The tall figure of Greg Tegart, elegant in a striped business shirt and tie.

Photo of Greg Tegart“I think I must drive my wife mad”, he laughs, “every time we go shopping, she looks at the clothes but I go around checking out all the labels. I want to know where things are made, what the production process is, what’s the story that item is telling. I’m fascinated by trade patterns and economics. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between technology and society.”

At 85 Greg Tegart remains the personification of focused curiosity. There’s no other word for it. He simply loves to understand how things work, how they were made, who benefits from them and whether there could be changes that might improve any part of the process.

“I think it’s this innate curiosity in my life that’s kept me thinking about how things are going and what things might happen. That’s always intrigued me. That’s what keep me young, I really don’t feel old. Mentally I just feel a young man.”

As he explains his remarkable career, stretching as it does across metallurgy, engineering, teaching, research and senior management positions in both government and private industry, it’s hardly surprising he’s a man who likes to know … well … everything.

It’s a fascination which started early. Greg leans back and lets his formidable memory transport him across the decades. “I’ve just always been curious. When I was young there was no such thing as television, or anything else much really! No computers, no smart phones, no nothing. So all the things we did were things we had to do ourselves. So I was very interested in making things. I used to make crystal-sets and listen to the Test cricket matches under the blankets, you know, with the earphones and that sort of thing.”

“I really do think it’s the curiosity that always been driving me. I see challenges as opportunities, a chance to do something different. Unlike my contemporaries I haven’t stayed in one field.”

Raised in the Melbourne suburb of East St. Kilda, Greg’s early life had all the usual elements of an Australian childhood, from backyard cricket to home-made billy-carts. His eyes twinkle and his smile reveals another cherished memory. “We used to race our billy-carts down the hill outside our home. In fact, the bottom of the street ended at the cemetery wall and we used to joke that if you went too hard you might end up there yourself!”

A successful student, Greg went from school to study metallurgy at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, RMIT. After graduating he faced a major choice, whether to go to the UK to pursue his PhD, or whether to stay in Australia. Once again, his innate curiosity propelled him towards a challenge.

“I really do think it’s the curiosity that always been driving me. I see challenges as opportunities, a chance to do something different. Unlike my contemporaries I haven’t stayed in one field.”

Greg decided to head to Sheffield University in the mid-1950s to undertake his doctorate in metal properties. His work eventually leading him to a professorship and a distinguished academic career.

But, as ever, Greg Tegart wasn’t content to sit on his laurels. He was looking for new opportunities, new challenges, new adventures.

“I didn’t ever see myself as a complete academic. In England I’d been a professor of materials but when I returned to Australia I didn’t come back to be an academic. I came back to work for BHP and to run the new research labs they were building in Melbourne. I headed up a team doing product research and looking at a whole range of new issues in energy.”

After a decade of success at BHP, Greg shifted again. This time it was to the highest ranks of government.

“Out of the blue I got a call from Canberra, from the Minister for Science and Technology, asking me to be part of the new management team at the CSIRO. So, once again I made the change and that exposed me to a much wider range of activities. Later I was appointed as the Secretary of the Department of Science and so I had an even broader area of responsibility.

“One of the areas under my jurisdiction was the Bureau of Meteorology and through that I ended up as the Australian delegate to the inaugural Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, and helped establish the IPCC in Geneva.”

It’s a career few people could imagine, let alone achieve. And at the heart of his success lies his abiding interest in harnessing technology to improve people’s lives. That’s what brought him to his latest endeavours, working to improve the connection between people’s needs and the potential of technology.

“My diverse experience has, I guess, lead me new areas where technology can be put to good use. That’s why I’m so interested in assistive technologies for the aged and the disabled. I see the links between areas like bio-technology and nano-technology with information technologies and cognitive sciences. I think there are many benefits that can be realized if we think laterally and embrace these important developments”.

By the end of our discussion I understand why Greg Tegart doesn’t seem old. He’s simply too busy!

His instant laughter suggests agreement with the proposition. “I’ve always imagined that I’m still young at heart and so far I’ve had the cognitive functions to keep me going. One of these days it might catch up with me!”

Now that’s something that’s hard to imagine.