The challenge of change

Renowned environmental scientist Professor Tim Flannery will present the UQ Global Change Institute Challenge of Change lecture on Tuesday 25 September, much to the delight of GCI communications officer Ron Hohenhaus.

Nearly 20 years ago, I caught up with the Professor Tim Flannery in the remote South Australian desert country between Maree and Roxby Downs.

Tim was head of the South Australian Museum and had graciously agreed to accompany friends of the museum on a fossil-hunting expedition. There were about 30 people on the trip, all scouring the ancient Australian landscape for fossils.

Fossil hunting can be extremely laborious, often for little or no reward. Tim was undaunted by the heat and moved surprisingly quickly across the rocky shards that surrounded our every foraging stop.

Like Lawrence of Arabia on a desert vacation, he strode the escarpments as if he had been suckled since birth by a dingo.

For the most part, Tim walked silently and alone while fossicking. Only the occasional flap of his loose-fitting shirt (brilliant white) or the miniature avalanche of shingles sliding around his boots betrayed his methodical advance.

I had come along to document the trip for Wildlife Australia magazine so I was never far behind Tim, scrambling along behind as best as I could. For me the outback trip was a bit of a desert adventure, but for Professor Flannery, it was obviously something far more significant.

Yes, we were all looking for fossils but I soon realised Tim was doing much more than simply scanning the ground for unusual bits of rock.

A thousand ideas were constantly shooting through his inquisitive mind; I've no doubt he routinely contemplated local topography, atmosphere, habitat, geology, climate (both ancient and modern), mineralogy and a dozen other 'ologies I had never heard of.

To the average person, it might have looked like we were trudging meaninglessly through death valley but to a gifted scientist such as Flannery, it was a fact-finding mission for his ever widening range of scientific thoughts and interests.

Only one fossil was discovered on my trip into the Outback with the friends of Adelaide Museum. While Tim Flannery was casually strolling alone along a dry creek bed on the final day, he stumbled across a near complete plesiosaur fossil, half poking out of the surrounding rock.

Since that time, Tim Flannery has become even more of a cultural icon for Australian science, literature and the environment. Today he's chief councillor of the Australian Climate Council, Australia’s largest and most successful crowdfunded organisation.

So, dear reader, you can well understand my joy at being able to tell you that Professor Tim Flannery will present the UQ Global Change Institute Challenge of Change Lecture on Tuesday, 25 September.

And I, for one, can hardly wait.

Photo credit: Damien Pleming

Photo credit: Damien Pleming