Obituary, Dr Robert Hill

The Canberra Times

1 August 1992

'Bright young hope' of science - lost. Australian science lost one of its bright young hopes last Saturday, July 18, with the unexpected death of Dr Robert Ian Hill, aged 38.

Dr Hill, who was a Queen Elizabeth II Fellow at the ANU's Research School of Earth Sciences, had already won a considerable reputetion as an earth scientist.

He had 15 publications in top international journals, and more in press. Four had appeared in the prestigious journals, Science and Nature, and a fifth is to come in Science - more than most scientists achieve in a lifetime.

Born in Tumut and brought up in his beloved bush, he achieved first class honours in 1976 in the Geology Department at the ANU.

From there he went to Caltech, finishing his PhD in 1984, and then to Cambridge, returning to the ANU in April, 1986, as a research fellow in the new Ore Genesis Studies group at the Research School of Earth Sciences.

He won recent acclaim with three colleagues for a new development which he dubbed "plume tectonics" because it shows how the huge subterranean upward-pushing "mantle plumes" contribute to the splitting of the earth's crust, before continental drift.

He was an active member of the university, promoting science at all levels and vetting the ANU's applications for Cooperative Research Centres. As a tribute to his work with graduate students, the ANU has set up a Robert Hill Memorial Fund for high achievers in the school.

He was also a regular contributor to The Canberra Times, arguing forcefully on science and higher-education policy, tackling wider economic issues, and explaining scientific discoveries.

He had a dry wit, loved political gossip and was intrigued by the science and education bureaucracy.

His commitment to Australia permeated his work. This was not a cheap sense of nationalism but a deep and abiding bond with all that was natural, and with the best of Australia's intellectual life.

"The view from Mount Ross isn't spectacular," he began one story last December. "But like much of outback Australia it has a beauty of its own, and is somehow also quite restful.

"We - Peter Williams from the   Bureau of Mineral Resources and. myself  - were there to collect rock samples for age determinations, and as we ate our lunch we could pick out the dark green of the occasional kurrajong, and the eucalypt ribbons along the major watercourses..."

One day in 1988 a story called "The Two Realities of our Higher Education system", complete with a cartoon of the good ship ANU being besieged by a bunch of pirates, was being sub-edited.

"Who's Robert Hill?" called one journalist.

"Oh, he's the Liberal Party spokesman on the ACT. Senator Robert Hill," replied another.

So the story was published, attributed to Senator Robert Hill.

Both Robert Hills took it in good humour, the Senator saying he was flattered and only wished he had written it.

Dr Hill is survived by his wife, Dr Sally Rigden, a scientist also at the Research School of Earth Sciences, and by their two daughters aged six and three.

Verona Burgess'