When old scholar Michael Francki gives the Occasional Address at this week’s Year 12 Academic Assembly, he will have some sage advice for this year’s crop of students.
And crop is a most apt term, given Dr Francki (BPS’83) has spent his working life developing ways to improve the performance of crops, particularly wheat, at the genetic level.
Dr Francki, who is an Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University, WA, came to Blackfriars as a Year 3 student, in 1973.
As the son of Polish immigrants, he found a home away from home at Blackfriars, with many of his fellow students also having parents who were born overseas and making new lives in Australia.
“When I went to Blackfriars, a lot of us were kids of immigrant parents – a lot of Greeks, Italians, people from Balkan states, Europe,” Dr Francki said.
“We all had different cultures, but we all had that commonality where we were trying to fit into Australian society as Australians. We had that bond.
“Blackfriars created that environment of inclusion, and this was back in the early ’70s, which was not necessarily that common, but Blackfriars developed that environment, that culture of inclusion. And it helped me out a lot in later life.”
Dr Francki graduated from Blackfriars in 1983 and enlisted in the Australian Army Reserve, becoming a recipient of the Australian Defence Medal.
He went on to study a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at Flinders University, before completing a PhD in plant molecular genetics at the University of Adelaide.
His extensive CV includes a stint as a post-doctoral research scientist at Purdue University, Indiana, US, before a move to the University of Western Australia from 1997-2001. His career continued as a Senior Research Scientist in the Western Australia public service from 2001-2021.
He has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (2009-2022), a science and subject matter expert for international funding agencies in North America, Europe and United Kingdom, published 70-plus peer-reviewed research articles, reviews and book chapters on genetics for trait and crop improvement and trained seven postgraduate students.
He was a Winston Churchill Fellow, in 2011, and an Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Fellow, in 2012.
He speaks highly of his time at Blackfriars: “I had some really good teachers at Blackfriars. I did have one teacher in particular, Paul Hine, who went on to become the principal. He saw things in you that other teachers didn’t. He was really popular among the students because he believed in you.”
And, like so many other Blackfriars old scholars, he also singled out the late Brother Brendan for particular praise.
“He used to always pull me up about my uniform. He used to say, ‘When you iron your shirt, make sure you turn the iron on!’. All this kind of stuff. After a while, I said, ‘How is this going to help me in life?’. The following year, when I joined the Army, I had the one up on the rest of the recruits! And that was a learning from Blackfriars.”
He said, importantly, his years at Blackfriars had taught him the importance of “continual effort” – a topic that would be a focus of his Occasional Address.