William Rowan Browne 1884-1975

Written by T.G. Vallance, with contributions by E.S. Hills.

William Rowan Browne was born on 11 December 1884 at Lislea, County Derry, Ireland, the sixth of eight children born to James and Henrietta Browne, National School teachers. On both sides he descended from families long-established in that country though, by his own account, without particular eminence for learning or public service. His paternal grandfather, who had fought the rebels in 1798 as a yeoman volunteer, he presumed was a farmer; Henrietta's father was an architect and contractor chiefly concerned with the building of country churches in Ulster. Throughout his life, Browne stayed true to these loyalist, devout Church of Ireland (Anglican) origins.

From his parents' school young William Browne moved in 1897 to the Academical Institution at Coleraine where he distinguished himself and, rather unexpectedly in view of his later lack of interest in sport, played in the Rugby 1st XV. With first place at matriculation for all Ireland, the Clothworkers' Scholarship from his school as well as a Junior Exhibition, Browne entered Trinity College Dublin in October 1903 intending to read a classical Arts course. These hopes were dashed when he was found to be suffering from tuberculosis; progress of the disease forced him to withdraw before completing a term.

In those days long sea voyages were commonly prescribed for British sufferers of tuberculosis. Some responded to the 'treatment', and Australia has good reason to be grateful for this particular medical fashion. The debt we owe such enforced immigrants deserves the attention of some student of Australian culture. Among geologists, poor health gave us men like W.B. Clarke, Edgeworth David, and Walter Howchin. Howchin, in fact, reached Adelaide so afflicted that he had to be carried ashore, yet survived to within a couple of months of his 94th birthday. Browne loved to recall that example and, one suspects, hoped to do better. His sudden death in Sydney on 1 September 1975 after a life here with remarkably robust health robbed him by just three years of that triumph; but in that long life he became the foremost exponent of Australian geology to the generation which succeeded Edgeworth David.

Browne set out for Australia in February 1904, and by the time he reached Sydney the tuberculosis was so far advanced he went directly to a private sanitorium at Leura in the Blue Mountains. There, remarkably, his health soon began to improve. After five months he was allowed to leave and take work at Inverell coaching a lad for matriculation. Early in 1906 he moved to Wollogorang, a grazing property near Goulburn, as tutor to the Chisholm children. There Browne learned to ride and to love the open spaces of Australia. Towards the end of 1906 he was considered well enough to commence studies in the University of Sydney.

At the matriculation examinations of 1906, Browne secured both the Cooper (classics) and Barker (mathematics) Scholarships. He had planned to continue the sort of course abandoned four years earlier, but a friend suggested he might try Science rather than Arts. Browne did so. As a science student he could develop his mathematics but the rules required him to read natural science subjects. For a fourth subject after mathematics, chemistry, and physics, he chose geology. He knew nothing of it but the professor was said to be good value and the excursions great fun; such deep considerations determined a career.

Professor Edgeworth David, as usual, lectured to the First Year geology class of 1907 and lived up to Browne's expectations. Encouraged by the award of the University Prize for Geology and the prize for fieldwork, Browne decided to continue with the subject but had to do so without benefit of professor. Late in 1907 David went off, ostensibly to spend the long vacation voyaging south with the Shackleton expedition, but managing to over-stay his original leave by a year. During that absence care of the department devolved upon W.G. Woolnough, a man in some ways the very antithesis of his chief. A bit unbending and not immediately inspiring as a lecturer, Woolnough nevertheless was a scholar with a deep and critical concern for research as well as a sincere interest in students. His influence on the young Browne was little less than that of David. Browne went on to take the prizes for the Second and Third Year courses in geology, graduating early in 1910 with honours class I in both geology and mathematics. For geology he shared the University Medal with his fellow student and friend A.B. Walkom.

