1970 - 1979

From the early-1970s, members once again set about recruiting others working in cancer research and treatment to join the NZSO. They began by drawing on their personal connections. They also promoted the meetings by publishing the 'call for papers' and full abstracts in the New Zealand Medical Journal.1

The first six meetings of the NZSO took place in Dunedin and in Christchurch. The founding members aimed to establish a national society and invited Auckland researchers to join the Executive Committee. Yet, 'funds were hard to come by' and the early meetings primarily featured cancer researchers based in the South Island. Consequently, 'a lot of the connections were formed through correspondence rather than through people attending meetings'.2

In 1972, Bruce Baguley became one of the first scientists from Auckland to attend an NZSO meeting as it coincided with his trip to Dunedin to visit his sister at the University of Otago Medical School. He described feeling:

quite enthusiastic having been to the meeting and seeing different people from different backgrounds all talking about cancer. I think that was kind of an eye-opener that they integrated different people's ideas.3

The following year, Peter Fitzgerald wrote to the Cancer Society to request support for members' travel costs and accommodation. Peter had become president in 1972, and he proposed advertising the meeting as a joint venture between the NZSO and the Cancer Society. He reinforced the role of the NZSO as a purely academic conference that would complement – rather than detract from – the aims of the Cancer Society.4

The Cancer Society obliged. In 1975, the Auckland Division funded several scientists to attend their first NZSO meeting in Christchurch.5

History 1

Minutes of the 4th Annual General Meeting, 18 April 1975, Christchurch Clinical School

Bill Wilson was a PhD student at the University of Auckland when he attended his first meeting with his supervisor, Bruce Baguley, in 1975. He remembers the 'regional rivalries' that manifested in:

some quite hostile interactions during question time in the scientific sessions, particularly by a couple of alpha males who seemed to delight in banging heads very vociferously and in quite a hostile way. So that was a feature I think of the early years of the Society. It was sort of frontier New Zealand.6

Such heated interactions also left a lasting impression on Bill Denny. Bill had returned to New Zealand three years earlier in 1972 to work with Bruce Cain at the Auckland Cancer Research Laboratory. He remembers:

Clinicians could be quite rude to each other, incredibly rude to each other, and that was a bit of an eye-opener … they'd get into a slanging match sometimes, we'd sit there with open eyes, you know, saying 'we don't do that'. That type of thing. They're much more individual I think than the scientists.7

1970 photo of Bill

Bill Denny, Bill Wilson, and Bruce Baguley with Ed Elslager from Warner-Lambert. ACSRC

Such heated interactions also left a lasting impression on Bill Denny. Bill had returned to New Zealand three years earlier in 1972 to work with Bruce Cain at the Auckland Cancer Research Laboratory. He remembers:

Clinicians could be quite rude to each other, incredibly rude to each other, and that was a bit of an eye-opener … they'd get into a slanging match sometimes, we'd sit there with open eyes, you know, saying 'we don't do that'. That type of thing. They're much more individual I think than the scientists.7

[ dynamic_content audio/evolution/1970-1979/bill-denny-01 ]

These exchanges – which 'got quite personal' – primarily arose between clinicians.8 Yet, there was also some 'animosity and some rivalry' between scientists in Auckland and in Dunedin.9 Scientists were particularly divided on whether it was possible to develop medication to treat cancer. Instead, most researchers focused on carcinogens and exploring the formation of cancer cells. As Bruce Baguley explains,

It's interesting to know how people thought about cancer at that time, it is quite different. And so, I think Bruce Cain was in one camp that actually thought that it would be possible to develop new treatments for cancer, but there were a lot of other people including a lot of medics who thought this was not possible and a waste of time.10

[ dynamic_content audio/evolution/1970-1979/bruce-baguley-02 ]

NZSO Bruce and Bruce

Bruce Cain and Bruce Baguley. ACSRC

NZSO Bruce Cain

Bruce Cain. ACSRC.

The culture of the meetings also changed with the increasing awareness of the connections between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. In 1968, the American Association of Cancer Research formally requested conference delegates refrain from smoking in the meeting rooms. The NZSO meetings underwent similar changes. Bill Wilson explains:

One of the dramatic differences from meetings today is that morning tea was 'smoko'. So, a significant number of the cancer researchers would file outside and have a cigarette, including me. So, I was a cigarette smoker at that time. Whereas today if any members of the New Zealand Society for Oncology smoked cigarettes – and I think there might be one or two that do – they would walk several blocks away before indulging in the habit … So, it was quite extraordinary for a Society for oncology.11

[ dynamic_content audio/evolution/1970-1979/bill-wilson-02 ]

