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Southbanker

07 Aug 2019

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The physics of community

Retired physics teacher Dan O’Keeffe OAM has dedicated his life to giving back to his communities.

Having received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2018 for service to physics education, Dan has also become very active in our local community since moving to Eureka Tower with wife Terry six years ago.

Dan has proved himself to be a highly valued member on the Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) committee over the past three years and serves as its representative on the Southbank Safety and Security Committee.

And it’s that same sense of service to community that defined a decorated career in physics education; an area that he still dedicates much of his time to despite being retired. It’s also what earned him the “surprise” honour on Australia Day last year!

“I was quite surprised at it [the OAM] actually because a friend and former colleague of mine had been working on it unbeknownst to me,” Dan said. “It was a big effort for him to nominate me, which of course, I only found out after receiving.”

Entering the field of physics education based largely on a curiosity about “the big questions”, Dan spent most of his teaching career at Camberwell Grammar and Chadstone High schools.

Through his ongoing involvement as secretary of the Vicphysics Teachers’ Network, Dan has been central to establishing a range of initiatives for educators and students of physics alike over the years.

As well as helping organise an annual physics teachers’ conference, he also continues with efforts to encourage more women into physics through the Girls in Physics Breakfasts, providing students the chance to connect with women working in science and engineering.

“Physics doesn’t have a strong female presence as opposed to other sciences like chemistry and there are reasons for that,” Dan said.

“Many engineering and science courses, say, require chemistry, whereas hardly any require physics so that means that as far as chemistry is concerned, half the students are female. For physics there are hardly any tertiary courses that require you to study it so it’s only about 25 per cent female.”

“One of the things that motivates and moves me in a sense is how one of the students at breakfast once saying that they had been talking to a guest at their table about what she was doing and was amazed. She said that she realised that in eight years’ time that could be her and that’s the result you want to get out of it – giving them focus to their ambition.”

Having relocated from their previous home in Wheelers Hill six years ago, Dan said the move to Southbank had been largely sparked by he and Terry’s shared love of music. Between attending events at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in South Melbourne and, of course, the Arts Precinct, he said Southbank provided the perfect location for music lovers.

And his attachment to Southbank continues to strengthen. Whether it be through social events he and Terry have helped to organise with neighbours at Eureka Tower or through his work with SRA, there is no doubting that Dan is a Southbanker!

“I had been to a couple of [SRA’s] AGMs (annual general meetings) and I was impressed with what it was doing and I felt that being a local resident I should get involved,” he said.

“It would be true to say that the City of Melbourne is keen to do things properly but the good thing about the SRA is that it is a good source of advice and an effective means of consultation. There is a good two-way exchange there.”

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