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In this issue:
- Tribute to Betty Hall (2006) and WormKill History – Dr KM Dash
- What’s in a name: WormKill and WormBoss
- 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee
Betty Hall and WormKill
Recently Dr Keith Dash, veterinarian, parasitologist (PhD on Oes. columbianum) and former CSIRO scientist, contacted me while he was in the throes of doing some computer housekeeping.
While ‘sorting’ his computer, Keith, also known as ‘the father of ‘WormKill‘, came across his notes for a talk at a dinner for Betty Hall in 2006. This dinner, organised by Dr Lewis Kahn (UNE), was a tribute and farewell for Betty, who now lives in The Apple Isle.
Unfortunately, being overseas, I missed the dinner and Keith’s speech. So, reading the copy of Keith’s speech, which he sent me, was my first exposure to it – and a very enjoyable one at that given my familiarity with the happenings described therein. Plus I thoroughly enjoyed Keith’s style.
But, before I go too far – for those ‘who came in late’ (an expression well known to readers of Phantom comics) – WormKill, first launched in July 1984, was the first of the modern strategic sheep worm control programs in Australia. Others soon followed, including WormBuster (Queensland), CRACK (Western Australia – ask RB Besier what this acronym means -may be they were on crack?), and WormPlan in Victoria etc.
In a way these programs live on, having contributed to the current programs in WormBoss. And this has been acknowledged. See for example the acknowledgements section here: http://www.wormboss.com.au/programs/tablelands-slopes.php … and also the programs for other regions. While you are there, spend some time looking around WormBoss: ‘time well spent.
WormKill was spectacularly successful, certainly for the first years, until resistance to closantel, which was launched in Australian in 1982, began to appear in the late 1980s (First discovered in the field by Phil Kemsley (later characterised and reported by Rolfe et al). Phil at that time was the PP Board vet at Warialda. The first reported case of moxidectin resistant sheep worms in Australia came from the same farm).
The adoption rate for WormKill, as estimated and reported by Rosemary Newman (University of New England-Agricultural Economics. See attached doc by Hall et al) was extraordinarily high (~70-80%) for an agricultural extension program. It was also very successful biologically: Haemonchus, certainly haemonchosis, became rare, and control of scour worms was good as well except when producers failed to use effective broad-spectrum drenches.
I have often pondered the reasons for the outstanding success of WormKill. In short it was serendipity: the happy convergence of a number of factors that ensured great success. Keith touches on some of these factors in his history below.
One factor he under-emphasised was his own role: he was a very good scientist, communicator and ‘champion’. And he was generous and inclusive: he included many different people and organisations, all critical to the success of WormKill. Added to that he was a maverick – a softly spoken maverick – the most dangerous kind. The Brando-esque black leather jacket, which he often wore, gave it away. 😉 (See attached image). (He was also a runner: never trust fit people. Fortunately this was before the MAMIL era: middle-aged men in lycra)).
And, KMD dreamt up ‘the name’. At a planning meeting involving Betty, Keith and I, Keith announced he had had an epiphany in the shower: the name ‘WormKill’.
This tribute to Betty, which is also a WormKill history, is no dry, impersonal, monochrome recounting of facts and dates, but rather a deeply personal and colourful recollection of events and people.
With permission from Keith and Betty, here it is:
Tribute to Betty Hall and WormKill History – Dr KM Dash.
Betty Hall Dinner –
Armidale, 29 September 2006
Ladies & Gentlemen, I’m honoured to be here to celebrate Betty Hall’s contribution to the world, and I’m doubly honoured to have been asked to be first runner in the speech relay.
1984, 22 years ago, was the Wormkill year when Betty Hall added multi-media personality to her impressive and continuing accomplishments as a veterinarian and animal health consultant. She has kept the flame alive, not just alive but burning fiercely, in the years since then.
