Dora Lush's legacy for women in science

Burnet Institute

05 March, 2020

Image: Dora Lush circa 1940.

The story of an incredible woman who lived and died for science, and the family that keep her legacy alive.

Margaret Lush and her family fund an annual scholarship to support the careers of women in science at Burnet Institute. The scholarships are awarded in the name of Margaret’s aunt, Dora Lush, a woman who lived and ultimately died for science.

In a time when women were expected to resign when they married, Dora dedicated her life to a career in science.

Born in Hawthorn, Victoria in 1910, Dora was educated at Fintona Girls’ School and the University of Melbourne, where she gained her science degrees.

She worked for a time in London, in the midst of the WWII air-raids, working on the influenza virus, and later alongside Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet (Mac Burnet) in a small team examining viruses and the human immune system – a research theme that is continued today at Burnet Institute.

Mac Burnet considered her the “most outstandingly competent” bacteriologist with whom he had ever worked.

While conducting experiments on the deadly scrub typhus infection in 1943, Dora accidentally pricked her finger with an infected needle. Scrub typhus was a serious health risk to Australian soldiers engaged in jungle warfare in Papua New Guinea during World War II. Within a week she had symptoms of the disease – fever, headache, rash.

Dora insisted that regular blood samples be taken and sent to her colleagues so they could keep working on a scrub typhus vaccine. She died a few weeks later, and sadly, it was discovered soon after that scrub typhus could be treated with antibiotics.

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Nearly 80 years later, women in science at Burnet Institute are able to further their scientific knowledge thanks to Margaret Lush and her family’s Dora Lush Travel Fellowship.

Lush family

Image: L–R: Margaret Lush, her granddaughters Georgia and Amelia, her son, Will, and husband, David. Absent from the family portrait: Jude Harper.

When Margaret and her family learned of the opportunity to fund travel fellowships for female research staff at Burnet, they felt it was the perfect way to contribute to Burnet in a way that was meaningful to them, and to the memory of Margaret’s aunt.

The annual Dora Lush Travel Fellowship enables an outstanding woman scientist at Burnet to exchange knowledge with her peers, present her work, receive mentoring through participation in scientific conferences and gain exposure to the wider scientific community in which she specialises.

Fellowships like this one, named after Dora, are critical to the development of the new generation of female leaders in science.

It’s incredibly important to Margaret and her family to support women dedicating their lives to science. They have supported scholarships in schools and universities, always with the idea of enabling young girls to advance in STEM subjects – science, technology engineering and mathematics. This fellowship at Burnet is the natural extension of that.

How the family supports Burnet’s work

Margaret and her family donate to Burnet through a family managed fund, and the entire family has a say in what the fund will support. Margaret’s granddaughters get to participate in the decision about where to direct the funds, and as Margaret shared with us, she finds it delightful to see where their minds go – from saving endangered corroboree frogs to supporting an organisation that provides sporting equipment to a refugee group – to the Dora Lush Travel Fellowship.

Margaret believes Dora would be proud to know that her legacy, her dedication to science, is living through these young woman scientists thanks to the Dora Lush Travel Fellowship.

Please support women in science, and women in need around the world, with a gift to Burnet Institute.

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Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Ashley Sievwright

Donor Communications and Relations Officer




[email protected]

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