NZSO 1970 programme

1979 conference programme

The mid-1970s also witnessed the growth of medical oncology and oncology societies, especially in North America and in Australia. Such developments led to discussions about whether the NZSO was an appropriate forum for those working in 'experimental cancer research' in New Zealand.12

In December 1976, Alan Clarke, the Dunedin-based surgeon and then-president of the NZSO, addressed such queries in a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Medical Journal. He explained that while the NZSO did not specifically cater to clinicians, it provided a 'very satisfactory venue for the future discussion of clinical oncology'. Clarke reasoned that New Zealand was simply 'too small a country to support two viable societies' for cancer research and for clinical oncology'.13

Clarke revisited queries about the involvement of clinicians during the 1977 AGM. He informed attendees that upon reviewing the history of the NZSO and its membership, he found that clinicians had been involved in the Society since its inception. Approximately one-third to one-half of the membership held medical qualifications and every meeting had included papers by clinicians or of relevance to clinicians. He concluded that the NZSO 'indeed does provide a forum for clinical oncologists'. Members of the Society had not only 'tried to encourage them to participate from its very beginning' but were 'very concerned to offer them even more encouragement in future'.14

While members were in favour of remaining as a single society, they were less certain about the most appropriate ways to integrate the increasing number of clinical presentations into the meetings. Some members proposed holding separate sessions for clinical and scientific papers, while others suggested organising separate days for clinicians and for scientists or holding two separate meetings entirely.15

Mike Berridge joined the NZSO in 1978. He explains that some of the earlier meetings that hosted separate sessions for clinicians and scientists meant there was 'a mass exodus when the chemists started talking'.
The NZSO was 'sort of divided into factions'. It involved chemists, otherwise referred to as 'chicken wire people' due to the appearance of phenolic groups, biologists, and medical professionals. Mike concludes, 'it was a strange group of people but with one common interest'.16

[ dynamic_content audio/evolution/1970-1979/mike-berridge-01 ]


Members' desires to foster closer connections between scientists and clinicians became especially clear at the 1979 meeting with the workshop titled: 'The Future Direction of Cancer Research in New Zealand'.
The workshop arose in response to researchers' growing dissatisfaction with the funding structure of cancer research in New Zealand.17 Bruce Cain was the president of the NZSO that year. He was conscious of the issues that had arisen with the formation of the NZSO the previous decade and was reluctant to endorse any event that the Cancer Society might consider 'political maneuvering'. He opposed hosting the workshop at the annual meeting and suggested it be advertised as an event by the Wellington Division of the Cancer Society instead.

After much discussion, the workshop went ahead and was hosted by the Wellington Clinical School of Medicine.

Among other issues, workshop participants reported that the lack of 'cross-fertilisation' between clinicians and scientists resulted in limited opportunities to gain exposure to the 'broader, changing needs of oncology research'.19 They felt that heightened communication between scientists and clinicians was vital considering the '"mouse doctor" often loses all sight of the ultimate goal of his research – the cancer patient'.20


By the end of the decade, the NZSO had evolved into a national organisation with over one hundred subscribing members and two Life Members. They had held meetings in Christchurch, Dunedin, Auckland, Palmerston North, and in Wellington.
Incorporating clinicians and scientists in meaningful ways that reached 'across the divide' remained a priority.

References

1Minutes of the 2nd Annual General Meeting, 25 February 1972, Hugh Adam Department of Cancer Research, University of Otago Medical School, NZSO archives.
2Interview with Bruce Baguley, 14 February 2018.
3Ibid.
4Letter from Peter Fitzgerald to John Murphy, 28 November 1973, NZSO archives.
5Minutes of the 4th Annual General Meeting, 18 April 1975, Christchurch Clinical School, NZSO archives.
6Interview with Bill Wilson, 12 February 2018.
7Interview with Bill Denny, 7 February 2018.
8Ibid.
9Interview with Bill Wilson.
10Interview with Bruce Baguley.
11Interview with Bill Wilson.
12Letter from the president of the Cancer Society to Alan M. Clarke, 20 August 1976, NZSO archives.
13Alan M. Clarke, 'Clinical Oncology', New Zealand Medical Journal, 26 January 1977, p. 70.
14Minutes of the 6th Annual General Meeting, 14 April 1977, Faculty of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZSO archives.
15Ibid.
16Interview with Mike Berridge, 14 March 2018.
17'The Future Direction of Cancer Research in New Zealand', 13-14 September 1979, Wellington Clinical School of Medicine, pp. 13-14.
18Letter from Bruce Cain to W H Isbister, 20 February 1979, NZSO archives; Letter from Bruce Cain to W. H. Isbister, 7 March 1979, NZSO archives.
19'The Future Direction of Cancer Research in New Zealand', pp. 13-14.
20Ibid.