The first Wormkill program was very simple and direct, and there were good reasons for that. But it was always envisaged that with experience and advances in knowledge it would evolve into a much more sophisticated program, as it is today. Along the way, team members have come and gone, but the spirit is still there because the corporate memory has survived in people like Betty Hall, Steve Love and Bill O’Halloran, who remember what it was like in the exciting and uncertain days of 1984 when we lived on the edge.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. My view of history is that the Wormkill Program had its beginnings in 1962, when Thibenzole was released in Australia. I remember it well – I was a brand-new Departmental veterinary officer at Armidale, dealing with real worm problems in the real world for the first time. But after Thibenzole we didn’t have to worry – we had a safe, highly effective drug to get us out of trouble. Soon, other broad-spectrum drugs, like Levamisole and second generation BZs, were added to our armoury. We forgot the lessons we had learnt in the hard days: the days when all we had were arsenic, copper sulphate, nicotine sulphate, and later phenothiazine; the days when we had to think about the timing of treatments, and the days when CSIRO, the Department of Agriculture and the Veterinary Inspectors of the Pastures Protection Boards were on the road advising producers. All that experience and expertise was lost as CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture surrendered the field to the drug companies, who then became the principal advisors on worm control. Their advice was to drench early and often. The ‘no worries’ strategy of monthly drenching soon became the industry standard. CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture watched it happening and said nothing.
Things started to go wrong in the 1970s. Drench resistance to Thibenzole began to appear, but we didn’t get too excited because we still had the later BZs and Levamisole to fall back on. By the 1980s we were having increasing problems with drench resistance at “Chiswick”, but there were very few reports of resistance problems on commercial properties. That surprised us, because if we were in trouble we reckoned that a lot of producers out there must be in trouble also. We now know that there were troubles out there, but mostly they were kept secret and not reported – after all, if you couldn’t control worms, what sort of sheep producer were you?
However, by the early 1980s, there were enough reports coming through for the Regional Veterinary Laboratory and the field veterinarians in the Department of Agriculture and Pasture Protection Boards to undertake a drench resistance survey. I think it’s fair to say that the results, which showed that drench resistance was widespread, shocked them. They concluded that something had to be done, and done quickly.
While all this was going on, at CSIRO we were field testing a program to knock out Barber’s Pole Worm (Haemonchus contortus), which producers feared most, so we could concentrate on what we believed was the real problem – the control of Black Scour Worm (Trichostrongylus colubriformis) in the face of increasing drench resistance. The program relied on a new long-acting drug, Closantel (sold as Seponver), to suppress Barber’s Pole Worm, and a limited number of broad-spectrum drenches to control Black Scour Worm. It was the prototype of the Wormkill Program.
Smith Kline, the drug company that had exclusive rights to market Closantel in Australia, did very well out of the Wormkill Program, but they played no part in its development. They were just as surprised as everybody else when the program was released in 1984. So surprised in fact that the whole Australian supply of Closantel sold out in a couple of weeks and they had to scour the world and fly in new stock at great expense. It wasn’t that we hadn’t tried to interest them. In fact, when they briefed us about Closantel we told them that, if the drug was as good as they claimed, we believed we could design a program to control Barber’s Pole Worm with just a couple of treatments a year. What we got was the classic “Don’t ring us, we’ll ring you” response. And they never rang. So we went ahead and didn’t tell them, buying our Closantel from local Armidale agents. And to our surprise it worked even better than the company claimed.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture/P.P.
Board team, convinced that there was a need to advise producers of the problem of drench resistance and provide them with something positive to do about it, devised a drenching program that was almost identical with the one we were testing at CSIRO. It was only a short step to see the common sense in joining together in a combined extension program. And so the Wormkill Program was born .
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We were going to ask producers to reduce their frequency of treatment with broad-spectrum drenches by at least 50%, and to trust us that we knew what we were doing. We were not a selected team – we just happened to be the people on the ground at the time. We had a core group of three people in the performance team – Betty Hall, Steve Love and myself. We shared the same determination, but despite what people might think we were not extroverts by nature; it was something we had to work very hard at to get the job done. The Departmental Sheep & Wool Officers, such as Bill O’Halloran, were our publicity officers and advisors. Their role was crucial in that they were able to stand back and see the big picture, whereas we in the day-to-day thick of it could not. They calmed us and stopped us panicking.
The first Wormkill Program was very simple, ridiculously simple some might say. But it had to be that way so it could be understood easily and marketed quickly. There would be time enough for refinements later if we survived the battle ahead. We were setting out to capture the high ground in worm control from the drug companies. We reckoned that they weren’t going to like it, so our plan was to run very fast so they couldn’t catch us and cut us off at the knees.
What we didn’t realize was that the drug companies, like all big organizations, couldn’t react quickly, at least not to a surprise attack, and apart from a few minor skirmishes the war was over before they could marshal their forces.
