Past GSAQ medal recipients - image courtesy GSAQ

2013 Dorothy Hill Medal Winner

Dr Peter Jell
Peter Jell's Citation

Dr Peter Jell has made a major contribution to Queensland geology as a palaeontologist and in leadership roles at the Queensland Museum, including instigating the consolidation of Queensland’s Earth Science collections. He has published extensively, particularly on Australian trilobites and echinoderms. However, he is likely to be best remembered for his editorship of the new Geology of Queensland volume, which is currently in press.

Mark Thornton (left) presenting medals to Laurie Hutton (centre) and Peter Jell (right).

Peter is an honours graduate of the University of Queensland in 1968 and completed his PhD on Cambrian trilobites of the Georgina Basin at the Australian National University in 1972. After a brief stint with the Bureau of Mineral Resources, he held a variety of post-doctoral positions in Australia and overseas before joining the Museum of Victoria in 1978, where he remained until 1985, when he joined the Queensland Museum.

For most of his 20 years working for the Queensland Museum, Peter lead and managed its collections and research programs including a staff of approximately 50 scientists and a similar number of affiliated honorary research workers. These duties covered variously the fields of earth sciences, marine and terrestrial zoology, anthropology, maritime archaeology and human history. Within that responsibility, perhaps the most demanding and time constrained project was rehousing of the entire museum collection from the Bowen Hills building to its new home at South Bank. Some 10 years later, space in the South Bank building had been over occupied, and submissions to Government resulted in allocation of $5 million for an off-site storage facility at Hendra. Peter managed the entire project, finding suitable premises, deciding what collections and functions to move off-site, fit-out of the new facility and bringing it into operation. Considerable floor space remained available within warehouse and Peter instigated approaches to the University to consolidate their collection with the Museum’s and also had discussions with the Geological Survey concerning the long-term future of its fossil collection. His proposals were accepted resulting in the consolidation of all the earth science collections into one site within Brisbane (except for the core library of GSQ) bringing the material under the legislative protection of the Queensland Museum Act.

Peter has also had extensive editing experience with several scientific journals. Initially, he produced the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria (1979-1985) with a well-established format and strong institutional support. He was in agreement with a long-held belief by Professor Dorothy Hill that the country needed to establish a high quality publication outlet for large palaeontological works that were being published overseas rather than in Australia

He, therefore, proposed, through the Specialist Group of the Geological Society of Australia, to inaugurate a Memoir series for this purpose. The proposal was accepted, and Peter acted as editor for 15 years, producing the first 18 memoirs of the series that continues to provide significant contributions to the scientific literature of this country. He not only edited the Memoir series, including seeking out appropriate authors and manuscripts but also achieved financial support for their publication. He was solely responsible for managing this aspect and at the end of 15 years with 18 memoirs published he left behind a bank balance of $90,000 achieved through sales, sponsorship, philanthropy and grants. On joining the Queensland Museum he became editor of the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum and maintained that role for 20 years. Prior to his editorship (and since) the Memoirs included an average of 200-300 pages of original research per year. During his tenure of the position an average of 1000 pages of research results were published each year.

In March 2010, Peter was appointed by the Geological Survey of Queensland as temporary Senior Project Manager Queensland Geology as editor of a new volume on the Geology of Queensland. The aim was to have the book completed in time for the 34th International Geological Congress (IGC) in Brisbane in August 2012. It is almost 30 years since a comparable volume was produced and in that time there has been a huge accumulation of new knowledge from detailed surveys by government as well as university research and company exploration, along with the application of modern techniques for remote sensing and accurate dating of rocks. The aim was therefore a collation of geological knowledge of Queensland, particularly new data achieved in the last 30 years, as a high quality and comprehensive reference work for use by geologists worldwide, in the mining industry and research institutions. The time-frame of 30 months was considerably less than that for comparable publications of other states (the Victorian volume took more than 5 years).

Peter quickly assembled a team of 24 chapter coordinators drawn from the Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ), Australian universities and museums, Geoscience Australia and some from industry. In turn, the coordinators recruited other authors, so that the total number of contributors reached 59, in addition to graphic designers and cartographers. Peter provided initial guidance to these authors in style and content and edited their manuscripts to ensure scientific accuracy and uniformity and balance in level of detail given the constraints of a single volume. Because so many authors were from outside institutions with their own agendas and priorities, a major challenge was ensuring that the manuscripts were submitted in time to meet the deadlines. Manuscripts also had to go through numerous iterations of editing and returning to authors for attention. To ensure that deadlines were met and manuscripts were turned around in a timely manner, Peter undertook much of the editing of the manuscripts in his own time as well as during office hours. Although there were a few recalcitrant authors, most final manuscripts were received by the end of 2011. After editing and trimming of superfluous detail, the final manuscript was 1300 pages with 725 text figures and photographs.

To assist with the production of the book, GSQ was offered the services of Creative Solutions, a publishing group within the Department. Although ultimately, this improved the quality of the final product, it created an additional, unforeseen and time-consuming workload for the editor. The production team at Customer Solutions, although very skilled at design and pedantic in matters of style, are not scientists and Peter spent much valuable time patiently explaining numerous geoscientific terms and conventions and negotiating on countless, seemingly trivial style issues as well as major points on design.

In conjunction with the IGC, Peter was also asked on behalf of GSQ to assist as joint editor of a special issue of the international geoscientific journal Episodes containing a series of papers on the geology of Oceania. This added to his already heavy workload, but the publication was released in time for the IGC.

As a temporary officer, Peter’s tenure became due for renewal at the end of September 2012, and an application for a 3 month extension was not approved in spite of the book not yet being completed. Nevertheless Peter continued to work on an honorary basis, attending to innumerable questions and comments by the production team, creating the Index and checking proofs up to its submission to the printer in January 2013. The final book is about 980 pages and will become a standard reference for future generations of geologists. The quality of the book is outstanding and is directly attributable to Peter’s expertise, vision and dedication. For this achievement alone, Peter is a worthy recipient of the Dorothy Hill Medal. It is also fitting because Professor Hill (with Alan Denmead) was an editor of the Geology of Queensland volume, published by the GSA in 1960.