When Walkom secured the only geological post then available, a junior demonstratorship in the Sydney department, Browne looked to his other subject. The mathematics course had included lectures in astronomy, and thus experienced, he became First Assistant to G.F. Dodwell, South Australian Government Astronomer, at the Adelaide Observatory. Duties there were mainly routine – observing time-stars with a transit telescope and measuring earthquake records from a Milne seismograph, though the latter exercises on one occasion were enlivened by Dodwell's cow chewing part of a seismogram Browne had set out to dry on the observatory fence. An expedition to Bruni Island, Tasmania, in April-May of 1910 brought unexpected variety. On the initiative of Pietro Baracchi, Victorian Government Astronomer, arrangements had been made to observe a total eclipse of the sun; Browne went along with Dodwell to help. In fact, the event was seen only at Queenstown, normally about the wettest spot in Tasmania and quite by chance on his way back to Adelaide Browne encountered a man who had witnessed it. The observer was induced to write an account and to make a sketch. He did better, procuring the negative of a photograph taken at totality. Thus provided, the Adelaide astronomers were able to report something more than a journey to set up instruments for nothing.

Browne's career as an astronomer came to an end early in 1911 when David offered him the junior demonstratorship vacated by W.N. Benson, who had won a scholarship to Cambridge. By the end of the year Browne and Walkom had completed a paper on the rocks of the Pokolbin district, an area they visited first on an excursion in 1907. It was the first of many works each was to publish on the Hunter Valley region and on problems of Carboniferous geology.

In 1912 Browne returned to Adelaide, this time to the university in locum tenens for Douglas Mawson, then lecturer in mineralogy and petrology, who had been granted leave to resume exploration in Antarctica. The call gave Browne opportunity to see more metamorphic rocks and, incidentally, to make what he once described only half in jest as his greatest discovery, a student by the name of Tilley. This young man responded warmly to the newcomer. Tilley acted as Browne's assistant in the field at Victor Harbour; eventually he followed Browne to Sydney. There in due course he took a degree with University Medals in both geology and chemistry. Tilley's attachment to Browne is tribute enough to the young teacher's quality. They remained life-long friends.

Woolnough's appointment in 1913 to the foundation chair of geology at the newly-established University of Western Australia left a vacancy in Sydney that was filled by promotion of L.A. Cotton. Browne, in turn, moved to the tenured post of assistant lecturer, and thereafter his career was firmly linked to the University of Sydney. In 1916 he became lecturer and by 1923 had the title Assistant Professor, an honour which Browne once claimed came to all lecturers who completed ten years of trouble-free service, though one can think of exceptions to that dismissive explanation. Until 1924 he taught mainly petrology but with the succession of Cotton to David's chair, Browne's duties expanded. There was not only the work that came the way of a second-in-command but also new courses in agricultural geology and even economic geography. When new staff was found for these subjects Browne concentrated on teaching Australian stratigraphy (generously interpreted) and general petrology. He retired in December 1949 with the rank of Reader.

For the quarter-century after the retirement of Edgeworth David, Browne really led the university department of geology in Sydney, not indeed as professor – others occupied that office – but by strength of intellect. Browne was the man with information and ideas. Students turned to him as their leader in science but first he had to be discovered, Browne made no particular effort to advertise himself or attract a following. Indeed, a student's first impression would often enough suggest the reverse. To the beginner Browne could appear formal, even stern, the model of a teacher who stands no nonsense. But the awed respect thus commanded was usually in this case soon replaced by a genuine admiration for the quality of Browne's lectures. What seemed the driest subjects came alive when touched by his mastery of organization, his fluent economy with words, and an apparently endless store of gentle, if rather astringent quips and apt anecdotes. The student soon found also that Browne was more than a gifted exponent of information from textbooks. In Australian stratigraphy for instance, one discovered on consulting the library that Browne himself was the authority and that the class was being led to knowledge not yet imprisoned by print.

Impressive as Browne was in the lecture room, it was on excursions he seemed most in his element. If the outfit, apart from well-worn boots and puttees of uncertain but motheaten antiquity, made few concessions to the field, the wearer certainly did. Many students first discovered there that the stern teacher was, in fact, a remarkably approachable and patient man. Browne made excursions memorable; even those who have long since forgotten the science he taught them still treasure the jokes and stories he would tell by the campfire. They will hardly forget, either, the cracking pace he set on traverses or the fact that nothing seemed to escape his notice. All was carefully recorded in a note-book though, as one came to know him better, one wondered why he took such exemplary trouble. His extraordinary memory seemed to grant facility to recall almost every line he had read and every place seen. Localities not visited for years could be described to the last detail; anyone seeking some outcrop was likely to find Browne's recollected description a sure guide.