What we hadn’t expected was the opposition we encountered from senior people within our own organizations. A grass-roots, in-your-face extension program, and with a ridiculous name at that, was something new to them, and they didn’t like it. We had the distinct feeling that they were just waiting for us to stumble so they could disown us. It put enormous pressure on the team, but it also made us even more determined.
For example, we were gathering in the Department of Agriculture office before setting out for a producer meeting at Guyra when a call came through from the Department’s head office in Sydney ordering the Departmental officers to withdraw from the program. We looked at one another wondering what we would do now, when Betty solved the problem for us by calling out, “Tell him to piss off!”. So off we went to Guyra. We thought then that there might be trouble ahead, and there was. But it was hard for our Departmental heads in Sydney to control a small group of committed rebels so far away.
There were other instances of high-level opposition or white-anting, by the Department and by CSIRO, but the worst was when the Department decided not renew Betty’s employment contract after November 1984. At that time, Betty was, by popular consent, Coordinator of the Wormkill Program. With Betty gone we were in real trouble – we were being run off our feet and Betty was on the dole.
It was then that we discovered who our real friends were – individual producers and local producer organizations, such as LGPA (as it then was) and the Superfine Wool Producers’ Association. They lobbied the Department and the local member, Bill McCarthy, who in turn lobbied the Minister energetically, and eventually the Department relented and re-appointed Betty, but only on a temporary basis.
Later senior appointments in the Department (Helen Scott-Orr) took a more enlightened and supportive approach. Betty was appointed as a Veterinary Officer on a permanent basis, and the Department embraced the Wormkill Program, as did CSIRO. However, I don’t think Betty ever forgot the past, and when the chance came to work as a consultant with Elders, she took it. And as you all know, she remained fiercely committed to the concept of ongoing cooperation between scientists, advisors and producers, and just as feisty as her “Tell him to piss off!” days.
Betty, thank you."
And thank you, Keith.
In the mail today from KMD:
‘This year is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Wormkill Program, when we were all a good deal younger and able to run a few kms in the frost before breakfast …."
Keith and I used to sometimes cross paths on our morning runs: but I am now twice the man I used to be.
In a note from KMD in 2009:
I don’t regard myself as a sage and I wouldn’t like others to think of me in that way,
…… (SNIP) …..
If I had to nominate a sage it would be
Tony Lisle, with
Ian Barger a close second. I had the great good fortune to work with both of them, and I owe them a great deal.
The success of the Wormkill Program was built on Tony’s quiet advice about how producers thought and how they would respond. And I think credit should be given to
Helen Scott-Orr, who was responsible for the Department of Agriculture embracing Wormkill and extending the idea to Drenchplan.
Kind regards, Keith ".
For those who don’t know, Tony Lisle was a Senior Technical Officer (Parasitology) with CSIRO in Armidale, working with Ian Barger. His family had a property in the Walcha area, which is one reason he moved back to the New England from Sydney, where he worked with Hugh McL Gordon at CSIRO.
What’s in a name?
For the genesis of the name WormKill, see above. Recently a PR expert told me that WormKill was a rubbish name. I was quietly amused. Still, WormKill was the progenitor of a variety of other names, such as LiceKill and FlukeKill. But apparently "Kill" is no longer de rigueur. Farmers don’t like ‘kill’. Parasites have feelings too you know.
The name WormBoss came of out a meeting of WormBoss team members with Currie Communications in Melbourne around 2004. (WormBoss Mk 1 was launched in 2005; Mk II was launched 21.11.12)). And the WormBoss logo came out of meetings with ‘First Web’ (Arthur Le Fuevre, pers comm).
WormBoss spawned other Boss names: FlyBoss and LiceBoss. In due course, ‘-Boss’ may fall out of favour as well, possibly because ‘boss’ strongly connotes a patriarchal or non-egalitarian approach to things. Maybe something like PEW2NB (program encouraging worms 2 be nicer) is the future? It’s so memorable, pithy and inoffensive.
15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee – The Oatmeal
PP Boards? – see here:
"Chiswick" – CSIRO’s property at Armidale, NSW.
Veterinarian / Parasitologist
NSW DPI, JSF Barker Building, UNE Armidale NSW AU 2351 (Map)
T: 02 6770 1844 M: 0427 400 576
W:DPI, WormBoss, WormMail
NOTE: new address/telephone from 2 June 2014
Hall E-Love S-Dash KM. The wormkill program in northern NSW..circa 1985 or 1986-published where [query]-scanned – 20100603.pdf