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Neville Fenton Stanley (1918–1984)

by R. B. Lefroy

This article was published:

Neville Fenton Stanley (1918-1984), microbiologist, was born on 7 October 1918, in Port Moresby, Papua, son of Evan Richard Stanley, geologist, and his wife Helen Mary Benson, née Turner.  Evan Stanley died in 1924 and the family moved to Adelaide.  Neville was educated at Unley High School, and the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1942; D.Sc., 1954), where he majored in bacteriology.  He worked as a demonstrator in 1943.  On 13 December 1941 he married English-born Muriel Eileen Patricia MacDonald at St Saviour’s Church of England, Glen Osmond.

In 1944 Stanley was appointed assistant-bacteriologist in the department of pathology, Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, under A. E. Platt, formerly lecturer in bacteriology at the University of Adelaide.  Two years later he was promoted to bacteriologist and senior research officer in the hospital’s institute of epidemiology and preventive medicine, which Platt also headed.  After Platt’s death in 1948 he became acting-director of the institute; he was named director in 1954.  His enthusiastic and enquiring approach underscored his research career, beginning with the development of a new antibiotic, aspergillin, and the isolation of Listeria monocytogenes from a fatal case of meningitis.  He was responsible for first isolating Coxsakie viruses in Australia.  His team was part of an international group working on the epidemiology of polioviruses and the development of vaccines for the disease.

Stanley was appointed foundation professor of microbiology in the University of Western Australia’s new medical school in 1956.  He developed courses for medical and dental students and science undergraduates.  During his twenty-seven years as head, his department grew into a vigorous, well-respected unit of seventy teaching and research staff.  He was also director of clinical diagnostic services at Royal Perth Hospital and later director of the microbiological service at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  In 1961-63 he served as dean of the faculty of science.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Stanley and his colleagues made the first isolation and characterisation worldwide of a member of the reovirus family.  Also interested in the effect of the physical environment on human health, he published Man-made Lakes and Human Health (1975), with M. P. Alpers, which described the ecology and epidemiology of arthropod-borne viruses in northern Australia and Changing Disease Patterns and Human Behaviour (1980), with R. A. Joske, which examined the interaction of the evolving human species and the environment.  His study of the development of the immune system involved research with Horace Waring on the Rottnest Island quokka.  Murray Valley encephalitis, papilloma viruses and freshwater stromatolites in Lake Clifton, south of Perth, were his last research interests.

Stanley was a member of the World Health Organization’s expert panel on immunology, of the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council and of other national and international committees, particularly in South-East Asia.  He was a consultant to the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.  President of the Australian societies for microbiology and immunology, he became a life member of both.  He advised on the establishment (1985) of the Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin.

A commanding figure, Stanley shared his abundant enthusiasm and optimism with many, both within and outside his department.  He edited a history of the medical faculty, published in 1982.  An energetic sportsman—a cricket all-rounder, a keen yachtsman, golfer and tennis player—and an excellent pianist, he was tall and slim and sported a luxuriant moustache.  Having retired in December 1983, he died from acute leukaemia on 22 October 1984 in Perth and was cremated, survived by his wife and their son and two daughters.  The University of Western Australia awards an annual Neville Stanley memorial fellowship to bring a distinguished microbiologist to the university for research or teaching.  His daughter, Professor Fiona Stanley, was named Australian of the Year in 2003.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Fenner (ed), History of Microbiology in Australia (1990)
  • Uninews (Perth), 6 October 1983, p 8
  • Uninews (Perth), 29 October 1984, p 1
  • Uninews (University of Western Australia), 26 November 1984, p 3
  • West Australian, 29 December 1983, p 9
  • West Australian, 24 October 1984, pp 2 and 25
  • Servio News, 16 November 1984, p 3
  • Australian Microbiologist, vol 6, no 2, May 1985, p 71
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2 September 1985, p 214.

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Citation details

R. B. Lefroy, 'Stanley, Neville Fenton (1918–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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