2010 AG Awards Lifetime of Conservation: Mary White
MARY WHITE HAS HAD an affinity for nature since birth. After growing up in Southern Rhodesia, she completed a master’s degree in palaeobotany at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Her interest in the botany of Africa led her to travel extensively and live in the wild with her geologist husband and young children. These experiences provided her with an excellent understanding of the plants that grow in the southern continent.
The White family migrated to Australia in 1955, where Mary became a consultant to the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Canberra, a position she held until the mid 1980s. During this time she also worked part-time as a consultant to mining companies while raising her five children. From 1975, she was employed as a research associate by the Australian Museum in Sydney. One of her achievements in this role was to establish a fully documented plant fossil collection of 12,000 specimens, and she has written numerous scientific papers about the discoveries she made while putting the collection together.
While she was working on the plant fossil record, it became clear to her there was no literature available about the evolution of flora in the ancient continent of Gondwana. This discovery inspired her to write The Greening of Gondwana (first published in 1986 by Reed Books; third edition published by Kangaroo Press/Simon & Schuster in June 1998).
Since 1984, Mary White has been a full-time writer and lecturer. In this role, she has the opportunity to present her interests in the prehistoric world and the evolution of the Australian continent and its biota.
Her four books: The Greening of Gondwana, After the Greening, Listen…Our Land is Crying, and Running Down: Water in a Changing Land, form a four-part saga that provides insight into why much of the current land and water use in Australia is unsustainable. After The Greening won the Eureka Prize in 1994 and Running Down was short-listed for the same prize in 2001.
In 1995, Macquarie University granted Mary White a Doctor of Science in recognition of her contributions to science. In 1999, the Queensland University of Technology granted her a Doctor of the University, and she received the Riversleigh Medal for “excellence in promoting understanding of Australian prehistory”.
In 2003, Mary moved from Sydney to a property called the Falls Forest Retreat, NSW. She secured 200 acres of land in an effort to covenant its forests and protect its biodiversity.
“I’m deeeply hmble and honoured to receive the lifetime of conservation award. Everything is interconnected and we must find an accept the place of humans in the overall scheme of things. It is fundamental to the problems that we have today.”
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