In the News

Vale June Halliday


It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Professor June Halliday. June is known to some of you as the extraordinary scientist who worked at QIMR Berghofer from the 1960s until 1995 when she retired.

Sadly, I never got to meet June but reading about her phenomenal contributions is particularly inspiring. At a time of doubts and anger for many women in Australia, June’s story epitomises resilience through talent, when women were even less able to shine as undisputed pioneers.

June Wanda Von Alpin was a Queenslander born in 1930, of Irish, German and English ancestry. She was a stellar high school student who progressed all the way to the University of Queensland and graduated in Science in 1949, majoring in Biochemistry. She then did honours at QIMR, as it was called then under the directorship of Ian Mackerras. Her honours project was on ‘the fate of human haemoglobin in mosquitos’.

How strange that only yesterday I was looking at this photo of young June, while preparing a presentation on QIMR Berghofer for next week. I was reflecting on how pretty she was and not surprisingly she had many suitors. Eventually, a young microbiologist from Melbourne recruited to the University of Queensland, William James Halliday, won her heart. Both travelled to Wisconsin on Fulbright Scholarships. June did her PhD on inositol metabolism. In 1956 the pair returned to Brisbane, where June was appointed lecturer in the department of Pathology at the University of Queensland.

If you thought that things had changed since the 1950s, think again. Back then as well, June was on a 1-year contract. Further, when she expected her first child, she was told to stay at home and her contract was not renewed. This rule was abandoned when June had a second child but the experience led her to be one the strongest advocates for women’s rights until her last day. From there, she was a part-time employee in the Department of Pathology until 1968. The Department of Medicine eventually recruited her full time. She then worked alongside Professor Lawrie Powell for almost 30 years, a very prolific collaborative partnership. In the end the 1950s honour student joined QIMR as a full professor 40 years later, most unusual for female scientists in those days.

June became a world-renowned expert in iron metabolism and one of the most famous ‘Iron ladies’ with Pauline Harrison, Maria Linder and Liz Thiel. June played several important leadership roles at the University of Queensland and scientific societies. She was particularly passionate about the need to close the gap between basic and clinical research, an issue that has not disappeared and remains a battle today.

June has been described as very intelligent, articulate and brave enough to hold firm views and have the courage of her convictions. June’s incredible achievements are on the back of raising three children who all graduated in Medicine. What an extraordinary woman and a spirited scientist. It is a great loss for Australia, the research community in Queensland and at QIMR Berghofer. June will forever be remembered as the trail blazer who never gave up, fought for women in science and persevered no matter how difficult the path to success was. Reflecting on recent events and the never-ending fight women undertake to prevail in the world, June is a lost icon, one that we look back on with the greatest admiration.

On behalf of the QIMR Berghofer community, we pay tribute to June and convey our deepest condolences to her family.

Professor Fabienne Mackay
Director & CEO, QIMR Berghofer