Burbidge, Nancy Tyson (1912-1977)
Nancy Tyson Burbidge was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1912, and came to
Australia with her parents as a young child. After graduating in science at the
University of Western Australia she was awarded a scholarship from the
University to spend eighteen months at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England,
in 1939 and 1940. At this time she undertook the first of several studies of
Australian grass genera. The results of these studies contributed to her Master
of Science degree from the University of Western Australia.
next three years, Nancy Burbidge continued her studies of the Western Australian
flora, both in the field and in the herbarium. In 1943 she was appointed
assistant agronomist at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute in Adelaide
and began working on the regeneration of native pastures in the arid and
semi-arid regions of South Australia.
A turning point in her career came
when she was appointed to the new position of systematic botanist in the CSIRO
Division of Plant Industry in 1946. Apart from organising and extending the
herbarium collections and providing an identification service for colleagues in
the CSIRO, she initiated what was to be a continuing feature of her career, the
provision of assistance to all Australian plant taxonomists, wherever located.
This was done mainly through her work for the Systematic Botany Committee of the
Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and as
liaison officer at Kew in the early 1950s.
The period from 1955 to 1970
was perhaps the most productive in Nancy Burbidge's career. During this time she
published her Dictionary of Australian Plant Genera , a comprehensive
paper on the phytogeography of the Australian region, and studies of the plant
groups Nicotiana , Sesbania and Helichrysum . During the
latter part of this period she completed the Flora of the Australian Capital
Territory with Max Gray, also of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, and
three regional volumes of Australian Grasses, all beautifully illustrated with
her original line drawings. In 1961 she was awarded the degree of Doctor of
Science by the University of Western Australia.
Later in her career Dr
Burbidge became increasingly involved in the preparation of a new Flora of
Australia , a project of keen interest to her ever since it was first mooted
many years before. Nancy Burbidge was the obvious scientific leader for this
project and in 1973 she was relieved of her responsibilities as Curator of
Herbarium Australiense to enable her to work full time on it
was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1976 in formal recognition of her
services to botany in the widest sense.
In addition to her many
scientific publications Dr Burbidge wrote about botany in simple terms for the
interested lay person. Many non-botanists had their first introduction to the
wonders of the Australian flora through Nancy Burbidge's writing and will
remember her with gratitude for awakening their interest with articles in the
National Parks Association ACT Bulletin under the title 'Eyes or No
It might be thought that such an outstanding record of botanical
achievement would have left little time for other activities. Such thought would
greatly underestimate both Dr Burbidge's energy and wide range of interests. She
took part in, and often led, the activities of many cultural and scientific
societies and associations, which united to develop the concept of a memorial to
her in the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
One project deserving
special mention was Dr Burbidge's keen involvement in the proposal for a large
national park in the southern part of the Australian Capital Territory.
Unfortunately it was not until 1979, two years after her death on 4 March 1977,
that the Gudgenby Nature Reserve (now Namadji National Park) became a
Dr Burbidge was generous in sharing her time and abilities in
the interests of science, conservation, education and international friendship.
It is fitting that she is commemorated in the Australian National Botanic
Gardens where children and adults may gain a better understanding and
appreciation of the Australian natural environment and native flora.
1937 Bachelor of Science (BSc), University of Western Australia
1940 Worked on the taxonomy of Australian plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens,
1940 - 1943 Field and herbarium work in Western
1943 - 1946 Assistant agronomist at Waite Agricultural Research
1945 - Master of Science (MSc), University of Western
1946 - 1967 Systematic botanist at the Division of Plant Industry,
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
1973 Curator of the Herbarium at the Division of Plant Industry, Commonwealth
Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
1953 - On secondment
as Australian botanical liaison officer at Kew herbarium, London,
1961 - Doctor of Science (DSc), University of Western
1967 - 1973 Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Division of
Plant Industry, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
1973 - 1977 Director, Flora of Australia project
1976 - Member of
the Order of Australia (AM)
Thanks to Trevor Clifford for supplying this tribute to Nacy Burbidge