Aus Day honours for ‘accidental’ biologist

It was an outback expedition with National Geographic that kicked off Emeritus Professor Raymond Specht’s “accidental” career as a biologist.

A fateful trip to Arnhem Land in the 1940s led to an illustrious career, which in 2020 has seen Prof Specht appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

The 95-year-old says he had planned on becoming a teacher in country South Australia, but found his passion when he was asked to teach biology classes.

“They told me I was going to do [sciences],” Prof Specht told AAP.

Biology was added to his teaching roster in his second year, a subject he went on to study at university.

His days in the classroom ended when he got a spot on the National Geographic expedition two years later.

“There were plenty of scientists there from America and little me for the plants,” Specht said of the trip.

“After that I was sent to Brisbane to try and identify all the plants I had collected [on the trip].”

Specht was then offered a job back in South Australia.

“They grabbed me and said I was off to the University of South Australia to be a lecturer in botany,” he said.

From here Specht taught, wrote books and tried to further understand many of Australia’s numerous ecosystems.

Despite the hard work with very little reward, he always remained excited to learn more about Australia’s environment.

“Every forest, mulga and brigalow all have very interesting and dynamic problems to solve,” he said.

Prof Specht’s honour is for his distinguished service to science and to education in the fields of botany, plant ecology and conservation.

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