Early Australian neuroscientists and the tyranny of distance

Laurie Geffen, Nick J. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Australian neuroscientists at the turn of the twentieth century and in the succeeding decades faced formidable obstacles to communication and supply due to their geographical isolation from centers of learning in Europe and North America. Consequently, they had to spend significant periods of their lives overseas for training and experience. The careers of six pioneers—Laura Forster, James Wilson, Grafton Elliot Smith, Alfred Campbell, Raymond Dart, and John Eccles—are presented in the form of vignettes that address their lives and most enduring scientific contributions. All six were medically trained and, although they never collaborated directly with one another, they were linked by their neuroanatomical interests and by shared mentors, who included Nobelists Ramon y Cajal and Charles Sherrington. By the 1960s, as the so-called “tyranny of distance” was overcome by advances in communication and transport technology, local collaborative groups of neuroscientists emerged in several Australian university departments that built on the individual achievements of these pioneers. This in turn led to the establishment of the Australasian Neuroscience Society in 1981.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-72
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the History of the Neurosciences
Issue number1
Early online date21 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Alfred Campbell
  • early Australian neuroscientists
  • Grafton Elliot Smith
  • James Wilson
  • John Eccles
  • Laura Forster
  • Raymond Dart


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