Published: 19 August 1998 PhD adds another chapter to Dr Spencer's eventful story
Dr Margaret Spencer, urged on for most of her 82 years by a love of learning and a passion for writing, shows no signs of slowing down. In a life of many achievements, Dr Spencer completed another aim recently when she received her PhD from the Tropical Health Program at the University of Queensland.
This latest academic honour sits well with her 1997 OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia), a master of science in 1939 from the University of Sydney, and her FACTM - Fellow of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine - in 1993. Her PhD thesis, on the early development of health services in Papua New Guinea between 1870 and 1939, earned glowing reports from her examiners and Dr Spencer did not have to make any corrections.
That might seem an almost unattainable goal to many students but for Dr Spencer such accuracy and attention to detail is by now just second nature. "I do a lot of writing and I just can't help but proof-read as I go," she said. "Also I belong to a generation which was trained to write good English." It was her passion for learning which led her to embark on the PhD in 1994. She also wanted to set the record straight, though she is much too polite to put things quite so bluntly.
"Let's just say I didn't agree with some of the writing on the subject. I wanted to present an alternative viewpoint and perhaps a more accurate one." Dr Spencer said that even today, with all the benefits of modern understanding, infrastructure and technology, the world had not yet solved the problem of providing continuous, adequate health services to remote communities. "In the history of Papua New Guinea we can seen the problem, as it was, at its maximum," she said. "Insufficient finance, unfamiliar and formidable terrain, unfamiliar peoples and languages, unfamiliar diseases and initially few means of determining what they were, no roads, no modern transport, slow communication. The challenge was large, the resources small."
Besides research in archives in Canberra and Sydney, together with reading a wide range of other books and journals, Dr Spencer was able to draw on her considerable first-hand experience of Papua New Guinea. She and her husband Terry, a medical officer specialising in malariology, were employed on and off for 25 years by the Public Health Department in PNG. Their first tour of duty in the islands, where Dr Spencer worked as an entomologist studying malaria-carrying mosquitoes, began at the end of 1953. They returned to PNG for the last time in 1978, three years after the country gained independence. Over the years the couple moved around the country, working in areas as different as the Highlands and small offshore islands, gathering many experiences and insights which Dr Spencer set down in three books about Papua New Guinea. "It was an unforgettable experience, a very rich experience. It was fascinating having close contact with village people who were living much as they used to 100 years ago," she said. "They had to be very self-sufficient. Everything they used came from the bush or the sea."
Dr Spencer said that on the outstations she and her husband had food shipped in to them though there was sometimes a problem with supplies. In addition, they enjoyed such home comforts as a kerosene fridge, a kerosene iron and piped water - "that was really something".
In 1979 they returned to the New South Wales railway town of Werris Creek where Dr Terry Spencer was general practitioner and his wife the practice manager. While they were in Werris Creek Dr Spencer wrote her fourth book, a biography of her father Dr J H L Cumpston, the first Australian Director-General of Public Health.
"He built the federal health system in this country and really sparked my own interest in public health," she said. The couple moved to their present home at Tenterfield, New South Wales, in 1987 and soon after Dr Spencer was working on book number five, a history of the Australian experience of malaria. With a handful books under her belt and the ink hardly dry on her PhD, Dr Spencer is already quietly eyeing her next project. This could well be another book, a family history focusing on her six distinguished siblings and intended "for posterity rather than the public". Her three brothers and three sisters have all made their mark.
Her late brother John Cumpston was an expert on Antarctic history and had a massif on Antarctica named after him; Bruce, also dead now, was a public health officer while Alan is a retired specialist occupational health officer who worked mostly in the mining industry. Her sister Mary is an author and was reader in history at the University of London; Amy, also an author, gained a PhD in history; and Maeva, a physiotherapist, was for many years manager of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
For more information, contact Dr Margaret Spencer (telephone 02 6736 1602).
My fourth cousin 1 x removed
Born 26 August 1916, died 6th Jan 2011 on the eve of the Cumpston Reunion in Canberra
Married 13 Dec 1941 Terence E Spencer. Click here to see details of her marriage.
Bib ID 1585479
Format Picture , http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an21271965
Description ca. 1959-1999.
2 photographs : gelatin silver ; 16 x 21 cm.
Two portraits of Margaret Spencer, one dated ca. 1959, one 1999.
Biography/History Dr. Margaret Spencer, OAM, Msc (syd), PhD (Qld), Fellow of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine. Entomologist working on anopheline fauna and malaria control in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s.
