I graduated from UWA with a BSc (Hons 1st class) in botany and zoology in 1974 and a PhD on speciation in kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos: Haemodoraceae) in 1980. I was employed as Western Australia’s first Flora Conservation Research Officer in 1977, and promoted to Senior Principal Research Scientist and Officer in Charge of the Western Australian Wildlife Research Centre, Department of Conservation and Land Management from 1988-1992, laying the research and policy foundations of today’s ongoing flora programmes. In 1990, I was Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Georgia (USA) and Miller Visiting Research Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, working on granite outcrop plant life, which continues as a research interest.
I joined Kings Park and Botanic Garden as the Director in 1992, and from 1999 to 2004 served as Chief Executive Officer of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (which manages Kings Park and Botanic Garden and Bold Park), leading the delivery of improvements to programmes and infrastructure to world-class standards. At the same time I held Adjunct Professorships at UWA (Botany Department) and Curtin University of Technology (School of Biology). While Foundation Professor of Plant Conservation Biology at The University of Western Australia from 2004-2006, I developed new theory on the evolution and conservation of biodiversity on the world’s oldest landscapes, and led the establishment of new degrees in conservation biology. These continue as part of UWA’s degree portfolio to this day.
I joined the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, a World Heritage site and global plant science powerhouse of 800 staff, in October 2006, and led the organisation through celebrations of its 250th anniversary in 2009. I was honoured to be the first non-British Director (CEO and Chief Scientist) to hold that august post.
I have held Visiting Professorships at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Reading, The University of Western Australia, Curtin University of Technology and at Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Perth. I was awarded a Commonwealth Centenary Medal for service to the community in 2003, became a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Corresponding Member of the Botanical Society of America in 2007, and received the Nancy T. Burbidge Memorial Medal from the Australian Systematic Botany Society in 2008. I was awarded honorary Doctor of Science degrees by the University of Western Australia in 2010 and the University of Sussex in 2012.
In June 2012 I was awarded Australia’s highest civilian honour of Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), for 'eminent service as a global science leader in the field of plant conservation biology, particularly in the delivery of world class research programs contributing to the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems'. In October 2012 I was inducted into the Western Australian Science Hall of Fame.
Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)