Irene Crespin

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), geologist and micropalaeontologist, was born on 12 November 1986 in Melbourne. On the death of her mother in 1902 she and her brother were sent to live with relatives at Mansfield, Victoria, where Irene attended the State primary school, the Convent of Mercy and Mansfield Agricultural High School. Her interest in geological sciences was first aroused by the headmaster, Dr Charles Fenner, an eminent geologist and geographer.

She returned to Melbourne in 1914 and enrolled in 1915 at the University of Melbourne, intending to become a teacher; influenced by Frederick Chapman, lecturer in palaeontology, she became a geologist. Her ability to get things done was recognised in 1917 when she was elected to the Students Representative Council, the only woman on the Council, and its first woman president (1918).

After graduating BA in 1919 she continued her studies while undertaking coaching. Later she worked part-time for the Geological Survey of Victoria on the describing of both macro- and micro-fossils found in sediments from the Sorrento bore on the Mornington Peninsula. In December 1927, Irene was appointed assistant palaeontologist to Frederick Chapman, then Commonwealth palaeontologist in the newly created Geological Branch of the Department of Home Affairs. They worked in accommodation provided by the National Museum (now Museum of Victoria); equipment and facilities were poor but they had access to the Museum's extensive fossil collection and library.

In 1935 Irene succeeded Chapman as Commonwealth palaeontologist, at about half his salary. (The salary disparity continued throughout her working life.) The appointment was in Canberra, to work closely with the Commonwealth geological adviser. 'They' had forgotten she was arriving and no accommodation had been arranged. She booked into the Ainslie Hotel for a week and stayed fifteen years.

An initial scarcity of scientific literature in Canberra was a hardship. The purchase by the Geological Branch of essential reference books began what has become the Bureau of Mineral Resources' excellent and extensive library. In a fire at the Bureau in 1953 many publications were damaged beyond repair. Irene lost personal copies of rare reference books, scientific papers, type collections and photographs.

She made many field trips within Australia to collect fossils and to see the geological environment in which fossili-ferous sediments occurred. From the start of her involvement in the search for oil (and during the war for other minerals) she made regular trips to the Gippsland area, on occasions descending 1200 feet to the bottom of the Lakes Entrance shaft in a kibble to collect samples, and also visiting Roma and the Carnarvon Basin.

In 1939 Irene visited Java and Sumatra for six weeks to consult with micro-palaeontologists in the government service and industry regarding the problems of Tertiary correlation in the Indo-Pacific region. Such correlations were extremely important in the search for petroleum. Although it was against normal Department policy to allow a woman to make official overseas trips she was given permission to visit the United States in 1951 where she had been invited to address the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and to have discussions with micropalaeontologists and study fossil collections, especially those of foraminifera.

She was compulsorily retired at 65 though employed afterwards on a contract basis. Irene Crespin had great enthusiasm and drive, a fine sense of humour, and determination to succeed against odds. She attended many conferences, chaired specialist committees and published in Australia and overseas journals close to 90 papers as a single author, over 20 as a joint author and also wrote more than 100 open file reports and notes. She was vitally interested in people, made many friends and was an enthusiastic traveller. Cricket was a great love: she presented the Crespin Cup to be contested annually between 'hard rocks' and 'soft rocks' from the Bureau. She played golf and tennis, and was a talented pianist.

She was a long serving secretary and president (1957) of the Royal Society of Canberra, secretary from 1952 of the Territories Division of the Geological Society of Australia and chairman (1955), a charter member of Soroptimist International of Canberra and president (1957). She received many honours including the Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1956), a DSc from the University of Melbourne (1960), honorary membership of ANZAAS (1976) and the OBE (1969). The Bureau of Mineral Resources Bulletin no. 192 - The Crespin Volume - was published in her honour. She died on the 2 January 1980.

Margaret Bartlett

Irene Crespin Memoirs of a Micro-palaeontologist (published in limited edition by the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics) 1980.