In Memory of Dr David Banks

I write best, I believe, when I connect with my emotions. Today while I was driving to my home I was thinking of Dr David Banks, my former boss at Biosecurity Australia (formerly within AQIS), and I wanted to share my thoughts and, more importantly, my feelings.

As I have said elsewhere, the hardest part of retiring prematurely was losing my community of fellow scientists, and while I admit I could have done a better job at maintaining those links, when I became inactive in science I feared that there would be a lack of things to talk about. Obviously needing to recover from a breakdown and the associated anxiety also created a barrier to preserving those connections.

David passed away all too early and I know exactly when because of the circumstances – I learned of David’s passing in a plane crash from a television news broadcast while sitting in a hospital chair holding my first born in my arms in early May 2005. Having no ongoing connection with my former colleagues, I have never had the chance to reminisce or share with others my warm affections for David.

I thought the world of David, and I like to think he had a high regard for me. I should also say, because there will be no better time, that I thought the world of all of my bosses at Biosecurity Australia including Peter Beers, Bernie Robinson, and Gunny (he knows who he is). These were by far the best mentors that I ever worked with and I only wish that I were able to enjoy the work more because I certainly enjoyed working with them. These people are undoubtedly the most decent and authentic people that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

David was a true gentleman with an enormous heart. There were times when I admit that I felt sorry for him because I thought that he was genuinely conflicted by the strains of treading a difficult line between science and politics. But then I would reflect on the fact that if there was somebody who would manage to find that line in the most optimal way it is somebody who cared as much as he did.

I have many fond reflections of David and for me he is one of the more memorable people that I have known in my life. I recall one time in his office having drinks with the entire Animal Biosecurity team present, and I was chatting in a small group with him when he said words to the affect of “the real difficulty with biosecurity policy is that it is a bit opaque – and often it comes down to ‘gut feeling’ or ‘the vibe’ – but you usually know you have it about right when both sides have the shits with you, and that makes the Minister have the shits with you also”.

On a Friday many of us from the team would go down to the RUC for a few beers and David would rarely miss one. My wife also worked for AQIS and would walk down to join us. The minute she appeared through the door David would ask what she wanted to drink, and if Bernie was there, too, he would stand as she and any other woman approached the table.

These are things that may at the time seem minor that stay with you and make people special in our lives.

When I was leaving Biosecurity Australia to take a fellowship with the CNRS in France, to work in JR Bonami’s lab, David gave a speech that has stayed with me. It was utterly beyond his comprehension why someone would want to go back into research and academia from such a good job and he expressed that view plainly. It hinted at some scarring that he obviously carried.

At the time, as a 30 year old, I disagreed with him. I never did see him again to say that I had come to agree with him – that he was right – but, unfortunately, research was still in my blood and I was destined to keep searching for a place that combined colleagues with the humane qualities of my Biosecurity Australia mentors and colleagues with the role that I wished to play for humanity in conducting scientific research, a place which ultimately eluded me.

It saddens me to this day that there is no chance that I will ever have the opportunity to again share David’s generous company and hear about his bees.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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