For all his tidy-mindedness Browne managed to work in surroundings that appeared reassuringly confused. His field books may be models of careful record but his office notes were more often than not jotted on any piece of paper that chanced to be handy; tied or pinned in bundles they became his files. Thin-sections found their way into a multitude of old tobacco tins that served the place of more orthodox storage. It may have seemed chaotic but Browne knew where to find things. Those files too reveal an unexpected facet of the man who was so fluent in speech and in his published writings. Draft manuscripts full of deletions and substitutions bear witness to the painstaking attention that lay behind what seemed like native skill. For Browne, the written presentation of his researches demanded every bit as much care as the making and recording of his observations. Among Australian geologists, he was a rare stylist.

The pattern of Browne's original investigations owes much to the influence of his teachers, David and Woolnough. Browne's debt to both men is particularly evident in the period to about 1934. Thereafter petrological studies, to which he had been guided by Woolnough, play a diminished role. For the first 15 years of this later period, Browne was largely occupied in realizing David's book, the work that now serves as a splendid memorial to two great scientists who devoted their careers to an adopted homeland. The last phase of Browne's scientific work occupied the years of his so-called retirement and was concerned largely with problems of Quaternary geology.

The Adelaide visit of 1912-13 gave Browne his first sight of Broken Hill, a district he was soon to know well. At the invitation of E.C. Andrews, Government Geologist of New South Wales from 1920 to 1931, Browne joined survey parties there during the university vacations of 1918, 1919, and 1920. Browne was assigned the petrological study of country away from the line of lode, work on the rocks associated with the main ore-bodies being entrusted to F.L. Stillwell. Their reports, with opposed interpretations on a number of points, appeared as appendices to Andrews's memoir, a classic in Australian geology. Browne's contribution formed the basis of 'The petrological evolution of the Willyama complex', a thesis for which he received the Sydney DSc with University Medal in 1922. The argument with Stillwell continued for years, both men holding tenaciously to their views. If Stillwell was no match in the cut-and-thrust of debate for the articulate, quick-witted Browne, the honours must now be rated even. Both were distinguished men who deserve respect for their intelligent contributions to problems which even today have not been resolved.

Browne's first published work on a metamorphic terrain, however, came from his introduction to the Monaro region of New South Wales by Woolnough. Those parts were to attract Browne for the rest of his life. Part I of his account of the Cooma district is dated 1914; 30 busy years passed before readers had the next instalment. The first paper in particular is a landmark among Australian metamorphic studies. Rocks of the Cooma area had long been regarded as being of Precambrian age, mainly on the traditional grounds that such metamorphic materials must be of high antiquity. Through his discovery of graptolites in the lower-grade slates, Browne demonstrated that that part, at least, of the complex could be no older than late Ordovician in age.

David's discovery in 1914 of signs of late Palaeozoic glaciation in the Seaham area of the Hunter Valley led Browne, and others, to investigate problems of the age of the glacial beds. At first thought to be Permian, Browne's work near Maitland showed these strata to be of Carboniferous age. Subsequently study of the glacigene products led him northwards into the New England region. Eruptive rocks of late Palaeozoic age, like those described in the Pokolbin paper, continued to attract Browne during the 1920s. He was particularly fascinated by the phenomena of secondary mineral-adjustment evident in these volcanic materials, an interest that led also to valuable studies of the Prospect intrusion near Sydney and Permian lavas at Port Kembla. Browne's researches in this field broke new ground for Australian petrology.

While Andrews led the New South Wales Geological Survey, Browne maintained a close connection with the group. He was able thus to visit many remote parts of the state in the company of Survey officers and had unrestricted access to the collections of the Mining Museum in Sydney, then the responsibility of his friend G.W. Card, a petrographer for whom he had great respect. The fruits of this experience can be seen in Browne's presidential address of 1929 to the Linnean Society of New South Wales. His theme was the relation between crustal movements and igneous action in New South Wales to the close of Palaeozoic time. It is a pioneer's synthesis, much of it based on original observations. If the germ of the idea came from David and Andrews, Browne made it his own, refining and polishing the scheme on a number of later occasions. Perhaps even greater petrological interest attaches to his presidential address of 1933 to the local Royal Society. There, in his consideration of the products of post-Palaeozoic igneous action in New South Wales, Browne recognized the existence of contrasted types of basalts thereby anticipating concepts of tholeiites and alkali basalts made fashionable by others in the past couple of decades.

