Noel Charles William (1914 - 1998)
Born on 20 December 1914, died on 13 October 1998
Noel Beadle grew up on the edge of bushland in western Chatswood on Sydney's
North Shore. His father had studied horticulture before coming to Australia
and knew the Latin names of many plants and he used them at every opportunity.
Noel therefore developed an early understanding of how plants are named and
spent many hours roaming through the bush near his home becoming familiar
with the individual plant species.
After attending North Sydney High School, he enrolled at Sydney University
planning to study chemistry and become an industrial chemist. You would think
that botany would be an obvious choice as one of his first year subjects because
of his interest in plants. However, he chose it mainly because he thought
it would involve excursions and he had never been out of the Sydney area.
There were no excursions in first year botany nor in second or third year
but he became interested in the subject. Perhaps as a result, field trips
were always an important part of his own teaching and many students have been
astounded and enthralled by his knowledge and enthusiasm, particularly when
out in the bush.
After an honours year studying the respiration and carbohydrate content of
tomatoes, he completed a Master of Science studying the same topics and was
employed as a Demonstrator in the Department of Botany at the University of
Sydney. He was beside himself with excitement when he was invited on a collecting
trip by car, organised by the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1939.
This opportunity was a major event for a young man fascinated by travel but
who had never been west of the Blue Mountains. The route was west to Broken
Hill then north to Miparinka and Tibooburra and thence to Wanaaring, Bourke
and back to Sydney. Noel was responsible for pressing and drying the 600 plant
specimens representing about 300 species that they collected along the way.
He later spent much time, often with the help of botanists from the National
Herbarium, in identifying many of these specimens.
Later in 1939, the newly formed Soil Conservation Service advertised for
a Research Officer and Botanist to work in western New South Wales. Noel was
appointed to the position and was instructed to do a soil erosion survey of
the western country. He made Condobolin his headquarters and commenced work
using a 1937 Chevrolet car for transport. He achieved far more than a simple
erosion survey. He produced the first coherent classification and map of the
vegetation of western NSW and his work was published by the Soil Conservation
Service in 1948 as "The Vegetation and Pastures of Western New South Wales
with special reference to Soil Erosion". This work became a benchmark for
studies of its kind and his map is still used by many who marvel at its accuracy,
given the conditions under which it was produced. His species lists are also
extremely valuable for those interested in changes in vegetation over time.
Noel resigned from the Soil Conservation Service in 1946 to take up a position
first as a lecturer and later as a senior lecturer in botany at the University
of Sydney. He developed courses in ecology and became involved in teaching
botany at all levels. His work on the factors affecting the distribution of
the vegetation in the Sydney district and on the relationships among soil
parent material, soil fertility and vegetation was outstanding. It made a
major impact on the development of plant ecological thought in Australia.
In late 1954, Noel was appointed the Foundation Professor of Botany at the
newly independent University of New England. He immediately set about structuring
the teaching and research of the Department around the basic core of plant
morphology, taxonomy and ecology. By the time he retired in 1979, many other
aspects of botany were being taught and researched including, plant pathology,
embryology and plant physiology - all without detriment to the original morphology/taxonomy/ecology
thrust. These core topics still remain critical to the teaching of Botany
at the University of New England.
Noel was always acutely aware of the importance of adequate keys and floras
to aid in the field identification of plant species. During his years in Sydney
he spent much time devising botanical keys and giving them to his classes
for testing. I was first involved in this process as a second year Agriculture
student and was impressed by his vast knowledge of plants and his ability
to construct keys which were relatively simple to use. This work resulted
in the publication of the "Handbook of the vascular plants of the Sydney
District and Blue Mountains" in 1962. He was unable to interest any commercial
publishers in the venture and so financed it out of his own resources and
it was printed in Armidale. This book was very successful and led to the "Flora
of the Sydney District" first published by AH and AW Reed in 1972. His
next venture was the "Students Flora of North-Eastern New South Wales"
published by the Department of Botany, University of New England in six volumes.
All of these works were used by generations of students and have now been
largely replaced by "The Flora of New South Wales", edited by Gwen
Harden who was one of his former students.
International recognition was enhanced following the publication of "The
Vegetation of Australia" in 1981 as part of a world series. This was the
first comprehensive monograph on the vegetation of the whole continent and
embodied his knowledge gleaned from countless trips and student excursions.
He always kept meticulous notes of his travels and used these extensively
in his books. His final work was "Botany in the Backblocks", a limited
edition skilfully edited by Gordon White and published by the Department of
Botany, University of New England in 1995. This final work is a somewhat light-hearted
description of the travels and experiences of a botanist with an eye for detail
and an acute sense of humour. Of particular interest are his experiences when
travelling in western New South Wales in good seasons and in droughts without
the benefits of four wheel drive and satellite phones.
Noel Beadle never sought recognition for his contributions to science, but
on occasions his peers and associates have seen fit to honour him. He received
his D.Sc. from the University of Sydney for his work in western New South
Wales, and upon his retirement the University of New England awarded him the
title of "Professor Emeritus". He was awarded the Clarke Medal of the Royal
Society of New South Wales in 1982 and the Medal of the Ecological Society
of Australia in 1985 for his contributions to ecology. In 1988 the Soil Conservation
Service of New South Wales, upon its fiftieth anniversary, made him a special
presentation in recognition of his contribution to the Service and to dryland
ecology generally. The University of New England elected him a Fellow of the
University in 1993.
An outstanding trait of Noel was that he never hesitated to use his own resources
to promote the sciences of botany and ecology and to assist those less fortunate
than he. He personally financed the publication of the first editions of his
floras and much of his field work. Whilst Professor of Botany he provided
an endowment for a prize to the top second and third year students in both
botany and ecology and, when he retired, provided further funds for the establishment
of scholarships for postgraduate students. The full extent of his generosity
to numerous charities is unlikely to ever be known, but is wide ranging and
substantial. It includes significant donations to the Royal Blind Society,
Red Cross, Guide Dog Association, Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Armidale
Hospital and the Guyra Hospital. He also donated a large block of land to
the Armidale City Council, which has now been established as a park named
"Beadle Grove" featuring native plants of the region. A local Rotary Club
honoured him with a Paul Harris Fellowship and honorary membership in 1987
for his contributions to Rotary's Polio Plus program.
As a teacher, Noel Beadle was renowned for his ability to interest and encourage
students in the science of botany, particularly in the field. His lectures
were always stimulating and students were fascinated by his immense knowledge
of botany, contrasting with the postage stamp size of the notes from which
he lectured. His broad smile, sense of humour, personal warmth and generosity
have endeared him to generations of students and staff alike.
Associate Professor R D B (Wal) Whalley Head,
School of Rural Science and Natural Resources,
University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Collecting localities for 'Beadle, N.C.W.' from AVH (2021)
Data from 2,834 specimens