Honorary awards

Philip Alexander Symonds PSM

The degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) was conferred upon Philip Alexander Symonds PSM at the Faculty of Science graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 29 May 2009.

Philip Alexander Symonds PSM

The Deputy Chancellor Alan Cameron AM conferring the honorary degree upon Mr Symonds PSM, photo, copyright Memento Photography.


Deputy Chancellor, I present Philip Alexander Symonds for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa).

Philip Symonds completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Tasmania graduating with 1st class honours in geophysics. He started his career at the Australian Government geoscience organisation, the Bureau of Mineral Resources – now Geoscience Australia. It is here he has had the unique opportunity for 40 years to follow his passion for all things geological.

Mr Symonds has played a crucial and defining role in the establishment of Australia’s vast maritime zones. His knowledge and expertise in matters relating to the continental shelf is unparalleled. As the leader of Australia’s law of the sea technical team, his work over many years has been crucial to the recent confirmation of 2.56 million km2 of additional continental shelf for Australia under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is an inspiring achievement as it constitutes an increase in Australia’s maritime jurisdiction equivalent to the size of Western Australia. In 2005 Mr Symonds was awarded the Public Service Medal in the Australian Honours List for outstanding service in the field of the geoscientific aspects of maritime boundaries. He is among a select few who have contributed to changing the shape of Australia.

In 2002 Mr Symonds was elected a member of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which is responsible for confirming areas of extended continental shelf under the 1982 Convention. Earlier in his career he was involved in the development of the Scientific and Technical guidelines applied by that body. He has established himself as a scientific leader within the Commission as evidenced by his appointment to chair many of its sub-commissions. The Commission plays a pivotal role in establishing the outer maritime limits of many countries.

Mr Symonds is also noteworthy for his commitment to educating other countries, particularly those in the Asia Pacific region, about the continental shelf and the making of submissions. Also, countries further afield, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Canada, beat a path to his door when it became apparent that Australia’s submission represented world’s best practice. He has been the principal liaison with AUSAID to secure funding for training workshops and the purchase of essential analytical software for Pacific countries. He has led a succession of workshops, training personnel in the technical and scientific aspects of extended continental shelf delineation. His enthusiasm in the conduct of these training sessions is infectious and many of the countries involved have proceeded to make submissions, or are in the course of preparing their submissions, based on the approach taken by Australia.

Within Australia there are few people who have contributed as much to the field of marine geoscience as Philip Symonds. His research constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of the architecture and tectonic history of the continental margin. It has had a major impact, including realised economic value.
Mr Symonds has applied his scientific expertise and leadership to bring real and tangible benefits to his own country, to other countries and to the United Nations. He has pushed the physical frontiers of the continental shelf as well as the frontiers of scientific learning and education on matters relating to the seabed. In so doing, he has brought immense credit to both himself and his country. The University is indebted to him for his continuing association with the School of Geosciences, his mentoring of younger colleagues and his infectious enthusiasm for exploring and understanding the processes that have shaped our part of the world.

Deputy Chancellor, I present Philip Alexander Symonds for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) and I invite you to confer the degree upon him.