To this period also belongs a paper on batholiths (or bathyliths as Browne insisted, confident of etymology) that continues to be quoted in textbooks. Its interest lies in the elegant exposition of time-relations between tectonic action and emplacement of granitic bodies and the criteria whereby such relations can be recognized. In addition, subjects as remote from igneous and metamorphic petrology as soils, erosion, and physiography were also considered in original researches during those early years. If we now see them as expressions of a concern that was to dominate the last phase of Browne's research, they also demonstrate the breadth and versatility that must have led David to look on him as his heir in science.

Anyone familiar with Browne's own achievements must regard the circumstance that he is most widely known for another's book, The Geology of the Commonwealth of Australia, as perhaps unfortunate. Browne never shared that view. He was a man of intense loyalties. Loyalty to local societies kept him publishing in their journals rather than seeking wider attention abroad. But above all it was a loyalty to Edgeworth David, for him ever The Professor, that coloured the whole of Browne's scientific life. Nowhere did that find happier expression for Browne than in the work for which he claimed only that credit due to an assistant. The sight or sound of references to 'David's Geology... by W.R. Browne' was a sure means of rousing his ire. Browne maintained staunchly the book was David's; he had the privilege merely to realize what The Professor began. Indeed, the introduction to the book is so packed with acknowledgments to others that an uninformed reader might take Browne at face value. Therein lies another story: some colleagues who had helped David felt slighted by the generality of his thanks in the Explanatory Notes... he published in 1932. Browne decided to do the job thoroughly.

David had long planned to compile a Geology of Australia and after his retirement in 1924 tried to settle down to the task. But other matters, not least the unfortunate business of Precambrian 'fossils', kept getting in the way. The book was to have been a sort of cooperative venture for which many friends and colleagues, Browne among them, were asked to prepare essays on particular topics. But as material accumulated, David's health declined. By 1930 Browne was devoting many free hours to the work. David, meanwhile, had resolved to concentrate on finishing the geological map and issuing it with explanatory notes, a decision that may have expressed a doubt in his capacity to complete the book. At the time however, David kept counsel but by March of 1934 he had to admit defeat. A few words – 'Oh, by the way, Browne, I want you to finish the book' – determined Browne's work for the next 15 years. Within a matter of months, David was dead and Browne, despite his previous involvement, was left with no clear idea of what had been done or of what remained.

In November 1935, the New South Wales Government having bought the manuscript from the David estate, formally asked Browne to complete and edit the work. It came to him as bundles of paper in dozens of cardboard boxes. A few parts, those sent in by colleagues, seemed reasonably presentable but David's contribution was scattered throughout as miscellaneous jottings. For many chapters there was no sustained writing at all. With no way of estimating how long the task would take, a period of two years was agreed upon though this was soon recognized as inadequate. On secondment from the university, Browne gave all his time to the work. With no sight of an end, the government in 1939 reviewed its support but decided to continue and, indeed, to add the services of a graduate assistant and a draughtsman. By 1941, however, the Lands Department could no longer spare the draughtsman and as the war seemed likely to continue, Browne suggested he resume academic duties until hostilities ceased. Nevertheless, work on the book continued as a spare-time occupation with the result that by the end of 1944 writing was practically completed. Browne then sought and was granted study leave (the only 'sabbatical' he ever took) to make a comprehensive revision. That done, the government committee in charge of the work resolved in 1946 that Browne personally should deliver the typescript to the London publishers (Messrs Edward Arnold & Co.) with whom David had made an agreement some 20 years earlier. Galleys had been checked and the first page proofs coming through when Browne returned to Sydney in May 1948. The rest of the work on proofs, the making of an index and so forth were done while he carried a full load of teaching and supervision. Browne had already retired from the University when the book finally appeared in July 1950 in an edition limited by the number of sets of the map kept since 1932 to form part of the work.

