Featured Fellow

Founding Fellow Bill Whitton’s mission lives on

2 September 2019

Dr William “Bill” Ivo Whitton FTSE was born in Sandringham on 4 October 1924.

The son of a famous golfer, he completed his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in Engineering at the University of Melbourne in 1944.

After serving in the Second World War, Dr Whitton did research for his Masters in Science investigating the dramatic, unexplained death of a man on a wheat ship in Geelong.

He determined that the seawater used to wash the vessel’s steel walls had caused them to oxidise rapidly, absorbing the breathable air. When the man entered, he asphyxiated instantly.

Bill Whitton with Foundation Fellows 2002

Ten Victorian Foundation Fellows were received by the Governor of Victoria John Landy AC MBE at a function at Government House in Melbourne on 9 May 2002. Dr Whitton is second from the left in the front row.

In 1948 Dr Whitton undertook his PhD at St Andrews University, Scotland, on the thermodynamics of the absorption of gasses and poisons. In 1951 he joined the research department of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), now Orica. Over his long career he had many roles with the company, including:

  • Technical Manager and Director, ICI (NZ) 1960-63
  • Research Manager, ICIANZ Ltd 1963-70
  • Executive Director, ICI Australia 1970-82.

A champion of the application of scientific knowledge, Dr Whitton’s chemical engineering work impacted industries ranging from mining to agriculture. He gave crucial support to historic, high-risk research on the production of nylon.

In the 1960s Dr Whitton helped form the Australian Industrial Research Group, and went on to serve as its President. He worked tirelessly to encourage Australian research and development.

Dr Whitton was one of our “founding fathers” and a major force in the Academy’s early development. He and a group of like-minded leaders believed there “should be some sort of recognition” for highly successful industrial scientists and engineers.

They established the Academy as a “meeting place” for these luminaries from industry and academia to discuss “national problems and the development of the best technologies for Australia”.

Bill Whitton with Prince Philip

Dr Whitton (left) and other eminent Academy figures meeting Academy Royal Fellow, HRH Prince Phillip, in the Academy office on 30 September 1981.

As well as a Foundation Fellow, he served the Academy in many roles:

  • Member of Council (1975-1979)
  • Chair of the Innovations Committee (1978-1986) which produced the Academy report Innovation in Australian Technology
  • Member of the High Technology Financing Committee (1983).

In 1983 Dr Whitton begun a five-year role as Director of the CSIRO Institute of Industrial Technology, where he looked after seven Divisions across a range of industry sectors.

He later worked as a Senior Consultant at Peat Marwick (now KPMG) on wool industry technology.

My working life seems to have been devoted mainly to finding things of practical importance to Australia

— Dr William Whitton FTSE

Dr Whitton also spent time as a consultant to young people trying to start commercial operations through the Youth Business Initiative.

He was an avid golfer and member of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club for more than 70 years.

Dr Whitton’s wife Liz passed away in 2005. They had five sons – Andy, Rob, Jim, Angus and Ian – and four grandchildren.

Reflecting on his illustrious career, Dr Whitton wrote that his “working life seems to have been devoted mainly to finding things of practical importance to Australia”.

William Whitton died on 25 August, aged 94.