Lawrence ("Lawrie") Alexander Sidney Johnson

Lawrence Johnson

As a teenager Lawrence ("Lawrie") Alexander Sidney Johnson became interested in classifying features of the world around him. He enrolled in Science at this University and, after meeting the lively minds in the Botany Department at the time, he majored in Botany and graduated with first class honours in 1948.

He joined the staff at the State Herbarium (the scientific arm of the Botanic Gardens) in 1948 and commenced a research career in systematic botany which gained him the Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of NSW, the ANZAAS Mueller Medal, a D.Sc. from this University, election as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and of the Linnean Society of London (honoris causa).

At the Herbarium he provided botanical expertise for a number of plant families including the Myrtaceae which contains Australia's principal tree group, the eucalypts. This is a particularly difficult group due to the subtle differences between species, the extent of hybridism, and the diverse patterns of wide-ranging and narrowly endemic or disjunct distributions. There are now over 800 recognised species.

He was among the first workers to use a phylogenetic analysis to determine evolutionary relationships, and maintained an active research role throughout his administrative career and for 10 years after his formal retirement. He published over 100 scientific papers.

He had an amazing grasp of many of the localized and world wide issues associated with systematics and a very large number of publications have acknowledged his constructive comment and/or helpful discussions.

Lawrie believed firmly in the value of field studies and recognised that an understanding of distribution requires a knowledge of landscape and the component habitats. He was also a committed conservationist and over 20 years ago was in the vanguard of those who warned local councils of environmental problems which are only now receiving attention.

Lawrie was appointed Director of the Botanic Gardens in 1972. He oversaw a period of expansion which resulted in the extension of the living plant collections with the establishment of gardens at Mount Annan and Mount Tomah, and the construction of a new building to house the collections, laboratories, the scientists, and educational activities. Two new journals, Cunninghamia, and Telopea were launched.

On his retirement he left Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens in a strong position to contribute to both the international research effort and to community appreciation and understanding of the natural world.

In 1985, Lawrie was awarded the AM for his services to botanical science.