• Soon after moving to Hobart Winifred gained part-time employment at the University as a Demonstrator and Research Scholar in the Biology Department. She was the second woman ever to be appointed to the University academic staff and the only one at that time.

• In 1939, Winifred also found employment as Science Mistress at Fahan, a private girls school established four years previously. She initiated the teaching of elementary science and prepared classes for the School and Higher School Certificates examinations in Biology. She found it frustrating to use textbooks that described only British plants and animals, and therefore wrote a text at School Certificate level. Biology for Australian Students was published in 1948, with three revised editions to 1962, and served a generation of students.

Ironically, she never taught from it herself, having abandoned school-teaching by the time it was published.

Fahan logo - light come visit me

• During the Second World War there was concern in Tasmania that the island would be invaded by the Japanese. In 1942, Fahan was evacuated to Interlaken on the Central Plateau. Winifred commuted every few weeks between the school and the university, with brief detours to National Park where her parents had rented a house. The journeys were adventurous because the wheelbase of the small family car was not wide enough to fit the ruts of the unmade roads.

Interlaken map drawn by Winifred Curtis
Map of Interlaken on the Central Plateau drawn by Dr Curtis when Fahan was evacuated there in 1942 to escape an anticipated Japanese attack. enlarge

‘I used to commute and do so many days at Fahan and the rest of the time at the Uni…in Father’s little Vauxhall 10…and the road then was quite appalling. But that didn’t last for very long. I suppose a term…I have a vivid recollection of one class at Interlaken…talking about plants’ response to stimuli…Interlaken was fun.’

• In 1942, Winifred was offered and accepted a full-time appointment as Assistant Lecturer in Biology at the University of Tasmania. Later in 1945, when the disciplines of Botany and Zoology were separated, she was appointed Lecturer in Botany.

• Her botanical research in Tasmania began with the study of chromosome numbers in Dianella and certain shrubby legumes. She published the first record of polyploidy in an Australian native plant in the paper - Variations in Pultenaea juniperina Labill. Pap. & Proc. Roy. Soc. Tasmania, p.197–199 (1944).

Pultenaea juniperina
Pultenaea juniperina specimen

‘I promptly wrote to London to know if I could do PhD work here and they wrote and said yes, they finally approved the University of Tasmania as a fitting place for me to work but it would be necessary for me to attend in London for an oral examination. My interests here were on polyploids…’

• The teaching load in Botany, divided between Winifred and Dr Gordon, was heavy and the native flora was unfamiliar. In 1943, the Government Printer offered the opportunity for them to revise the out of print Tasmanian Flora by Rodway. The offer was accepted at once and work on the Students Flora of Tasmania was started. Very soon after commencement, Dr Gordon took up another position in New Zealand. Thus Winifred became solely responsible for the project. Flora writing was generally done in the evenings after class matters had been attended to. Winifred learnt to type and prepared the manuscript herself. With few exceptions, descriptions were made from fresh material collected by herself, often when she was on vacation. Collecting sites were reached by bus, much walking on unmade roads, and use of primitive camping huts in national parks.

Part 1 of the Students Flora of Tasmania (to Myrtaceae) – 1956

Part 2 (to Epacridaceae) – 1963

Part 3 (to Salicaceae) – 1967

Part 1 (revised) – 1975, with Dennis Morris

Part 4a (Orchidaceae) – 1980, illustrations by Dennis Morris

Part 4b (Monocots less Orchidaceae) – 1994, with Dennis Morris

‘Gordon and I were teaching in the old building at the Domain and we were in the middle of a practical class. We were both demonstrating and the Govt. Printer rang and said to Gordon ‘Rodway’s Flora is out of print. Do you want us to reprint or do you want to revise it?’ So Gordon and I went into a huddle and decided that we had better revise it, because it is a 1907 book and we had already found a number of introductions that hadn’t been incorporated and we knew from the descriptions that many of them were inadequate, and we were beginning to know more about the plants. Thatwould have been in the early 40’s…’

• Plants collected for teaching and research had identifications confirmed with collections held in the Tasmanian Museum Herbarium. The Herbarium, which incorporated several important collections, was established by Leonard Rodway in 1928. After his death in 1936, the Herbarium remained in the care of his widow, Olive Rodway. Olive Rodway gave up this work in 1941, and the only attention that could then be afforded for the collection was that provided by Winifred as part-time Keeper on Saturday afternoons. By this time the Herbarium had been moved to a wooden hut in the Botanical Gardens due to lack of space at the Museum. The wooden hut was located where the herb garden is now.(see photograph above) In 1946, the trustees of the Museum agreed to a request from Dr Gordon for the herbarium to move to the University as a permanent loan. No special staff or help was provided and the curatorship of the Herbarium became an unofficial addition to Winifred’s duties. This led to her becoming a staunch supporter of the Herbarium and to argue strongly for its due recognition and needs. In the late 1940’s, the University moved to its present day Sandy Bay campus and the Herbarium occupied a draughty hut near the temporary hut that was the Department of Botany.



Winifred at the Springs, 1941
Winifred at the Springs,
Mount Wellington in 1941.

Fahan School Journal
Winifred's report on science in Fahan School Journal 1940. Read page 1 and page 2. Winifred worked part-time as Science Mistress at Fahan initiating the teaching of elementary science and preparing classes for School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations in biology.

Biology teaching notes
Biology teaching notes on the earthworm - drawn and used by Winifred Curtis and later incorporated into her school text book 'Biology for Australian Students'.

Biology Book

Christmas card
Christmas card to Winifred from Miss Morphett and Miss Travers, headmistresses of Fahan. enlarge

Winifred with her father
Winifred with her father,
York Street, Sandy Bay about 1948.

Biology department staff 1941
Biology Department, University of Tasmania, 1941 -
Miss W.M. Curtis, Dr V.V. Hickman and Dr H.D. Gordon.

Biology huts
The Biology huts University of Tasmania 1946. (From: Davis, R Open to Talent: the centenary history of the University of Tasmania . 1990.)

The Herbarium 1940s
The Herbarium was housed in this wooden hut in the Botanical Gardens from 1941- 46 and Winifred was part-time keeper on Saturday afternoons which was the only time that could be given to the collections.