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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Everist, Selwyn Lawrence (1913–1981)

by R. W. Johnson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Selwyn Everist, n.d.

Selwyn Everist, n.d.

Weed Society of Australia

Selwyn Lawrence Everist (1913-1981), botanist, was born on 22 April 1913 at Tewantin, Queensland, third child of William Allen Everist, a Queensland-born mechanic, and his wife Mary Emily, née Pearson, who came from Melbourne. Selwyn was educated at New Farm and Toowong state schools and at the Commercial High School, Brisbane. In January 1929 he joined the Queensland Public Service as a cadet clerk in the Department of Public Works. Fifteen months later he transferred to the botany section of the Department of Agriculture and Stock. Encouraged by the government botanist Cyril White, he studied science as an evening student at the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1937).

On 27 March 1937 at the Toowong Meth­odist Church Everist married Margaret Sybilla Douglas. That year he was appointed assistant research officer at Blackall, where he developed a love for western Queensland and the arid country. His work focused on the impact of grazing on Mitchell grass (Astrebla) pastures. Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 4 April 1942, he served as a meteorological officer in Australia and Papua before being demobilised in January 1946. He returned to the department; although based in Brisbane, he continued to work in western Queensland. Economic botany was his strength and his early interest in the management of pastures expanded into studies of poisonous plants, edible trees and shrubs, and weeds and weed control. He pioneered research into the use of mulga as drought fodder and played a major role in identifying the poisonous plants causing Birdsville horse disease and Georgina River and St George diseases of sheep and cattle. On 1 July 1954 he succeeded W. D. Francis as government botanist. While maintaining his interest in economic botany, he oversaw the modernisation of the Queensland Herbarium. He retired in 1976.

Everist was active in several scientific societies; he was president of the Queensland Naturalists’ Club (1958-59) and of the Royal Society of Queensland (1961). An unforgettable character, irrepressible and at times overpowering, he had great enthusiasm and energy and a prodigious memory for scientific facts. Of his many publications, Poisonous Plants of Australia (1974) was his greatest achievement, and has remained a definitive work. In 1977 the University of Queensland conferred on him an honorary Ph.D. For his work on the effects of poisonous plants on livestock, he was made an honorary fellow of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists.

Much of Everist’s spare time was taken up with his involvement in the Boy Scouts’ Association. He was scoutmaster and later rover scout leader (1946-63) of the 1st Taringa scout group, and in 1963-66 was State commissioner for rover scouts. Very sociable, he liked to be the centre of attention and loved performing on stage in the scouts’ annual `Gang Show’. He also enjoyed the outdoors and was a keen photographer. Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, he died of ischaemic heart disease on 22 October 1981 in South Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Johnson, `Obituary: Selwyn Lawrence Everist 1913-81’, Australian Weeds, vol 1, no 2, Dec 1981, p 42
  • R. W. Johnson, `Selwyn Lawrence Everist 1913-1981’, Queensland Naturalist, vol 24, nos 1-4, 1983, p 68
  • Queensland Country Life, 24 June 1976, p 5
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

R. W. Johnson, 'Everist, Selwyn Lawrence (1913–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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