The long-awaited book, the first ever to draw together the scattered experience of Australian geology, quickly went out of print. No doubt most copies went to libraries but its present rarity suggests that those who bought copies in 1950 have had little inclination to part with them, despite the considerable growth of our geological knowledge since. That growth, which may well have taken the subject beyond the grasp of one individual, underlines the special quality of this book – the distillation largely of one man's thought and experience. Future historians of Australian geology will find it a rich and complex quarry. Any work so long in the making could scarcely be other than complex. One perceptive reviewer in 1951 expressed wonder that the labours of two men so opposed in temperament as the classical is to the romatic should have been fused so harmoniously. If few signs of the romantic Davidian resonance survive in the generally austere prose, that is hardly strange but the fusion is there, in matters of arrangement and even argument. One has only to look back to the Explanatory Notes of 1932 to see how Browne followed David's plan. Likewise the models uniting stratigraphy, tectonism, and igneous action owe something to David in their conception, but the refinement of the synthesis was due to Browne. His recognition of the Benambran and Bowning revolutions, for instance, served to complete the David/Andrews picture of orogenic divisions in the Palaeozoic history of southeast Australia. The words 'edited and much supplemented by W.R. Browne...' on the title-pages of the book fail to inform the reader as to the nature of Browne's contribution. Browne had to write David's Geology... – and he did it magnificently.

It was during the period when Browne made several visits interstate, chiefly to resolve problems of geological correlation which had become intractable due to the parochial attitudes of State officialdom and academic schools, that many young geologists first became closely acquainted with him and experienced the delight of meeting with a man of high intellect and culture, with the charm of a sensibility that his erudition and seniority failed to conceal. In achieving correlations across State boundaries, Browne had to deal with many so-called 'boundary faults' where the same formation was regarded as being of a certain age in one State, but different in the other, the opposing views being 'official' as the States were very jealous of their territorial rights. While David had dealt with such problems by royal decree, Browne achieved his results by reasoned argument and sensitive arbitration, even where, as sometimes happened, his own prior views could be called in question. If Griffith Taylor, in an atmosphere of vicious political antagonism, had shown us Australia as a continent geographically, and David's rhetoric had done the same for geology in his Explanatory Notes, Browne's scientific arguments and enormous capacity for detail paved the way for much subsequent collaborative work on Australian regional and tectonic geology – a situation to which he undoubtedly was emotionally committed [E.S.H.].

While still engaged on the book, Browne occasionally would express a hope to resume petrological research when the task was done. But the advances in petrology over the many years spent gathering and arranging the data of Australian geology seemed finally to daunt him. Instead, he turned to a subject to which, in 1945, he had devoted another of his notable presidential addresses, that of the Quaternary history of Australia. The tentative chronology then proposed has been considerably refined in later years, not least through increasing use of radiometric methods for dating, without destroying the logic of Browne's scheme. These modern developments he followed with keen and critical interest, an interest dominated by geological sense. Problems of relatively recent geology, the origin of terraces and the like, continued to hold Browne's attention in his later years but really this last period was dominated by Kosciusko.

A visit to Kosciusko in 1942 revived interests dormant since the 1920s and was followed by a more extensive survey in 1946 under the auspices of a joint advisory committee of the Linnean and Royal Zoological societies of New South Wales. Sponsored by the newly-formed Kosciusko State Park Trust, the work resulted in a useful reconnaissance report. Retirement brought opportunities to extend these investigations and each summer from 1951 to 1955 Browne led parties of biologists and geologists in the field at Kosciusko on behalf of the joint committee. Browne's main scientific concern there lay in the evidence of Pleistocene glaciation, a study made urgent in his view by spoliation of the landscape through human agencies. He saw himself, as citizen as well as scientist, in the role of 'trustee for posterity'. His advocacy of restrictions on the use of the summit area, eloquently expressed in the David Memorial Lecture of 1952 and elsewhere, attracted vehement criticism from those like the graziers who had long enjoyed rights to snow-leases. But Browne was a doughty fighter for causes he believed in and Kosciusko, to him, was indeed a precious heritage. Proclamation in 1962 of the primitive area, though in extent less than half that allowed by the park Act of 1944, owes much to Browne's efforts as a publicist. When the joint committee was disbanded, Browne and his wife continued to work privately in the region until advancing years and failing health put a stop to their annual pilgrimages after 1965.

