Unsung hero wields weapons of cold steel

Associate Professor Gil Hollamby with a crop of cross-pollinating wheat at Roseworthy.

Associate Professor Gil Hollamby with a crop of cross-pollinating wheat at Roseworthy.
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Thursday, 3 May 2001

One of the features of National Science Week each year is the award of the Unsung Hero of South Australian Science. This year's recipient is Associate Professor Gil Hollamby from the Adelaide University's Faculty of Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

The annual award is made by The Australian Science Communicators [SA] to a South Australian based scientist whose work has not received adequate recognition. The recipient is also chosen as one who has shown a respect for science communication and actively promoted the benefits of science to individuals and society at large.

In announcing the award, Mr Robert Perrin, co-ordinator of the South Australian Science Communicators, paid tribute to Professor Hollamby's achievements.

Professor Hollamby leads the wheat breeding research team at the Roseworthy Campus of The University of Adelaide. Since his appointment as Assistant Plant Breeder in 1961 he has released major new wheat varieties such as Spear, Machete, Trident and Excalibur; bred specifically to grow in the dry Mediterranean agricultural environments of South Australia.

More recently, Professor Hollamby's expertise has been called on for breeding experiments in Western Australia. The breeding of plant varieties requires scientific rigour, long term planning and innovation, and conventional breeding is considered to be the origin of modern molecular marker and genetic engineering technology.

Professor Hollamby said he was "proud to represent the Australian wheat breeding community by bringing to the fore the important work which they do. I'm very humbled that someone has chosen me as this representative," he said, "And I'm proud to be able to represent my colleagues in our wheat breeding team at Roseworthy."

"I did not think of wheat breeders as being unsung heroes, because farmers know who bred a new variety, and what they think of it and thus of the breeder," said Professor Hollamby. "Most breeders name their varieties along some theme, and Roseworthy varieties are named after cold steel type weapons, so Halberd, Spear, Dagger, Machete, Trident, Excalibur, Stiletto, Bowie, Kukri and others are easily recognized as coming from Roseworthy and so are expected to have some particular features," he said.

"I guess we are more unsung in the scientific community because, although we conduct a large number of scientifically rigorous experiments, these are to discriminate between likely good and bad lines within the South Australian wheat belt rather than something more profound," said Professor Hollamby. "As such they do not produce results that are scientifically profound or even capable of extrapolation to other areas, he said.

"The Plant Breeding Unit at Roseworthy has received steady external funding over the years, but has not attracted the input and prestige of the Waite centre, despite its fundamental role in continuing to provide new variety releases. Recently however the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the University have allocated $250,000 to upgrade and enhance the Roseworthy facilities; a direct recognition of Professor Hollamby's abilities and his importance to the future of wheat breeding in South Australia.

The award recognises a scientist who also values science communication. "Professor Hollamby has always gone out of his way to communicate to all who would listen - students, growers, industry and the wider community," said Mr Perrin. " Each year he speaks at farmer and advisor update sessions, Agricultural Bureau events and Research Centre field days," he said. "His down to earth practical approach is welcomed by farmers, and his extensive knowledge of agricultural crops and insects is an invaluable resource for his students and peers."

"I guess the most satisfying experiences are to drive through the wheat belt and recognize wheat crops that are partly from my handiwork," said Professor Hollamby, "Or to have farmers come up to you and shake your hand when they have had a good experience with your varieties."

Associate Professor Hollamby takes over the title from last year's winner, Associate Professor Keith Walker from the Department of Environmental Biology, who was recognised for his work on the ecology of the River Murray.

Mr Hollamby's award will be presented by Senator Nick Minchin at a breakfast at Urrbrae House (Waite Campus) at 7:30, Friday 4 April, after which Senator Minchin will launch National Science Week at the Adelaide Zoo. Contact: Associate Professor Gil Hollamby, phone: (08) 8303 7834.


Contact Details

Associate Professor Gil Hollamby
Email: gil.hollamby@adelaide.edu.au
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7834

Mr David Ellis
Email: david.ellis@adelaide.edu.au
Website: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/newsroom/
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762