My time at the ISC in Edinburgh – Ron Smith 1971-72


Ron Smith, 1971, the photo was taken
shortly before coming to the ISC

Notes from Ron Smith

Received: 09 February 2018

I arrived at the ISC in June 1971 from Perth WA, with my wife Janet. I remember that it was at the height of your summer in Edinburgh and it seemed colder than our winter in Perth! At the first sign of any sunshine people were stripping off to sunbake while we were wearing jumpers!

I had been a Geophysicist with the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources for 4 years and had been operating Geomagnetic and Seismological Observatories at Mawson Base in Antarctica, at Toolangi in Victoria, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and in Mundaring, WA (briefly).

We had left PNG in about March 1971 so had only a few months in Perth, WA. I came down with malaria in Greece en-route and spent a day in a London hotel pretty much unconscious. A couple of weeks after our arrival in Edinburgh Jan succumbed and spent a few days in the Infectious Diseases Ward at Western General Hospital surrounded mostly by elderly men survivors of wars in the tropics. She saw quite a lot of a Dr Ayles at Morningside during our time there.

My duties as an editor consisted of “proof-reading” draft bulletins then improving the quality of epicentral solutions by removing obviously miss-associated readings, sometimes fixing poorly constrained depths and editing magnitude estimates. We did this by “pouring over” huge piles of computer printouts, marking up changes on them, then punching cards to direct the changes.

I shared my role for the first 6 months with Klara Mrazova from Bratislava so we worked overlapping 12 month terms. Klara used to ask me “Ronnie, can I borrow your bike I have to jump to the bank”. We were lucky enough to visit Klara at her home late in our term.

Jan was able to obtain work in the University Research Grants Dept., where she struggled somewhat with the language barrier but worked with some lovely colleagues. She introduced some Australian flavour into the mix with sayings such as “shot through like a Bondi tram” and “sure as eggs”, much to their astonishment.

One highlight for us was lunch in the University Staff Club, which served for us as the major meal of the day for much of our time. The memorable dish was haggis & turnips.

Another highlight was our 1st snowfall 17 Nov. Our car remained buried in snow for several days as we did not bother to dig it out! It was a very severe winter and some people were affected by the cold due to a shortage of coal for heating, with some elderly folk even dying of cold.

We made friends at Nicholson Square Methodist Church and experienced a traditional English Christmas in Shropshire with their parents and were so privileged to partake of the warm hospitality shown to us. We also travelled to London by train to spend Easter with Australian friends.

Because of my experience in Antarctica, the tropics and remote locations, I was invited by Dr. Pat Willmore to write a section on “Operation under adverse conditions”, and some associated sections, for the second edition of the “Manual of Seismological Observatory Practice”, which was published by WDC-A in September 1979.

We baby-sat for Anthony and Lucy Hughes on at least one occasion and their daughter Tamsin subsequently visited us in Sydney in about 1986. We have kept in touch and been able to return to visit both the Hughes and also David and Pat McGregor on two occasions.

We were delighted but somewhat surprised to find early in 1972 that Jan was pregnant with our first baby. The good Dr. Ayles asked her where she wanted the baby and she said “at home”. His response was that he would not recommend that for a first baby and she said “No, I mean in Australia”. We had to cut short the time we had planned to travel in Europe and just got back to Australia while the airline would allow her to fly. Darren was born in Perth on 24 August 1972.

We left on 11 June 1972 and visited the seismological Observatory in Ottawa, Canada, and Dr. Bruce Bolt in San Francisco on the way home.


Ron Smith, Orange NSW, Feb 2018.




ISC Office, Ron’s bike against the wall, Director Ed Arnold and 2IC Anthony Hughes at the window.

Klara Mrazova with Lucy and Anthony Hughes at Traquir House

Jan and Ron at Dirleton Castle, July 1971