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Lindsay Dixon Pryor (1915–1998)

by Alan Brown

from IFA Newsletter

Lindsay [Dixon Pryor] was born in Moonta, South Australia. After attending the University of Adelaide, he graduated from the Australian Forestry School in 1935 with the Schlich Medal.

His first job was with Neil Cromer, whom he already knew from University days. Both had been sent by E.H.F. Swain, newly appointed Commissioner for Forests in NSW, to Queensland to gather information about hoop pine plantations. Lindsay took the opportunity at weekends to collaborate with Neil to write what was probably his first paper, and which was later published in 1942. He soon became Assistant Forester in the ACT, completing a study of the vegetation in the ACT for an MSc from Adelaide in 1939; this provided the basis for accounts in the handbook for the 1955 ANZAAS Conference, Canberra, a Nation’s Capital.

He managed the ACT forests for several years in the early 1940s before becoming Director of Parks and Gardens in Canberra in 1944. Until appointed to Canberra University College as Professor of Botany in 1958, he fulfilled this role vigorously, building on Weston’s early work by expanding the range of trees and shrubs grown in the city. He landscaped the ANU, added much to the rest of central Canberra and fostered the establishment and development of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. In Westbourne Woods he planned and supervised the second major phase of planting, especially of eucalypts, in 1950–54 following clearing in 1949 of fairways among Weston’s original plantings.

The University College became the School of General Studies of the ANU; Lindsay occupied his Chair until retiring in 1976. He had special interests in the taxonomy and inter-specific hybridisation of the eucalypts (DSc, Genetics in Eucalyptus taxonomy from Adelaide in 1959) and in poplar breeding, developing several semi-evergreen clones of the latter which were commonly used in plantations. His time at Parks and Gardens and these research interests are reflected in papers and a number of books, including a popular guide to the trees and shrubs in the city first published in 1962 and expanded in 1968, and again in 1991 with John Banks.

Other titles include—

A classification of the eucalypts (with L.A.S. Johnson), 1971;

The biology of eucalypts, 1976;

Australian endangered species: eucalypts (with J .D. Briggs), 1981;

Growing and breeding poplar in Australia (with R.R. Willing), 1982.

He combined his scientific knowledge of the eucalypts with a great practical interest in their cultivation. He worked closely with Geoff Chandler and Bert Clarke of APM to establish plantations at Coffs Harbour from 1959, and advised many countries – including Ceylon, Fiji, India, Lesotho, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tunisia—of the potential role of eucalypts.

Lindsay renewed contact with Yarralumla in the course of a memorable trip to Timor with John Turnbull and Jerry Cole in mid-1971 to collect seed and specimens of Eucalyptus alba and what is now known as E. urophylla. With the help of tiny overburdened ponies and Lindsay’s catering (sardines for breakfast, lunch and dinner), the party reached peaks nearing 3000 m. The seed was used in some of the first formal provenance trials of the latter species, and material from the trip was included in an extensive cooperative analysis of E. urophylla and allied species published in 1993–95.

At the 47th ANZAAS Congress in Hobart in 1976 he was awarded the Mueller Memorial Medal for his work in botany and forestry.

Following retirement from Botany at the ANU, Lindsay remained in contact with the University as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Forestry. In the early 1980s he became the first coordinator of the ACIAR forestry program prior to the appointment of John Turnbull to that role. He maintained many other interests—poplars, a radiata pine plantation near Bombala to which he flew himself, and continuing travel. The last sustained his encyclopaedic knowledge of eucalypts around the world.

In 1990 the CSIRO Division of Forestry welcomed him as a Honorary Research Fellow to Yarralumla. He worked closely with several members of staff in the Seed Centre, as well as contributing generously to discussions in a much wider circle and taking a close interest in the work and careers of younger staff.

No account such as this can do justice to Lindsay—the breadth of his interests and scale of achievements, his joy in life and humanity. He was helpful to colleagues, business-like in formal activities and courteous to all.

Two memorial functions in Canberra afforded colleagues opportunity to reflect on Lindsay’s life—at Forestry House on 7 September, and at the Botanic Gardens on 8 October.

We shall remember him with admiration and affection, and many plantings in Canberra will be a memorial to him.

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Citation details

Alan Brown, 'Pryor, Lindsay Dixon (1915–1998)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

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