John Stocker, interviewed by Tom Spurling and Terry Healy, 25 May 2018

By Helen WolffMarch 9th, 2019

John Stocker held the position of Chief Executive at CSIRO from 1990 to 1995

Edited transcript (PDF – 399 KB)

Interview summary

Dr John Stocker was born in London on 23 April 1945. In the first part of the interview, he talks about his memories of London at the end of WW2 and of his family’s decision to come to Australia in 1948. His mother was an Australian and prevailed on John’s father to migrate to Australia as the General Manager of Johns and Waygood Ltd. John talks about his early primary school experiences at Malvern Hall and his late primary school and secondary education at Wesley College, where he was ‘interested in everything’.

The next part of the interview is about John’s time at the University of Melbourne where he obtained all of his degrees. His first experience of medical research was in the field of transplantation biology with (Sir) Peter Morris in the Department of Surgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, which was ‘cheek and jowl with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’. It’s during this time that John met Professor Gus Nossal, who went on to have a great influence in John’s career.

He talks briefly about his time in Basel at the Basel Institute of Immunology and then at HoffmannLaRoche and the decision to return to Australia as the Founding Managing Director of AMRAD. He outlines the role Gus Nossal played in that decision. John talks about the challenges of managing a small pharmaceutical start-up company and some of his achievements in the role.

The main part of the interview covers John’s time as Chief Executive of CSIRO. This includes his recruitment, the challenges of managing the interests of the Government, the Board and the staff. He discusses the move of the Head Office to Melbourne, the winding up of SIROtech and the Chris Schacht intervention. He talks about his achievements in this role and his decision not to seek a second term.

In the last part of the interview, John talks about his time as Director of Research and Innovation at Pratt Industries, as Chief Scientist of Australia, as a Board member of various companies, including Telstra, and then as Chairman of the CSIRO Board. He concludes the interview by arguing the case for a national scientific research organisation like CSIRO.


Interview recorded at Swinburne University of Technology (Hawthorn campus) on 25 May 2018 as part of the CSIRO History Project.


Copyright owned by Swinburne University of Technology and CSIRO. Some re-use permitted (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)

Related information

John Stocker interviewed by Diana Giese in the Australians of the year oral history project (National Library of Australia)