Dr Stan Mellick OAM was in his mid-40s when he realised that being a successful pharmacist wasn’t enough, so he went back to university to read the books he always wanted to read.
Dr Mellick (Bachelor of Arts ’68, Doctor of Philosophy ’78) has been many things in life – military man, war soldier, pharmacist, poet, author, university lecturer – but even in his first career as a pharmacist, he always felt an aptitude for words and their power.
Now, at age 100, he still exercises and walks every day around the streets at his home at Cleveland on Moreton Bay, and reflects on a life in which reading and writing has always been important.
The professional highlight of his life was his time at UQ, where he enrolled in an arts degree in 1964, obtained an honours degree, then subsequently a doctorate. He became a tutor in literature – mainly Australian literature – then a senior tutor, then a senior lecturer, until he retired in 1985.
“I always had a liking for poetry when I was a student at Brisbane Grammar,” he said.
“While there, I won an award which had some money attached to it. But I thought I’d better do something solid, so when I left school I put the money towards an accounting and law course.
"Knowing my way around both disciplines proved a good skill to have throughout my life."
Dr Mellick, born in February 1920, enrolled in the Citizens Military Forces at 16 after starting work and then, after World War II war broke out in 1939, he was sent in 1942 for advanced staff training at Duntroon, subsequently serving in Intelligence and Operational areas in Papua New Guinea.
After the war he became a pharmacist. He set up a pharmacy at Enoggera, obtaining the relevant training by correspondence. He then set up a second pharmacy at Isles Lane, in Brisbane's CBD, in 1953.
He joined Letty in welcoming their daughter Jill into the world in 1949, by which time his Enoggera pharmacy was flourishing in the post-war booms of the 1950s and ’60s.
Home was an artistic retreat – Letty, a talented pianist, had maintained her work as a composer and, in 1956, released her song A Town like Alice, which became the first Australian song to top the Hit Parade.
Yet, for all the happy family life and professional success, life was changing. An old war injury got worse and he decided that study would be a good way to recuperate. Plus, it was what he really wanted to do.
His daughter, Jill (Bachelor of Arts ’70) was enrolled at UQ at the same time when he had started in 1964. In 1968, when he graduated, he was somewhat surprised to be offered a position as a tutor.
This was the turning point. Should he carry on with this university life or return to pharmacy? What should he do with the rest of his life?
“By then, I really had no desire to continue in pharmacy, although I was very successful there. It’s a very high-pressure job – people want scripts filled instantly – and I really had to consider whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing that.
“I wanted something more meaningful, and introducing young people to literature and helping illuminate them on life issues seemed a far preferable way to spend my time.”
As a then 50-year-old man with a business background, he brought a degree of discipline to a faculty which was often guided by artistic ideals.
“I was used to working nine-to-five, and on a Friday afternoon I’d walk through the faculty, and noted that few staff would be there – no doubt following their own academic pursuits. So, though I was available for students to call on me, that became my time for writing.”
The writing was designed to become his master’s thesis. It was an examination of the four years in Australia of British novelist Henry Kingsley, who came to Australia in the 1850s as a gold digger before returning to Britain in 1859, where his literary career took off.
Dr Mellick dutifully submitted his thesis for a master’s degree, but was urged to submit it for a doctorate.
“We had two examiners, one in Oxford and one in Adelaide, and they both passed it, so I went straight from an honours degree to a PhD, bypassing the master’s,” he said.
As a tutor and lecturer, Dr Mellick maintained this no-nonsense style of a man with a business background.
He recalls having two law students who didn’t seem terribly taken with "all this literature stuff", and did little to suppress their view in tutorials. He called the disruptive duo to his room and wrote two things on the blackboard: Everyone must die, and All men are mortal.
“I asked them which one they preferred, and they said the second. I looked hard at them, and asked ‘Why?’ Dead silence. Then I said, ‘that’s what I’m on about – ‘why?”
The students left, contemplating his words.
“Subsequently, about 15 years ago in George Street, I saw a fellow in a legal wig and gown walking towards me.
“He looked at me, stopped and said, ‘You taught me to love poetry’ and walked off before I could speak. I never knew who he was.”
Dr Mellick retired in 1985, but he hardly laid down his oars. He was already involved with the journal Australian Literary Studies, helping its financial as well as its literary side – his early pre-war training in accountancy coming back to serve him well towards the end of the 20th century.
He was also offered the editorship of the then forthcoming Oxford Literary Guide to Australia, but in a sort of literary state of origin, passed it up as he wondered if he, as a comparative unknown, would get the cooperation of Sydney and Melbourne academics.
In any case, he was already working on Queensland’s own literary history by producing Writers Footprints, a detailed record of the references to Queensland cities, towns and places in literature.
Dr Mellick is exceedingly proud of his daughter, Jill Mellick, a clinical psychology professor in southern California who has written well-received books about Karl Jung’s art and the processes which contributed to that art.
And now, in the year he received a congratulatory telegram from the Queen, he reflects that the Australian writers he most admired were Henry Handel Richardson and Christina Stead. But he hesitates when asked about what book has moved him the most.
“Probably the Bible,” he said.
“The Bible helps you reflect on the inward person. It gives you an understanding of what it is like to be beyond human. That’s important to think about.”
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