“Celebrating the 200th Birthday of Royal Botanic Gardens:
A Personal History of 57 years of Science”
Dr Barbara Briggs
Honorary Research Associate, Royal Botanic Gardens
Date: 3 August 2016: 6:00 for 6:30 pm
Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney
The Royal Society of New South Wales and the Royal Botanic Gardens are two of the oldest institutions of science in Australia and each is celebrating a significant anniversary this year. The Society celebrates 150 years since it received Royal Assent from Queen Victoriai, though its origins go back to 1821. The Royal Botanic Gardens turns 200. In this talk we look at the founding of the Gardens and the early challenges it faced. We also celebrate the many achievements and contributions the Gardens have made to science and the life of Sydney. We do so through the eyes of Dr Barbara Briggs, the Garden’s longest serving female scientist.
Botany featured early in the young settlement, notably with Joseph Banks and Botany Bay. Plants were cultivated at Farm Cove from the first settlement of Sydney but the foundation of the Garden is marked as the ‘particular and auspicious day’ when Mrs Macquarie’s Road was completed on 13 June 1816.
While much has changed over the decades, science at the Garden still has important roles in maintaining the National Herbarium of NSW, our archive of botanical specimens, and in providing botanical information in enquiry services, publications and on-line. The role of the Garden has expanded with two satellite gardens and education programs, and it is valued for its beauty, its attractive site, its horticulture and heritage, and as green space for the city.
Barbara took us through the history of the Gardens. One area she focused on was the way the development of DNA data that has given a far more complete and robust knowledge of evolutionary relationships than she ever expected to see. She also told us about how the Gardens survived in part because its soil was so poor for growing plants, the 80 new plant species she has identified and others she has reclassified, the discovery of the Wollemi Pine and how her skills in identifying a tiny leaf fragment helped solve a murder case. Laslty she described the challenges and opportunities are facing the Gardens over the next 200 years.
Dr Briggs is one of the foremost Australian botanists and comes from a distinguished family of scientists. She is the daughter of Edna Sayce, who, in 1917, became the first woman Physics graduate from The University of Sydney, and her father was also a distinguished physicist. Dr Briggs joined the Gardens as a botanist in 1969 and rose to become its senior assistant director and head of the science program at the National Herbarium of New South Wales at the Garden until her retirement. Her special interests include plant evolution and southern hemisphere biogeography. She has published over 100 research papers and named 80 new species, as well as reclassifying others.