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Barry Marshall
Barry Marshall
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Barry Marshall Interview

Nobel Prize in Medicine

May 23, 1998
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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  Barry Marshall

We understand you grew up in Western Australia. What was that like when you were growing up?

Barry Marshall: I was born in Kalgoorlie, which is really like the mining areas in Colorado. It's 300 miles from the coast of Western Australia. My father was a tradesman on the mines, and my mother was a nurse. Maybe that's the medical connection coming out there.

We moved to Perth when I was about eight years old. It was a bit difficult coming from a country school, where I was one of the top students, to a city school where I was just one of many, many students. It was a bit of a shock to me, I suppose. Perth was probably half a million people then, and we didn't have TV until I was about ten years old, didn't have a phone for many years, didn't have a car for many years. So one thing I thought about thinking back on my childhood is that there were so many times when I had a lot of boredom, with nothing to do. It's just so lucky these days that children have all these other things that they can do: communication things, electronics, television. So I'm never one of these people that downplays the role of television, because there's nothing worse than boredom, as far as I can tell.

Did your family enjoy reading? Did you have books around?

Barry Marshall: Oh, yeah. I used to read a lot. I suppose early on I read all the Sir Walter Scotts. I remember at school we used to have a chemistry series which was probably Time magazine or Disney, or something. I was always very interested in chemistry. I was the oldest of four children, I had two younger brothers and a younger sister.

Our father, because he was a tradesman, he always had lots of tools -- oxyacetylene, welding, arc welders -- and we used to buy chemicals and make gunpowder and explosives and fireworks. All kinds of interesting boy-type of projects. I could have grown up to be a Unabomber, I know. So it was an exciting childhood. I think maybe people can't afford to let their children get up to stuff like that nowadays, it's really too dangerous.

Barry Marshall Interview Photo
You still have all of your digits.

Barry Marshall: I came close a couple of times though, I can tell you. But it was an interesting childhood. I was always interested in science. We always had the opportunity to have a go at making something, because we had all the tools there. My father did a trade in a railway shop. Then he became an engineer on a whale chaser. In Western Australia, the boats chasing the whales in those days were actually refurbished ex-World War II PT boats. He did correspondence courses in diesel engineering and refrigeration, so there were always interesting technical books around the place that I could read.

Did you ever go out on one of the whale chasers?

Barry Marshall: We used to ride them when they came back from the season. They would go from the coast, on the river, from where it met the sea, up to Perth City, which is about eight miles. It was a pretty exciting time.

When people say, is there something that got me into medicine? My grandmother used to have condensed Reader's Digest novels and biographies. I remember early on reading The Mayo Brothers. There were the two brothers, it was approximately 1910, I think. I think their dad was a surgeon. There was this interesting story of their puppy developed a bowel obstruction or something and dad was away and the two kids chloroformed the dog and opened him up, did a laparotomy and fixed the puppy. That really captured my imagination. I was always interested in medicine.

Did you think about doing something similar?

Barry Marshall: I actually did operate on my dog many years later, when I was actually a qualified doctor. The dog survived, you'll be pleased to know.

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