Dr. Nancy Burbidge

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What's in a Name? by Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

In the Australian National Botanic Gardens at the top end of the Eucalypt Lawn is the Nancy Burbidge Memorial, an amphitheatre used for musical performances and for weddings. It is named in honour of Nancy Tyson Burbidge AM, DSc (1912-1977), botanist and conservationist.

She was born in Yorkshire, but came to Ketanning, WA, in 1913 when her father was appointed to the Anglican parish there. Her mother opened a primary school at the rectory and in 1922 founded the Ketanning Church of England Girls' School. Nancy was educated there, at Bunbury High School and at the University of Western Australia, graduating in Science.

She started a long career in botany. She was awarded a prize by a group of shipping companies of a free passage to England and spent eighteen months in 1939-40 at the Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. On returning to Perth she spent three years studying the ecology and taxonomy of Western Australian plants. She then moved to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, Adelaide, to study regenerating native pasture in arid and semi-arid regions of South Australia. In 1946 she became systematic botanist in the CSIR's Division of Plant Industry, Canberra, and soon became responsible for the Division's collection of plant specimens, and then Curator, Herbarium Australiense. In 1953 she was seconded to be Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at the Kew Herbarium, London.

She contributed many articles to botanical journals leading to the award of a DSc. In 1963, with Max Gray, she published The Plants of the Australian Capital Territory. Three volumes on grasses followed and then in 1970, again with Max Gray, Flora of the Australian Capital Territory. Later she published for the general reader The Wattles of the Australian Capital Territory and The Gum Trees of the Australian Capital Territory

Dr Burbidge was a founding member of the National Parks Association of the ACT and was at times its secretary, president and a committee member. She lobbied for the establishment of the Tidbinbilla Fauna Reserve and campaigned for the establishment of Namadgi National Park. A peak in the Park is named Mount Burbidge.

She was a member of the Australian Federation of University Women and was very involved with the Pan-Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association supporting causes such as scholarships for Aboriginal women and the establishment of a women's hall of residence at the University of Papua New Guinea.


This is one of four What's in a Name? articles written by the late Bernard Fennessy about people after whom ANBG buildings and facilities have been named. The others are:

Originally published in the March 2004 Newsletter of the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.