Dr John Craven became an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia on 26 January 2023.
Details of his academic and professional background and portfolios can be read in the U3APP Newsletter – 29 January 2023.
John has been a member of U3APP for eight years. He was on the Committee of Management for several years.
John grew up on a farm in Terip Terip with his parents and two brothers. His “forebears” arrived in Australia in 1835 or thereabouts and established a farm in the 1880’s. Initially a sheep farm, then cows, then beef cattle. John attended Primary School in Terip Terip and subsequently completed five years at Euroa Higher Elementary School. After working for a year on the farm he felt an urge – to explore other career options. “Veterinary science seemed a fairly respectable alternative to a long term commitment to the vagaries of farming.” His father accepted this decision although he ”lost a labour unit.” John moved to Middle Park, obtained work with a Wool Brokers firm whilst studying at night at Taylors Coaching College, as “country kids did in those days.”
In later years, John inherited the farm and he and Lu Craven lived there for about 15 years. They raised Aberdeen Angus cattle at that time. The farm was sold about ten years ago. John laughs as he recalls, “we found that we were getting slower and weaker, but the cows were getting healthier, it was a bit much! So, the time came when we needed to return to Middle Park,” where they had lived previously.
“Back in the day,” John’s specific interest was looking into diseases that caused diarrhea in young animals, and as it turned out, in children. This work morphed into studies on ways to reduce the prevalence of food poisoning and diseases transmitted from animals to people. “That became a large part of my research career.” John reflects modestly, that he has been “pretty lucky” in respect to acceptance of his work, he published “a reasonable swag of papers” in respected journals.
The presence of salmonella in chickens was also an area of interest. “Despite all our good work I suspect there is still as much, these days.” John acknowledges that currently the general public are much more aware of the risks from raw chicken. He laughed, whilst affirming that he and others may have contributed to this awareness.
In the 1990’s the agricultural industries started to invest much more in research. “I was heavily involved in helping the dairy industry develop research programs to improve productivity on dairy farms.” He worked in the dairy industry for about 20 years, part of the time as an employee, later becoming “a consultant, as you do.”
In respect to various changes in the dairy industry, John acknowledges that the impact of disease has diminished but the threat of exotic disease being introduced to Australia is ever present.
When asked about the achievements he is proudest of, John referred to his position as Chair of the Committee evaluating the performance of Veterinary Schools in Australia and New Zealand. He was involved in developing protocols for accreditation in Veterinary Schools, “to see whether they were up to scratch and to assess whether their students were trained adequately to be registered when they graduated.” During this time there was also a tortuous process of getting alignment of Australian processes with those in the UK, USA, and the EU.
John recalls a “few nice little diversions.” He attended a conference in Jordan when the Arab countries were looking to develop an accreditation program for Veterinary Schools. “It was a huge adventure.“ John laughs as he recounts the experience of his luggage being lost in transit. “I am at the airport in Aman at 5am, no case, and nobody to meet me.” Another interesting diversion was a period of work looking at veterinary school accreditation in Indonesia this work being “probably one of the most, I’m guessing, useful things I have done.”
The Order of Australia Award, was that a surprise or did he know it was coming? “Umm, I sort of heard whispers some years ago but there was nothing affirmative and I thought it had died a death. Last year Lu (Lulita) got a bit of a heads up and she managed to keep that from me completely!” In September 2022, he received an email, “but I thought it was spam until Lu said no, it’s not.” Then another letter arrived “to say it was all go, but to keep it under your hat, so we did.”
The Award will be formally presented on 3 April 2023 at Government House in Victoria. “I have no idea of the protocol but guess that I will have to suit up, don a tie and, in due course, they hand over the award, you get your hand shaken and are served a delicious arvo tea.” John admits that he had wondered if it was all “a bit old school,” but, “I have found that I get a great buzz out of it.” “It” is the recognition of your peers that is special, and it is very rewarding. The other “fun thing” is that “you get back in contact with people you haven’t seen for “donkeys’ years, so that’s been pretty good.”
Reflecting further on his achievements, John acknowledges that he was lucky to have worked in an era when science was seen as valuable and to have been part of a group of incredibly gifted individuals pursuing common goals. It was a time when there was enormous growth in agricultural research, and it was “a great feeling that we were pushing back the boundaries a bit.”
In further discussion, John reflects that at that time, the agricultural industries had faith in science, and saw it as an investment in their future.
John is of the view that the level of investment is “now greatly diminished.” Food production is under considerable pressure with deteriorating soils, competition for water, pressure from consumers for reduced use of agricultural chemicals and the threat of animal and plant diseases being introduced into the country. However, funding for research has “got chopped,” and investment has been run down over past decades. ”I think there has never been a greater need for research in agriculture.”
One of the problems seems to be that social media gives the impression that everyone is now an expert on everything, and more community members do not see a need for hard evidence to support their views. Scientists must bear some of the blame as their communication skills have not kept pace with the media revolution.
Talking about his family and other interests, John and Lu Craven share seven children and seventeen grandchildren. They are a ‘blended family,’ John’s first wife died many years ago. He comments, ”so you see why I am concerned about the future of the earth”.
John sought to develop his writing skills, as distinct from scientific publications and some years back joined Pat Ryan’s creative writing class. He has an ongoing interest in story writing and is working with his grandchildren, as to how best to write stories about climate change, “that engage and inform them about the problems but also do not scare them.”
John is an active member of Vets for Climate Action who are committed to reducing the footprint of veterinary practice and working with clients, particularly in rural areas, to assist in changes to farming practice aimed at reducing production of greenhouse gasses and improving biodiversity.
Currently John enjoys participating in Petanque, Current Affairs, Films on Fridays, and David Bourne’s “Why Insects Matter”. He enjoys these classes as “my background is in science, but there are so many interesting subjects that I don’t really know about. ”
“I think U3APP is brilliant, an organisation of this size run by volunteers, is incredible. It provides physical and mental stimulation for members to engage in, it gives you a sense of purpose, of belonging, and opportunity to meet others, to learn. It’s incredible.” This view would resonate with many U3APP members.
John is remarkedly modest in respect to his achievements and dedication to research, which has brought about significant changes in Veterinary Science and Agriculture, benefitting us all.
Dr John Craven was interviewed by Felicity May.