2004 Dorothy Hill Medal Winner

Professor Bob Henderson
Bob Henderson's Citation

Bob Henderson is one of New Zealand’s prime exports. He is a distinguished researcher and educator who has actively promoted the education and study in Earth Sciences in North Queensland. His diverse interests include the fields of the palaeontology and stratigraphy of the Cretaceous System, the tectonic development of North Queensland sedimentary basins from the Cambrian to the Cretaceous and the tectonics of deformed and metamorphosed terranes in the northern Tasman Orogenic Zone. He has gained wide respect in the geological community through the publication of original research and his administrative roles in societies and committees.

Sue Golding (left) and Bob Henderson (right).

After graduation from Victoria University in Wellington he spent a short period overseas as a Frank Knox Memorial Fellow and Fullbright Scholar at Harvard University before commencing as a lecturer in paleontology at the Townsville College of the University of Queensland. He has been awarded the best lecturer title numerous times for the enthusiasm with which he lecturers. He has also shown incredible pastoral care for the students. As principal organiser of the second year student field camp he has provided a leadership and commitment that is highly regarded by his peers and students. He was given a Personal Chair in Earth Sciences at James Cook University before becoming Head of the School of Earth Sciences at this institution. He has been Visiting Fellow, Wolfson College Oxford during his sabbaticals where he undertook a series of palaeontologic projects, particularly in collaboration with Professor Jim Kennedy.

He has been a member and chairman of the Earth Sciences Subpanel of the Australian Research Council. In this role he strongly promoted Earth Science research on a national basis. As a very active member of the Geological Society of Australia, Bob Henderson has been Vice-President and President of this organization and has performed these duties with dignity and passion. He has convened several geological conferences and consistently presents results of his research at conferences. His personal experience and knowledge of the geology of North Queensland led to the co-compilation with P J Stephenson of a major volume that reviews the geology and geophysics of northeastern Australia.

Bob is always available to share his knowledge and experience of geological, academic or personal issues with staff and students. He has supervised many doctoral and honours students over the years and all have enjoyed his advice and guidance

Response of thanks by Bob Henderson
I am deeply honoured to receive this award, in part because of its symmetry as I will explain. As with the other medals this evening, peer recognition represents the most valued of professional awards. The Dorothy Hill medal is an especially precious commodity because it commemorates a person of great distinction who spent her life fostering the Earth Sciences in Queensland, and to great effect. I am of course of an age, and of a persuasion, to have crossed paths with Professor Hill, and thought I might indulge in relating some of these experiences.

Professor Hill had a significant role in my appointment as lecturer at JCU in 1969. At that time JCU was a college of UQ and staff of the parent institution commonly assisted the college in making academic appointments. I know that Dorothy Hill was involved because my job interview was at Cornell University in upstate New York. At the time I was a Post Doctoral Fellow at Harvard. The main interviewer was John Wells, an important member of Prof Hill’s palaeontological totem – a Devonian coral specialist. The interview was a testing experience: scheduled for mid-morning, the panel was to include John Wells and Les Power – an academic from Townsville on leave in Pittsburg. John started the interview more or less on time but Les did not show up until about 4 pm. Imagine that, a full day of one-on-one interview. In spite of limited knowledge of things Devonian or coralline, I must have been able to keep the conversation going and landed the job.

On arrival in Townsville, my introduction to Queensland geology was abrupt and demanding: I had to present a first year course on just that topic. And what came to hand – Professor Hill’s Elements of Queensland Stratigraphy, a starting point at least even though I struggled with pronunciation of many of the place names, suffering some corrections from the floor.

I subsequently met and interacted with Professor Hill especially during the 1970’s and early 80’s. Her office for the latter part of that time was opposite the library, later named in her honour, and as a regular user of the library, I had a good excuse to drop in.

Having started work in Queensland, I found myself very quickly with Palaeozoic interests, transported downwards as it were from a pre-Queensland Mesozoic-Cainozoic palaeontological focus in my formative years. I have had the opportunity to range widely in researching Queensland geology, although sticking in the Phanerozoic and seldom ranging south of the tropic.

After 30 or so years of interaction I can report a personal view that Queensland geology gave as good as it got. Returning home after an extended field trip to the Georgina Basin, on not quite the appointed day, my wife failed to recognise me at first sight. This cautioning balance in time, distance and the attraction of fieldwork but as Joy would observe I have not picked up the lessons quite as well as I might. I have been saved from personal folly, with misguided manuscripts spared publication through rejection by wise reviewers. And of course the dust, flies, bogged & punctured vehicles, property owners with bad attitude, mite attacks, stinging tree etc.

On the credit side, immense pleasure in working out and understanding how rocks fit together in large-scale historical patterns – even where the views are singular. And of course professional interaction, support and friendship from a great raft of people: University colleges, government geologists from the Queensland Survey and the BMR and its subsequent reincarnations, industry professionals and students – after all someone had to do the real work.

The rocks are the drawing board, full of unanswered questions, contradictions and potential for progressive re-interpretation, good for at least another 100 years. But people make the discipline of geology. I am acutely aware that I am just one of a substantial group that have contributed to Queensland geology. With that in view, it is indeed a great honour to be singled out for this award: Professor Hill was formative in putting my boat in the water and to receive this particular honour 30 something years on is simply magic.