The real measure of Browne's work on the record of Pleistocene glaciation at Kosciusko is yet to be taken. His starting point, not surprisingly, was where David finished. David had demonstrated evidences of glacial action in the high country and related these to a three-fold pattern. An early ice-sheet glaciation was held to have been the most extensive, later activity being confined to carving the present valleys and finally to deepening of cirque-heads. Browne adopted this view with deep conviction and over the years proceeded to document details of the Kosciuskan landscape in such terms. Few parts escaped his scrutiny on the ground even after aerial photographs became available to make the work of survey easier. No one had a closer familiarity with the terrain than Browne but his work, and in particular that part relating to the extent of what he took to be the earliest glaciation, has attracted criticism from some geomorphologists who argue that the influence of an ice-sheet was far more limited than Browne had it. The problem is still not resolved though one must add that latterly Browne found few supporters. He did not welcome the criticism but what troubled him more was the virtual abdication of interest in geomorphology by the geologists of his home state. Almost single-handed in New South Wales, and with little success, he sought to re-kindle among geologists something of that concern for the study of landscape David had left his generation. Landscape, Browne argued, depended on geology yet geomorphology was being abandoned to geographers, many of whom in his view were inadequately trained in matters of geology. The experience saddened his last years but he went out fighting; he was at work on a new paper describing glacial features and their distribution until a few days before his death.

Finally, another side of Browne's original work must be mentioned, that relating to the practical applications of geology. As long ago as 1911 he had joined his colleague Cotton in a visit to central Queensland to investigate and report on coal prospects for the Mt Morgan Gold Mining Co. Thereafter from time to time his expert advice was sought by various authorities in charge of railways and roads, chiefly in connection with materials problems. In his retirement he accepted some commissions for consultancy work and thus prospected for uranium and molybdenum in the New England region as well as advising a syndicate interested in the petroleum resources of the Illawarra district but these were minor compared with Browne's involvement in engineering geology. In 1943 the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board began work for a major new storage dam on the Warragamba River west of Sydney. Browne and his colleague L.L. Waterhouse were engaged to advise on the proposed site. Fortunately, manpower problems during the war restricted the pace of constructional work for Browne and Waterhouse soon discovered the chosen site was geologically unpromising. A dam constructed there would be subject to considerable lateral drainage through shallow fractures along the gorge. After detailed investigation by boring confirmed these suspicions, they reported adversely on the site and their opinion was supported by American consultants. Browne and Waterhouse were then commissioned to extend their work and search for a more suitable site. Waterhouse had to withdraw for reasons of health soon after this phase began, leaving Browne to continue with the support of Water Board staff. By 1946 a satisfactory location that met all engineering and geological requirements had been found further up the gorge. The capacity of a dam at this new site would be slightly less than that originally planned but in making public the Board's acceptance of the geological advice the president, T.H. Upton, on 30 May 1946, paid tribute to the efforts of both Browne and Waterhouse, adding that their research had already reduced the estimated cost of construction by £2 million. Browne's services as geological adviser were retained until the dam was finished in 1960. Other, less well known, facets of Browne's work as an engineering geologist include his extensive investigations regarding a site for the single-arch Gladesville Bridge over the Parramatta River, Sydney.

Browne's contributions to Australian science through work for scientific societies are no less worthy of note than those made by his research and teaching. His record of effort is indeed impressive. On committees and councils he was admirable. Browne knew his own mind and expressed his opinions with clarity and logic. His good manners combined with a sensitive intelligence, that splendid memory and a deep concern for precedent would gently restore sanity to a discussion rendered aimless by colleagues with more zeal than sense. Perhaps there lay the key to his notable contributions to knowledge – a formidable grasp of his subject and great skill in reasoned argument rather than any dependence on intuitive flashes. But, for the societies he supported, Browne gave far more than wise advice; he gave unsparingly of his time and effort.

