Melbourne, Herald Sun, Friday, January 20, 2006
Baby love inspires new Governor
VICTORIA'S new Governor is a slight, wiry man with a wide, warm smile and a remarkable way with babies.
As Professor David Morritz de Kretser, AO, he is a world authority on reproductive biology and male infertility – a man whose life has been devoted to enabling husbands to become fathers of countless new Australians.
As Governor David de Kretser, with his wife Jan by his side, this father of four and grandfather of three will bring a rich and happy family life to Government House.
And as Grandpa David – with Nana Jan looking on approvingly – the 27th Governor of Victoria showed his parenting skills as newest grand daughter, three-month-old Mahalia, began fretting in the Treasury Gardens shortly after Premier Steve Bracks made the surprise announcement.
Grandpa David swept Mahalia up in his arms, began rocking her tenderly and softly kissing her head while murmuring soothing words.
She soon settled down.
"He knows all the nursery rhymes," said Nana Jan. He tells them to their other grandchildren, Dana, 9, and Marco, 5.
Grandpa David knows a great deal more besides nursery rhymes. His is a remarkable multicultural success story of a self-made man who has overcome many hurdles.
Only in Australia could a post-war migrant make it to the very top.
David de Kretser was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – on April 27, 1939.
His father, a lawyer, realised that things would change for the worse for his family when the country gained independence in 1947 and decided to migrate with his wife and two sons to Australia.
"We arrived on January 29, 1949. It was mid-summer and I think my first impression of Melbourne was how hot it was," said the Queen's new representative.
"But then we went to live in a boarding house in Burnett St, St Kilda.
"It was an interesting place – everybody complained about the hot water service. It had a thing called the donkey which had to be filled with coal to make it work."
David de Kretser remembers sitting at the boarding house dining table, staring at a chop and shivering. He had contracted pneumonia.
The family was rescued by an Irish spinster named Lilly Turner. She took one look at their predicament and told them to come and live with her in her house in Pleasant Rd, Hawthorn.
"I remember as a boy going into the Camberwell market and happily pushing a shopping trolley along with her."
The de Kretsers moved into a house in Deepdene – "the electricity wasn't on, we had to wait until they put a pole up outside" – and young David went to Deepdene State School.
There he came face to face with racism.
"Being a little dark skinned, there were some issues – and with one boy in particular.
"I can't remember what he called me but we had a punch-up which went one round. I got a bit of a sore nose but that sort of thing then ceased."
From state school, young David went on to Camberwell Grammar.
At first he thought he'd like to become an aeronautical engineer but a growing interest in biology led him to decide on medicine and he entered Melbourne University.
He met Jan in 1957 when she was still at Methodist Ladies College after he watched her playing baseball.
They caught up again at university where she studied to become an occupational therapist and they married in 1962 – exactly a week after David graduated.
His medical career soon took off. Initially he thought he would be a surgeon but research took over and he soon realised that little was being done to treat men with fertility problems.
He is the author of 500 research papers.
Two years' study in the US led him to Monash University where he has been founding director of the Institute of Reproduction and Development since 2002.
Mr Bracks first approached Prof de Kretser to take the job in June last year. He took until October to make up his mind.
"I look forward to serving the people of Victoria," he said simply.
He and Jan are still unsure of what it will be like to live in the Victorian mansion after they move from their eastern suburbs home in April.
Jan jokes she might like to start a vegie garden, although she gave up the one they had at home after water restrictions were introduced.
But the new vice-regal couple will not be giving up their own special patch of heaven.
"We've got 35 acres of mountain ash forest in south Gippsland, full of fern gullies and lyrebirds.
"We've got a shack there. No electricity.
"It is a place of quiet, a place to reflect," said David de Kretser, our new man at the top. A kind and thoughtful man.