Canberra Symposia as fourth. The late “DOJ” Jordan regarded Adelaide, 1957 as the first.

See the attachments for further confusion – Appendix 16 shows Professor Fred Ayscough as Chairman of Polymer Division in 1965.

So confusion reigns with the early numbering system.

In present day Polymer Division counting, the first Symposium was held in Canberra in 1966. Yet Professor Fred Ayscough is reported to be serving his second term as chairman at this meeting. Only chemists could count like this. Hence the claims to the first symposium are:

  • 1957 Adelaide
  • 1964 Mildura
  • 1966 Canberra (as used by present day Division)

Australian Polymer Banknote

The world’s first polymer banknotes for general circulation were developed for the 1988 Australian bicentenary by a team from CSIRO and the Reserve Bank of Australia led by Prof David Solomon (now at the University of Melbourne). Australia has had polymer banknotes for all denominations since 1996, the first country to do so, and the polypropylene banknotes developed in Australia are now used in 29 countries, with more adopting the technology every year. The images below are of the first prototype banknotes printed on polypropylene, incorporating some unique anti-counterfeiting features. The story of the banknotes is detailed further in this Angewandte Chemie article.

Australian Polymer Banknote side two

Australian Polymer Banknote side one