A member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales for 64 years, Browne served on its council from 1924 almost continuously until 1973 when he retired as councillor emeritus. During that time he was twice president and at a difficult stage in the society's history offered to act as honorary secretary, holding the post from 1951 to 1966. The Royal Society of New South Wales enjoyed his membership since 1913 and elected him an honorary member in 1969. On its council from 1929 to 1942, Browne was president of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1932-3 and for a session acted as editorial secretary. Volume 99 of that society's Journal and Proceedings was issued as the W.R. Browne Volume, containing papers contributed by colleagues and former students. Earlier he had received from the Royal Society of New South Wales the Clarke Medal (1942) and its own medal for distinguished service (1956), and had delivered to it the Clarke Memorial Lecture in 1949.

The Australian National Research Committee and ANZAAS claimed his devoted support. Browne held the presidency of Section C (Geology) at the Hobart congress (1949), was David Lecturer (1952) and Mueller medallist (1960). For many years the Australian Journal of Science profited from his work as an assistant editor. Again, when the Geographical Society of New South Wales was founded in 1927 Browne accepted a place on its council and remained a councillor until 1945. He held its presidency for two sessions (1929-30 and 1948-9) and was long an active member of the society's research committee. At the time of his death Browne was an honorary member of the Geographical Society of New South Wales. He was also a founder-member of the Geological Society of Australia, its second president (1955-6) and an honorary member since 1957. Browne's distinguished contributions to Australian geology were recognized too in his election to fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science.

Browne was elected to fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1954, in the first elections to be held after the granting of the Royal Charter which established the Academy. He immediately took a leading part in stimulating the fellowship and Council to recognize the need for a high level scientific study of the Kosciusko region so as to provide an objective basis for determining the effects of past land-use practices and future policy for this and other alpine areas in southeast Australia. In 1956 he was one of five who petitioned the Council to set up a committee 'charged with the duty of enquiring into, and if possible establishing, the immediate causes of the deterioration, suggesting means of halting and remedying it' for the Kosciusko Tops country. A committee was appointed in December 1956 to investigate the Snowy Mountains area and the high mountains of Victoria, and reported back in May 1957. Thus it was during Browne's membership of Council from 1957 to 1960 that the Academy became involved in discussions and negotiations with government agencies, graziers, and other groups which, despite the acrimony at many times evinced, did result in much improved grazing and other land-use practices in the high country being established by regulation [E.S.H.].

In June 1915 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, William Rowan Browne married Olga Marian Pauss, daughter of Olav Pauss, then Consul for Norway in Sydney. There were two daughters of the marriage, Margaret Rowan (born 1916) and Helen Rowan (born 1919). Margaret Browne graduated BArch (Sydney) in 1940 and practiced as an architect in London. Helen Browne followed her father into science, taking a Sydney BSc with first class honours and University Medal in botany (1942). Following postgraduate research in botany she joined the Women's Australian Air Force, and after demobilization moved to the CSIRO in Canberra. Married in 1947 to F.H. Morley, a geneticist also with CSIRO, Helen Morley died tragically in December 1976.

Olga Marian Browne died in September 1948. Later her husband and daughters donated a sum of money to the University of Sydney to establish a memorial prize in geology. The Olga Marian Browne Prize is awarded for proficiency in fieldwork during the Second Year course given in the department, of which the late Mrs Browne was a graduate and from 1913 to 1915 curator of the geological collections.

In 1950 Browne married Ida Alison Brown, senior lecturer in palaeontology in the University of Sydney. Dr Ida Browne resigned from the university staff shortly afterwards but both she and her husband continued their active interests in research. Many scientifically fruitful years were thus shared, she helping him in the field at Kosciusko, he helping her with stratigraphical investigations at Yass and on the south coast of New South Wales, until Dr Ida Browne's health gave way. Her last years passed under constant medical attention and the equally constant care of a devoted husband whom she survived by little more than a year.

To conclude this record of a great Australian geologist, mention ought to be made of the resolution by the Geological Society of Australia to institute a W.R. Browne Medal. Appropriately, this memorial medal will be awarded for distinguished service to Australian geology. Steps are now being taken in the matter of design and were a motto required one could hardly improve on Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit. Dr Johnson's epitaph for his friend Oliver Goldsmith applies equally to another native of Ireland, one who also loved Latin but who came to enrich science and learning on the other side of the world.

Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. Horace Ep. I. xi. 27.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.4, no.1, 1978. It was written by Thomas George Vallance BSc PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Sydney.

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