Having recently retired, Professor Terry Hull reflects on his decade as inaugural holder of the Caldwell Chair and his long association with its namesake.
Terry’s connection with the ANU began in 1971, when he arrived in the Demography Department to commence his PhD under the supervision of Professor John C Caldwell.
“I always found, just as Jack did, that the work that I was interested in was both qualitative and quantitative research, undertaking fieldwork in Asia, and bringing work in demography and epidemiology together,” remarks Hull.
After completing his dissertation, Hull continued his close collaboration with Jack over the next three decades. His dynamic academic career went from strength to strength, working on a variety of research projects including family planning, child survival, breastfeeding, infertility and demographic trends throughout Asia, carried out while he managed the International Population Dynamics Program in Demography. IPDP carried out externally funded research and staff development projects in Indonesia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia from 1980 to the early 2000s.
Hull, then Deputy Director of Research School of Social Sciences, was the obvious choice to be the inaugural holder of the John C Caldwell Chair in Population, Health and Development in 2003. Then, as now, this is an honorary title, which comes with a small research grant. Hull used the Chair to strengthen the links between demography and population health at the ANU, specifically working across the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute () and the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. The ANU is working on an endowment which aims to attach the title to a fully funded Chair.
One of the core elements of Hull’s work while he held the Chair was the contribution of population studies to the understanding of health. “I don’t accept that you could do any research on human health issues without having some concept of the population. A major problem in the presentation of epidemiological data is that people are not able to imagine the population dimensions of a statement,” explains Hull.
Over the last decade in his position as Chair, Hull focused attention on collecting, processing and maintaining large scale data sets so that they can be readily available for use by PhD students and other researchers. “We now have the largest collection of Indonesian population and health data anywhere outside of Indonesia. They are stored at the Australian Data Archives at the ANU and are freely available to all ANU students and staff. The data have been applied in research from a wide variety of disciplines including economics, demography, epidemiology, sociology, and health,” says Hull.
“For example, I currently have a PhD student who is looking at health insurance issues in Indonesia using this data and he wouldn't have been able undertake this research anywhere else, including Indonesia. The long term outcome of this and indeed, legacy of the Caldwell Chair, is that we have fostered many PhD students who have now developed critical research skills.”
Hull’s other research as Chair illustrates different dimensions of bringing together the two disciplines of demography and epidemiology. “I have been able to attend international conferences and have been on international organising committees for groups such as the the Asian Population Association and the Asia-Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights. These experiences are vital in setting up networks of people and to the interdisciplinary spreading of knowledge.”
He continues, “One of the things that Jack was most known for was his so-called ‘microdemographic’ approach in field research. It is easy in demography to sit back and take the actuarial approach, concentrating on the calculator in the corner office but it's just as important to go out and understand what all the numbers mean and that implies that the researcher has to go out in the field and meet people directly to gain an understanding of behaviour.”
In keeping with this approach, Hull has observed exactly how the Indonesian Population Census was collected both from the perspective of the statisticians planning the questionnaires and data processing procedures, and in the setting of face-to-face interviews with homeless, isolated, and poor respondents across the archipelago. . “In the 2010 Indonesian census, we had a series of meetings that were partially funded by the Caldwell Chair Endowment, to look at what national censuses were doing and to determine how we could improve information on fertility, maternal mortality and poverty issues,” explains Hull.
“From my perspectives these activities have been important examples of the sort of work appropriate to the title of the Chair. They reflect the inspiration Jack had, both in demography and in health and epidemiology – to be both right on the ground and to critically question what the data actually meant.”
After over four decades at the University, Professor Hull has recently retired from his extraordinary contribution as the John C Caldwell Chair in Population, Health and Development. Having spent most of his time at the ANU working closely alongside Jack, he concludes by sharing his unique insight into the man behind the legacy.
“Jack was one of the most fair people I have ever met or worked with. Wherever he walked in he was known and he would always question you more than you could ever question him. He was, and still is, incredibly absorptive of knowledge – he read everything, he knew everything. He was very open to other people and above all he was very open to the world.”