Doctor's wife in Papua / by Margaret Spencer 1916-
Bib ID 2395827
Description London : R. Hale, 1964. 175 p.,  p. of plates : ill., map, ports. ; 23 cm. Subjects Fergusson Island (Papua New Guinea) - Social life and customs.
John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, C.M.G., M.D., D.P.H. / by Margaret Spencer (her father)
Book Bib ID 67133
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Description Tenterfield, N.S.W. : M. Spencer, c1987.
304 p.,  p. : port. ; 30 cm.
ISBN 0731610040 :
Available from Ms M. Spencer, 1 George Street, Tenterfield, N.S.W. 2372.
Subjects Cumpston (John Howard Lidgett). - 1880-1954. | Physicians - Australia - Biography. | Public health administration - Australia.
Interview with Mrs Margaret Spencer, doctor's wife [sound recording] / interviewer, Amy McGrath (her sister)
Audio Bib ID 98952
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
2 sound cassettes (ca.120 min.)
Summary Spencer talks about her studies at the University of Sydney, in particular Entomology, early schooling; outbreak of WWII; first job at New England University College, Armidale; work at University of Sydney; move to Thursday Is. with husband; move to PNG and work done with husband on malaria in particular a research program carried out in the Madang area of New Guinea. She also talks about her impressions of New Guinea's Independence Day.
Notes Recorded on June 18, 1979 in Tenterfield, N.S.W.
Subjects Spencer, Margaret, - 1916- - Interviews. | Spencer, Terence E. T. - (Terence Edward Thornton), - 1917-2002. | Malaria - Papua New Guinea.
Occupation Doctors' spouses. | Entomologists.
Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts, Tenterfield / compiled by Margaret Spencer on behalf of the Tenterfield Management Committee
Book Bib ID 137895
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Description Sydney : The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), 1970.
 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Caption title: Tenterfield School of Arts : a National Trust property.
Doctor's wife in Rabaul / [by] Margaret Spencer
Book Bib ID 238958
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Description London : Robert Hall, . 191 p.
Subjects Medical care - Rabaul. | Rabaul (Papua New Guinea)
Papua New Guinea papers, 1951-1998 [microform] Manuscript Bib ID 940934
Format Manuscript , Microform Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Access Conditions Available for reference. Description Canberra : Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, . 4 microfilm reels ; 35 mm. Series PMB ; 1146
Summary Minj diaries, 1954-55; correspondence, 1953-1968; Dept of Health circulars, 1954-55; correspondence with S H Christian, 1955-1970; Malaria Control Section, Public Health Dept, Mapamoiwa, patrol records, 1957-1960; press cuttings, 1958-1962; Subject files, 1952-1980; photographs, 1954-1961.
Dr Margaret Spencer, OAM, graduated MSc in Entomology in 1939 and lectured in Biology at the New England University College, 1940 to 1945. She then tutored in Zoology at the University of Sydney. Her association with PNG extended for 25 years from 1953. In 1954 she was appointed as entomologist-instructor at the Malaria Control School at Minj in the Western Highlands of New Guinea. She was awarded a WHO research grant to study enlargement of the ovarioles and development of eggs in PNG anopheline. Dr Spencer has written a history of malaria control in the south west Pacific region, a book on the Australian experience of malaria, and three books describing experiences on field patrol and on outstations in PNG. In 1998 she graduated PhD in the Tropical Health Program of the University of Queensland. Her thesis described the development of health services in PNG from 1870 till the outbreak of World War II.
Notes Originals held by Pacific Manuscripts Bureau.
Reproduction Microfilm.$bBalgowlah, N.S.W. :$cW. & F. Pascoe.$e4 microfilm reels ; 35 mm. Index/Finding Aid Note Descriptive list available (7 p.) Subjects Spencer, Margaret, - 1916- - Archives.
Papers of Isobel Bennett, 1946-1999 [manuscript] Manuscript Bib ID 292885
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Access Conditions Available for reference. Not for loan. Description 1946-1999. 6 cm. (4 folders)
Summary Collection of letters received by Spencer (approximately 100) written by Bennett between 1954 and 1999. The letters describe her teaching life at the University of Sydney, her writing and publishing undertakings, and trips to various coastal and island locations to conduct field work. The collection also includes some newspaper cuttings (1946-99), photographs and articles on Bennett.
Biography/History Entomologist. Spencer's malaria research increased knowledge of the biology and distribution of mosquitoes of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Marine biologist and author, Bennett is internationally renowned for her studies of the Great Barrier Reef and temperate seashores.
Notes Manuscript reference no. : NLA MS 9408 Related Material Associated material: The Isobel Bennett papers are held at the National Library of Australia at MS 9348.
