Nobel Prize winner treasures living in Parkville

Nobel Prize winner treasures living in Parkville
Carol Saffer

Parkville resident Professor Peter Doherty is one of 15 Australian members in the very exclusive global club of Nobel Laureates.

He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996 with Swiss colleague Rolf Zinkernagel for their discovery of how the immune system recognises virus-infected cells.

Mr Doherty said his world changed dramatically when he was awarded the prestigious accolade.

“You get a call on the first Monday in October, if it is for the medicine prize, notifying you of the win,” he said.

“You have to write a lecture and your biography and then be in Sweden on December 10, the anniversary of Albert Nobel’s death, to collect the prize and attend functions for about a week.”

“Business class fares, VIP treatment at the airport, your own stretch Volvo limo with a driver and minder, none of this is what normally happens to scientists.”

“I was a well-known scientist in my field but winning a Noble Prize puts you on the public stage.”

“The media, particularly, were incessant as I was appointed Australian of the Year in 1997, even though I was living in Memphis, Tennessee.”

Professor Doherty had been living in the USA for eight years and was required to return to Australia four times in 1997 to tour capital cities and speak at events.

The media made a fuss about his American accent and his lairy tie with pictures of kids all over that he wore.

“I was working at a children’s hospital at the time,” he said.

Professor Doherty and his wife live in a semi-detached row house built in the 1860s when Parkville was being developed.

“I hate commuting, particularly by car, so we paid a lot of money for a very small house in Parkville,” he said.

Professor Doherty said the Parkville Association was very aggressive about protecting the suburb from being swamped or changed into a university or medical precinct.


“It is a delightful area, somewhere where people can see how Victorian Edwardian Melbourne was like.”


“We are temporary tenants holding the place for the future.”

He is publishing his eighth book in August and writes a weekly essay for the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.

The Doherty Institute, a partnership between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, is a centre of excellence where leading scientists and clinicians collaborate to improve human health globally.

Referring to the Australian Laureates club, he said they all knew each other.

“I know all the scientists, probably Brian Schmidt the most, as I am very involved in climate change and action, and Brian is very involved in that too,” he said.

In his book The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize, Professor Doherty writes about the topics that make him tick. He strongly believes the field of science helps make the world a better place to live. •

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