A brief history of plant science at the University of Tasmania:
The University of Tasmania (UTAS) was founded in 1890 as Australia ’s fourth university. The first biologist, zoologist Theodore Flynn (father of film star Errol Flynn), was appointed a lecturer in 1909 and as foundation Professor of Biology in 1911.
The first botanist, Edinburgh-trained Dr Hugh Gordon, was appointed in 1937. He was joined in 1939 by London-trained botanist Winifred Curtis. Dr Curtis went on to devote six decades towards the preparation of the “Flora of Tasmania”.
In 1947, the Biology Department was split into Zoology and Botany Departments with Hugh Gordon given responsibility for Botany. In the same year, Dr Gordon moved to the Chair of Botany at Victoria College, New Zealand, and Cambridge- and London-educated cytogeneticist H Newton Barber was appointed as foundation Professor of Botany.
Barber was succeeded as Professor of Botany from 1964 to 1966 by Alan Wardrop, a specialist in plant anatomy and cell wall structure, who subsequently left for LaTrobe University .
Prof. Bill Jackson then took over as Head of Department from 1966 to 1986, during which time he made progress in our understanding of fire in eucalypt forest ecology.
The 1960s Ron Crowden and Ian Murfet joined the staff and went on to contribute over four decades. Dr Crowden built the standing of the department for work on the chemo-taxonomy of Tasmanian flora, while Dr Murfet continued to raise our international profile for work on pea genetics and developmental physiology.
The appointment of Dr John Townrow added palaeobotany to our teaching and research skills. In 1963, Prof. Barber became Professor of Botany at UNSW, Sydney. In 1967, limnologist Dr Peter Tyler joined the lecturing staff and rapidly put UTAS on the map for his cutting-edge work on the limnology of Tasmanian lakes.
During the 1970s, Jim Reid and Paddy Dalton were appointed demonstrators to increase the teaching effort in the department. Jim Reid launched a two-pronged attack on both the pea and eucalypt fronts.
In 1980, palaeobotanist Dr Bob Hill joined the teaching staff. Over the next two decades he established the department as a major centre for Southern Hemisphere palaeobotany.
The mid 1980s saw the emergence in the department of Dr Brad Potts focussed on eucalypt population genetics and Dr John Ross built our expertise in plant hormone analysis.
Prof Jackson officially retired at the end of 1986. The now-vacated Head of Department role was rotated between Drs Crowden, Murfet and Reid until 1992 when Prof Hill took over the reins.
In the late 1980s, the departmental name was changed from Botany to Plant Science to better reflect the work being undertaken.
During the 1990s, Plant Science staff members played a major role in securing two forestry-related Cooperative Research Centres (the CRC for Temperate Hardwood Forestry, 1991-1997 and the CRC for Sustainable Production Forestry, 1997-2005). Prof Reid served as director in these CRCs.
In the early 90s limnologist Dr Tyler moved to a professorial appointment at Deakin University . This allowed the strategic appointment of Dr Gustaaf Hallegraeff, who put our department on the world map for his work on toxic algal blooms.
New staff members joined the School in the 1990s, including Drs Robert Wiltshire, Rene Vaillancourt, Anthony Koutoulis, and Mark Hovenden, bringing new expertise in plant development, molecular genetics, molecular cell biology, and ecology, respectively.
In 1998, Assoc Prof Hallegraeff stepped into the role of Head of Department. In the following year, Prof Bob Hill returned to his Alma Mater, the University of Adelaide and was replaced by versatile botanist Dr Greg Jordan. The end of the 1990s brought a name change from Department to School.
Early in the 2000s, Dr Jim Weller joined the lecturing staff adding to the School’s strength in plant developmental genetics.
In 2001, Prof. Jim Reid was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology.
At the end of 2003, Associate Prof Hallegraeff stepped down as Head of School. Dr Anthony Koutoulis was appointed Head of School in 2004.
A third forestry CRC commenced in mid 2005, the CRC for Forestry, 2005-2012.
In preparation for the Research Quality Framework, the School successfully obtained university strategic funds to appoint a Professor in Forest Ecology, Prof David Bowman, who started in December 2006. Prof Bowman will continue researching the role of fire on the landscape.