Doctor's wife in New Guinea / by Margaret Spencer Book Bib ID 1001463 Description Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1959. 189 p. : ill. ; 23 cm. Subjects Medical care - Papua New Guinea - Wahgi River Valley. | Wahgi River Region (Papua New Guinea) - Social life and customs.
Malaria, the Australian experience, 1843-1991 / Margaret Spencer
Book Bib ID 525842 Format Book Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Description Townsville, Qld : Australian College of Tropical Medicine, 1994. 213 p. : ill, maps, ports. ; 25 cm. ISBN 0646176811 Bibliography: p. 185-204.
Subjects Malaria - Australia. | Malaria - Papua New Guinea.
Available from The Secretary, The Australian College of Tropical Medicine Inc., c/o Anton Breinl Centre, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville QLD 4811
Papers of Margaret Spencer, 1945-2000 [manuscript]
Manuscript Bib ID 2998719
Author Spencer, Margaret, 1916-
Access Conditions Available for reference. Not for loan.
Description 1945-2000. 14 cm (1 box)
1. Copies of articles, scientific papers, press cuttings and correspondence relating to the life of J.H.L. Cumpston. Correspondents include Bryan Gandevia. 2. Papers relating to the closure of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, University of Sydney, 1955-80. Notes Manuscript reference no.: MS 9585
Pictorial material in the papers of Margaret and Terrence Spencer have been digitised by the Pictorial Section of the National Library of Australia. The pictures are available online via the Pictures Catalogue: http://www.nla.gov.au/catalogue/pictures/. The Library digitised the collection of about 1,200 images 35mm slides (mainly colour) taken during the course of their work in the investigation and control of malaria for the Malaria Control Service of the Department of Public Health of Papua New Guinea between 1953 and 1978: Port Moresby, 1953; the Wahgi Valley (Western Highlands of New Guinea), 1954-1955; the D'Entrecasteaux Islands of Papua, 1956-1959; the New Guinea Islands including Tasmans and Mortlocks, 1960-1961; Bougainville Island, 1972; Port Moresby, 1975-1978. Photographs include landscapes, village life, ceremonies and patrol work. Dr. Margaret Spencer, an entomologist, and Dr Terence Spencer, a malariologist, worked in epidemiological studies, specifically on anopheline fauna and malaria control in Papua New Guinea from the 1950s to 1978.
The Bureau organised and microfilmed Dr Spencer’s diaries, correspondence, patrol records and other papers at PMB 1146.
Obituary (see photo above)
Terence Edward Thornton Spencer
MB BS DTM&H FACTM
MJA 2002 177 (7): 384
Terry Spencer was born in Tenterfield, New South Wales, on 18 April 1917. He was brought up on a grazing property, where, because of isolation, education was difficult, but he was encouraged to read and absorb a wide range of information. He showed particular interest in mechanical matters, excelling in shooting with both rifle and pistol.
After some years at Tenterfield Rural School and at "Shore" school in Sydney, Terry educated himself at home while working on the property, eventually passing his matriculation exams through the International Correspondence School at the age of 23. He enrolled in the Faculty of Science at the then New England University College, where he met his future wife, Margaret Cumpston.
His studies were interrupted by the war. In 1940, he enlisted in the Air Force and trained as a radio and radar mechanic. Active war service contributed to the deafness that handicapped him in later life.
When war ended, Terry was accepted as a medical student at the University of Sydney. After graduating in 1951, his first medical appointment was to Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, where he took a special interest in diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in Indigenous people. It was there that his enduring interest in tropical medicine and insect-borne diseases began.
In 1953, after gaining the Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the University of Sydney, he joined the Department of Health in Papua New Guinea. During his stay there (1953–1961), he became a specialist in the epidemiology and control of malaria. His expertise was recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine in 1992.
His other medical appointments included Visiting Medical Officer at the Prince Albert Memorial Hospital, in Tenterfield (1962–1974), and sole resident general practitioner in Werris Creek (1979–1987), a small town in northern New South Wales.
Terry was a grazier, a malariologist, a great storyteller and a general practitioner with a wide range of abilities. Capable, conscientious and enthusiastic, with a quiet and friendly manner, whatever he undertook he carried out with integrity and to the best of his ability. He tackled all problems with courage and determination, not least his increasing helplessness in later years. He died on 15 February 2002. A loving and supportive husband and brother, Terry is survived by his wife Margaret and sister Anne.
(Received 22 Mar 2002, accepted 16 May 2002)
31/67 MacGregor Street, Deakin, ACT. Margaret Spencer, OAM MSc PhD FACTM, Entomologist.
Correspondence: Dr Margaret Spencer, 31/67 MacGregor Street, Deakin, ACT 2600.