Skip to main content

Douglas Frew Waterhouse

'A bug in the hand'

Australian entomologist and inventer of the Aerogard insect repellent, Douglas Frew Waterhouse describes the evolution of his career.

Interview with Douglas Frew Waterhouse
Video: 2 minutes

Images and interview courtesy of the Australian Academy of Science

Dr Douglas Frew Waterhouse in interview with DR Max Blythe
Interviewed 16 September 1993

Dr Douglas Frew Waterhouse with two of his three brothers, by Harold Cazneaux, 1920-1921

Dr Douglas Frew Waterhouse at Rosny Preparatory School, in the mid 1920’s, by unknown artist, 1920s

Outdoor field laboratory, lalapipi, mouth of the Lakekamu river, by unknown artist, date unknown

Captain Waterhouse and fiancée (Allison Dawn Calthorpe), by unknown artist, 1943

Hard at work at the Division of Entomology, CSIRO, Canberra, by unknown artist, date unknown 

All other images courtesy of Peter Chew

Douglas Frew Waterhouse: I was fairly sickly as a young child, and my mother, she took her complaining second son out in a pram to try and get him to sleep. And all of a sudden, I stopped complaining. She looked up, and I had put out my hand and picked off the wattle branch a weevil. Normally you would expect an insect to be crushed, but even in the tight little hand this armour-plated insect survived, and I went to sleep.

Dad’s older brother gave me a killing bottle, a cyanide-killing bottle, and a butterfly net, folding cane butterfly nets, various other equipment. And this I’m sure got me afloat.

Ian Mackerras enlisted as a medical pathologist. When he came back to Australia he was asked to set up a series of malaria control units. I volunteered. I had to test materials which might be used for mosquito sprays, and house fly sprays to stop transmission of diseases. I had a large muzzle and cage in the room in which I could sit, and I’d put a thousand or so mosquitoes in and have one thing on one leg, and another one on another arm, and so on.

The next stage was to test it out in conditions in Papua New Guinea, and there you could go out in the dusk with a mosquito net, you could wave it around you and collect one or 200 mosquitoes every minute. I was there with two entymological colleagues who had been doing work on malaria rates, and I did the actual experimental work there, although it was confirmed by these other two. And it then was used by the Australian forces, and I think later by some of the American forces for the rest of the Pacific war, and it remains a very effective repellent.