I always knew what I wanted to do, and my early interests and hobbies all centred around rocks and minerals. I can trace my geological interest back to a family holiday at Thirroul, New South Wales, when aged about four years I was fascinated by the smooth stones on the beach. This progressed to collecting minerals in volcanic ‘blue metal’ gravel covering my primary school playground (I still have those specimens). Throughout high school I was collecting, buying and swapping minerals, and I learnt to recognise many hundreds of species by sight alone, together with their properties and localities. I read extensively, absorbing classic mineralogy books which were normally university texts. One book I treasured was Australian Rocks, Minerals and Gemstones by Robert Oliver Chalmers, Curator of Minerals at the Australian Museum. Little did I know at the time that I would later work at the AM and get to know Oliver as a friend and colleague.
I can trace my geological interest back to a family holiday at Thirroul, when aged about four years I was fascinated by the smooth stones on the beach.
I went on to study at the University of Technology, Sydney, where I fine-tuned my knowledge and experience thanks to dedicated lecturers. I undertook an Honours project making my own electrical prospecting equipment and conducting electrical surveys over a small lead sulphide deposit near Goulburn, combining my interests in geology and electronics. I also developed an affinity with computers and wrote programs to solve complex geological calculations in three different computer languages, a skill used extensively at the AM doing research on volcanic rocks. I managed to diversify my studies, which later came in handy at the AM – I did two semesters of biology, which helped me to understand the work of my museum colleagues. Being very good with a microscope also helped me get a job at the Museum – my parents had given me my first microscope when I was eight.
This is now my 43rd year of working at the Australian Museum. I started at the AM in January 1979, hired initially to reorganise the rock collection. My AM career progressed through a series of promotions and increased responsibilities, leading to Senior Technical Officer, then Scientific Officer, Mineralogy Collection Manager and Group Manager, Geosciences and Archaeology. Today at the AM I manage a collection of over 60,000 minerals and 20,000 rocks. I have extensive knowledge of these collections and remember many individual specimens – their histories and what they look like.
I became intensely interested in the meteorites, thanks to previous Curator of Minerals Oliver Chalmers, who taught me a lot about this subject. The mineral collection has many silicate minerals known as zeolites, which grow in volcanic rocks. There was a problem with identifying these as many look similar and the usual tests were time- consuming. So, I went back to university to study a new cutting-edge method called laser Raman spectroscopy, which I hoped would help the identification task. My work was successful and led to the awarding of a MSc.
For the past 30 years, my main research project has been a study of minerals at Jenolan Caves, which I first visited as an 8 year old. The caves always held a particular fascination for me so it was a delight to do work there with Armstrong Osborne from Sydney University and AM Research Associate David Colchester. Our work led to the identification of 15 mineral species previously unknown from Jenolan, and a much older date of formation for the caves.
I enjoy being a mentor to students of geology and anyone with a geological curiosity. I take every opportunity to participate in AM public programs such as the Sydney Science Trail and of course exhibitions, sharing my passion and enthusiasm for minerals. I was a member of project teams for the Planet of Minerals gallery which opened in 1986, the Albert Chapman Collection in 1996, the Chapman mineral display at the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst, in 2019 and the new Minerals Gallery, which has just opened. I very much enjoyed writing and selecting the highlighted minerals for the gallery catalogue.
My interests have led to membership of nine scientific societies covering geology, mineralogy, cave studies and astronomy. I have been Vice President, Secretary, Education Officer and Librarian of the Mineralogical Society of NSW. I have contributed to over 60 papers in scientific journals and conference abstract volumes on such diverse topics as mineralogy, meteoritics, petrology, laser Raman spectroscopy, medical technology, palaeontology and archaeology. My contributions to AM collection management and research were recognised with the awarding of the Australian Museum Research Institute Medal in 2020.
This article was originally printed in Explore, the Australian Museum Members' magazine.