Lost Newcastle Oral Histories – Assoc. Professor Ray Walker (1924 – 2016)

William Raymond ‘Ray’ Walker was Associate Professor of Chemistry at the UON for over twenty years. He was a fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute  and a member of the International Association of Bio-Inorganic Scientists.  In April 2016 Ray and his family made contact with UON’s Cultural Collections about his research papers and record an oral history.  Dr Ann Hardy from UON’s Cultural Collections interviewed Ray on the 13th May 2016 at St Josephs Nursing Home, Sandgate, NSW.  Also present at interview was Ray’s daughter Patricia Hatherly. Ray speaks about his early years as a chemistry teacher in Sydney, his appointment at Newcastle at the Newcastle Technical College and later University of Newcastle. A second interview was planned with Ray to discuss his ‘Copper Bracelet’ international research, however sadly he passed away on 23 June 2016. Therefore this post will help preserve Ray’s legacy to the UON.  Here is the interview with Ray in May 2016. INTERVIEW AVAILABLE HERE.

Ray Walker- mid-2000s
Ray Walker- mid-2000s

The Lost Newcastle Oral History Project is a community resource to gather social and cultural histories of the Hunter Region through digital oral history- audio/audio-visual recordings.

EDUCATION – Educated at Marist Brothers High School at Hamilton, after the leaving certificate he was offered a place at Sydney Teachers’ College in 1942. However within weeks of starting college Ray won a scholarship to the University of Sydney to study science. It was during this time his teaching career began as a demonstrator at the University of Sydney in 1944, later also teaching at various high schools in Sydney including Canterbury Boys High and Fort Street High School. He graduated with Honours in organic chemistry and in 1952 obtained a Master Science degree from University of Sydney and after completing a thesis on copper was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of NSW in 1963.

ACADEMIA & RESEARCH – Ray returned to Newcastle in 1949 where he become science teacher at Newcastle Technical High School, and appointed lecturer position at Newcastle Technical College in 1950. In 1951 Ray was transferred along with Arthur Ritchie, Stan Baker, Kerr Johnston and George Haggarty (Geoff Curthoys joining them from Broken Hill in 1953) to the Science Department of the Newcastle University College, formed under the auspices of the New South Wales University of Technology. His first lecture at the new college was in 1952 and his first papers written in 1950 and 1951.  Ray is considered one of the “founding fathers of science called chromatography”.
In 1974 Ray started his extensive research into copper compounds to the skin as anti-inflammatory agents- exploring the ‘copper bracelet’ theory. He was interested the following question: Is there anything to the folk myth that copper bracelets have great therapeutic value? He set to work to provide a rational basis for the statement “my arthritis went away”. Ray published a book ‘The Copper Bracelet Story’ outlining the timeline and intricacies of his research.

Alcusal: The Copper Bracelet Story. By Dr W.R. Walker (1999)

International Exhibition of Invention and New Techniques held in Geneva, the invention ‘Alcusal’ won a Gold Medal in the medical section. Alcusal was developed as a result of research carried out by the UON.

The University of Newcastle UNINEWS No. 2 July, 1988
The University of Newcastle UNINEWS No. 2 July, 1988

“The wearing of copper bracelets by arthritics has been known since Egyptian times. However, it seems that the first planned investigation of whether copper bracelets do provide some benefit to arthritics was undertaken by Dr Ray Walker (now retired from our Department of Chemistry) and Assoc. Professor Daphne Keats, of the Department of Psychology. Their carefully planned study, which involved 240 volunteers and both copper and placebo bracelets, clearly showed that, for some arthritics, the copper bracelet gave relief from pain. As indicated, it has been suggested from overseas studies that the action of aspirin depended on it picking up copper in the blood stream, and that the copper aspirin complex was the active form.” Professor Barry Boettcher and Dr Ray Walker were largely responsible for bringing Alcusal Gel to the market in mid-1987.

Ray retired from the UON on 31 August 1984.On his retirement he was reminded of a ‘thank you’ card given by Honours class from the University of Singapore he lectured in 1978, “Those keen young people hung on every word. When I finished my lectures they ‘grabbed’ my notes and my slides – they were so enthusiastic.”

Dr Ray Walker was interviewed on 28 January, 1988 by Mrs R. Geale. INTERVIEW AVAILABLE HERE.  Ray talks about his early years in Newcastle as a chemistry teacher at Newcastle Technical High School, the Newcastle Technical College and and later University of Newcastle.  He speaks about his post graduate studies and early research years. Ray talks about the foundations set during the 1950s and early 1960s in Newcastle for the University of Newcastle to be established, and of those involved in establishing an autonomous university. The final part of the interview Ray speaks proudly of his daughters Patricia, Christine, Helen, Debbie, Monica, Mary Kathleen and their educational achievements.

 Professor Ray Walker, the University of Newcastle, Australia. 1980s.

Professor Ray Walker, the University of Newcastle, Australia. 1980s.
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Kathleen and Ray Walker (1985)

FAMILY – Ray was born 20 July, 1924. Father Cecil was a primary school headmaster, his brothers Noel and Keith medical specialists, another brother Tony a dentist. Ray had two sisters, Claire Lambert and Cecile. Ray was married to Kathleen (O’Rourke) and they had six daughters-Patricia, Christine, Helen, Debbie, Monica, Mary Kathleen. Ray’s sister Cecile Keane (nee Walker) married an Irishman Tim Keane and settled in Mt. Isa, they had a daughter Margaret quite late in life, however as Patricia recalls she become very close to her younger cousin Margaret when she moved with her husband to Mt Isa in 1972.

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Kathleen and Ray Walker with their daughters (L to R) Mary Kathleen, Monica, Patricia, Christine, Debbie and Helen (1985)

“In my early childhood I firmly believed that there were only three important families – the Holy Family, the Royal Family and the Walker Family” (Ray Walker). As a Walker he was a proud Novocastrian; a fourth generation Walker following on from his great grandfather George who came from Aberdeen, and sailed from Edinburgh to Newcastle as a ship’s captain in 1837. From all accounts he was Scottish to the hilt and a lover of life; and dad once told me that George, after winning a bet, was offered the land that DJs stands on or a bottle of whiskey. He took the whiskey!” (Patricia Hatherly, Eulogy 2016)

Ray in 2012 with a painting done by his grand-daughter Clare Cook of a younger Ray
Ray in 2012 with a painting done by his grand-daughter Clare Cook of a younger Ray
Ray in his favourite red jumper and favourite chair (with beer) – 2013
Ray in his favourite red jumper and favourite chair (with beer) – 2013

Relatives and Friends of Ray attended his funeral at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Kenrick Street The Junction on 29th June 2016. A private cremation was held prior to the Funeral Service.

Marist Brothers – Old Boys’ Union
Maitland Diocesan Education Board (10 yrs)
Chair of the Newcastle Section of the royal Australian Chemical Institute
Member of International Association of Bioinorganic Scientists
Abstractor for Chemical Abstracts of American Chemical Society
Newcastle and District Association of Science Teachers and Chemistry – Education committee of NSW

We thank Ray Walker’s family for kindly giving the UON permission to share his story and interviews. Also see EULOGY Ray Walker, By Patricia Hatherly 

The University of Newcastle UNINEWS No. 2 July, 1988

University News Newsletter for the University of Newcastle. Vol. 10, Number 14, August 17 – 31.

Funeral Notice ‘William Raymond Walker’ – Newcastle Herald

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