Deeper Read: Snug as a Bug

4 February 2019
Jenny Davis

Photo by Anaïs Baker

Triple R volunteer Jenny Davis has a few passions: making great radio, keeping the station’s CD library in order, and bacteria. In this story, she tells us how she became part of the RRR family – and which local scientists she reckons are tops.

The music theme was counting down…. three, two, one second. I pushed the announcer’s microphone button. A nervous smile to my two interviewees, fading out the theme, and… ‘You’re on Triple R 102.7 and this is Room With a View, the hour to hear new broadcasters and material you mightn’t expect. I’m Jenny Davis, your host until 1pm.’ I was on air!

That day was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. For 48 years, I’d been an enthusiastic microbiologist, fascinated with the identification of bacteria. Any bug that was rare or unusual was a challenge, and I loved being at the laboratory bench. But along the way I had been developing two other passions: science communication and science history.

Six weeks as a 1998 Science Media Fellow with the ABC in Sydney was my first introduction to radio broadcasting and I was hooked: meeting my ABC Science heroes, learning the basics of interviews and editing – even going on talkback radio with Dr Karl! I made a promise to myself: one day I would volunteer in a radio station.

Time passed, and the radio station became a future dream. Then, as my retirement approached, I made the move. All I knew about RRR was that it broadcast Einstein A Go-Go, but that seemed a pretty good start. My dream came true in 2014 when I was accepted as a volunteer and introduced to the RRR family in East Brunswick.

My first job was putting CDs into digital form and entering their details. Rachel Connor patiently steered this complete novice through the process, and I started to realise that music was serious business for RRR – the variety and volume was far bigger than I had imagined. I then defaulted to a hard-copy task: keeping CDs in order in the CD library.

The CD library is a serene little room, with floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with catalogued CDs, most in their original plastic or card case, with an increasing number being repackaged in space-saving plastic envelopes. Two ladders, a chair, a desk with stationery and computer, plus various boxes for returns and recycling, complete the scene. The room is cold in winter and hot in summer, but I love it. It is relatively private, and it is positioned near the doorway to the tearoom and studios. There is therefore the advantage of a tranquil atmosphere with distant conversations and plenty of passing traffic adding interest to the day. I’ve spent many happy hours there, checking the shelves (there’s always one or two CDs that are duplicates or have been put back in the wrong place) and repackaging the CDs.

In 2016, I was offered a place with those doing RRR Broadcaster Training. Needless to say, I immediately grasped this opportunity! Namila Benson was an inspiring and encouraging teacher and I was plunged into the world of studio consoles (practise, practise, practise), program structure (don’t go over time), interviews (what not to do) and media law (what’s opinion and what’s defamation). But more than this, I was now understanding the ethos and working culture of RRR and feeling more at home with the whole station. When the opportunities for occasional broadcasting on Room With A View came up (thanks, Bec Hornsby!), this nervous new broadcaster launched and my second journey (communicating science history) had begun.

My passion for science history dates back to the start of my career, when I worked in a Queensland veterinary microbiology lab. There was no Google, no digital files, no web pages and definitely only snail mail and a landline phone for communication – but there were plenty of hard copy old scientific journals to read. I was always fascinated by the observations of early scientists, their personal lives, their questions, their conclusions and their problem solving approaches. It was exciting to follow their stories and see how so many of them laid the foundations for what we have ‘discovered’ today. For me, it’s a perfect fit to research and broadcast our own local Melbourne science history.

The programs that I’ve put together have highlighted local scientific heroes of the past. I have been privileged to interview high-achieving scientists and historians, the oldest being a most articulate 96-year-old. For me personally, this has been an exciting and expanding experience, made all the better by my knowledgeable guests and the many unexpected and little-known facts that turn up. I’ve also expanded my tastes in music, thanks to always helpful conversations around the station, and I have fun choosing tracks to match the topic.

It’s a cliché, I know, but I think RRR really is like a family, where personal greetings are the norm, where there is mutual encouragement and a general air of optimism. I love being part of it.

Jenny’s Local Science Heroes

LUCEY ALFORD // The first female scientist at the Spotswood Sewage Pumping Station, appointed as Assistant Bacteriologist in 1941, Lucy had a distinguished microbiological career with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (M.M.B.W.), ensuring a safe water supply for Melbourne. She was recognized as an expert on algae and was a practical and professional mentor for young female scientists.

MANAGEMENT OF BRYANT & MAY // Manufacturers of wooden and wax matches in Richmond for over 70 years last century, Bryant & May were ahead of their time with staff health and safety, providing generous amenities and a motto: ‘Safety First – and Last!’ They were committed to improving their product in Australia and left a prominent and beautiful landmark in Cremorne: the Bryant & May factory and clocktower.

PROFESSOR NANCY MILLIS // Nancy was an eminent and honoured microbiologist, who was one of the first women to be appointed Professor at the University of Melbourne. She introduced the teaching of Industrial Microbiology to Australia; promoted research into water utilization and the Australian environment; guided committees responsible for oversight of recombinant DNA research in Australia; and was featured on a postage stamp as one of the ‘Australian Legends’.

FERDINAND VON MUELLER AND JOHANN KRUSE // These two were prominent German scientists in colonial Melbourne (1850s to 1890s). Mueller was the first Government Botanist, while Kruse pioneered the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy training in Victoria. Both were active members of the Royal Society of Victoria and left lasting legacies for Melbourne – the Royal Botanic Gardens (Mueller) and the Pharmacy College and succeeding institutions (Kruse).

ALAN WALSH // A brilliant and respected research scientist at CSIR (now CSIRO) from 1946 to 1977, Alan was the originator and developer of the Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, a game changing technology in chemical analysis. He encouraged development of practical applications for this technology across various fields, from metallurgical assays to medical analyses, and was instrumental in the establishment of an Australian scientific instrument industry.

The Triple R CD library simply wouldn’t be the same without Jenny Davis. When she’s not here, she’s exploring Melbourne’s bike trails on her e-bike with her husband, and doing a little crochet when the mood takes her. To see more snaps from Anaïs Baker, check out her portfolio. This story first appeared in the December 2018 issue of our subscriber magazine The Trip.