Dr Jane Goodall - A study in obstinacy and optimism

We were incredibly privileged to have the extraordinary Dr Jane Goodall DBE join our 12th Anniversary Dinner celebrations, providing a wonderful insight into her incredible life and conservation efforts. 

In her own words, she is ‘an obstinate woman’. Armed with remarkable patience, razor-sharp observational skills, a notebook and binoculars, her research revolutionised our understanding of what it is to be human and her story certainly had our room full of Melbourne scientists and the wider business community enthralled.

Many Ambassadors at the Anniversary Dinner confirmed they had been inspired into science by Goodall, Fossey and Attenborough, and last week Dr Goodall continued to do just that through her seemingly in-exhaustive commitment to conservation, and her trademark quiet practical style, driven by hope and optimism.

“We don’t have a big window of time,” she implored. Goodall’s primary concern now is to address the economic and cultural tensions that give rise to logging and unsustainable farming, driving a new bargain to bring the forest back to life by investing in the people living in and around the forest.

Dr Goodall’s research on the Kasakela chimpanzee community in Gombe Steam National Park in Tanzania was published in the 1970’s, and since then has continued to influence scientific discourse and debate.

The degradation and destruction “of what was once a great forest belt that stretched from East Africa to the West African coast has been devastating,” Dr Goodall confirmed . By the early 1990’s, the area in which the chimp communities of Gombe Steam lived had become “a small oasis of trees, surrounded by completely bare hills”. The local people were struggling to survive and it was then that she realised she had to do something to support these people, who would in turn, support the regeneration of the forest and the chimps.

As a behaviouralist, she understood that trade and education were the tools that humans could use to change the economic gradient in the chimps’ favour. She believed in creating micro credit programs for women and sponsoring local communities into the tourism industry, creating far more productive and sustainable trading terms other than poaching. Goodall championed the education of girls and her investment in young people is what gives her hope for the future. “If we don’t help these people, there is no point in trying to save the chimps,” she said.

Up until Goodall’s research was published, science distinguished humans from the animal kingdom by the practice of constructing tools. Her research fundamentally challenged this position, as did her methods, creating a new platform for scientists studying the behaviour of animals. Goodall’s patience in the forest is stuff of legend, setting herself apart from other researchers, developing a close bond with the chimpanzees and finally becoming accepted as the lowest ranking member of a troop for a period of 22 months until a new alpha male forced her out.

Dr Goodall’s obstinacy has held her in very good stead, initially patiently waiting in the Tanzanian forest for the chimp community to trust her, then in working with governments, industry and local communities, and now advancing her message of hope and activism on a global scale. One of the most well-known and respected scientists in the world, Dr Goodall’s influence continues to be felt across many scientific disciplines and continents, inspiring a new generation of scientists each year and ordinary people to understand that science is everyone’s business.