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Carr, Stella Grace Maisie (1912–1988)

by Brian Gunning

With the passing of Mrs D. J. ('Maisie') Carr on 9 September 1988, the Research School of Biological Sciences lost one of its foundation members. Maisie Carr had held an honorary fellowship in the school with great distinction since 1967.

Mrs Carr made major contributions in no fewer than four fields of Australian plant science.

In the 1940s she was seconded from the University of Melbourne to the Victorian Soil Conservation Authority to study soil erosion in the Victorian Alps. She covered vast territories on horseback and became uniquely expert on the history and ecology of alpine Australia. The new quantitative methods which she introduced to monitor vegetational changes had lasting influence on the conduct and teaching of ecology, and her work on the alpine vegetation was classic. Her most enduring memorial from those five years of fieldwork is to the great benefit of all who nowadays visit the Alps. She worked so harmoniously with the cattlemen of the High Plains that she was able to introduce measures to combat over-grazing — no mean feat, in view of their century old traditions! She was proud of having been attached to a Royal Commission which led to the proclamation of a crucial Soil Conservation and Land Utilization Act in 1949. Glowing tributes to Maisie's conservation efforts feature in the book The Alps at the Crossroads and in the late Sir Keith Hancock's book Discovering Monaro. At her request the State Electricity Authority enclosed a large plot of land at Rocky Valley, near Falls Creek, where the rich vegetation which grew up under her protection is now a tourist attraction.

Maisie returned, as a senior lecturer, to Melbourne University in 1946, and in the next ten years became renowned for her inspirational teaching of ecology and systematics. In 1955 she married D. J. Carr, later Professor of Developmental Biology in RSBS, and shortly after embarked on a study of Eucalyptus which became a life's work for both of them, with over 50 papers and two books published by 1988. Yet another productive research career for Maisie was as a historian. She lovingly documented the early exploration and settlement of the High Plains, and contributed many fascinating chapters in the two-volume social history of botany in this country which she and Professor Carr edited — People and Plants in Australia and Plants and Man in Australia.

Maisie will be remembered for her pioneering field work, her inspirational teaching, her painstaking studies of Eucalyptus, and her acute historical insights. Her many friends also remember her as a wonderfully warm and accomplished person, and extend their sympathy to Professor Carr, Emeritus Professor in RSBS.

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Brian Gunning, 'Carr, Stella Grace Maisie (1912–1988)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/carr-stella-grace-maisie-201/text202, accessed 25 November 2017.

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