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Pryor, Lindsay Dixon (1915–1998)

by Sally Pryor

This article was published online in 2022

Lindsay Dixon Pryor (1915–1998), forester, landscape manager, and professor of botany, was born on 26 October 1915 at Moonta, South Australia, only child of South Australian-born parents Oswald Pryor, miner and later a cartoonist, and his wife Mabel, née Dixon. Lindsay decided early in life to become a forester, encouraged by his father’s view that it was ‘a useful field of study for boys’ (Hawke 2006, 2). Educated at Norwood High School, Adelaide, he studied at the University of Adelaide (BSc, 1935; MSc, 1939). At the Australian Forestry School, Canberra, (DipFor, 1936) he was awarded the Schlich Memorial Trust Prize (1935). The next year he was appointed the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) assistant forester (1936–39), and then assistant research officer (1939–40) working under the inspector-general of forests, Charles Lane-Poole. His survey of the territory’s native vegetation led to an MSc thesis. He married Melbourne-born Wilma Brahe Percival, a daughter of the Commonwealth surveyor-general Arthur Percival, on 8 August 1938, at St John the Baptist Anglican Church, Canberra. On 24 June 1942 he enlisted in the Volunteer Defence Corps; he was discharged in June 1946.

In 1940 Pryor had been appointed acting forester, Commonwealth Department of the Interior, and in 1944 became the department’s superintendent, later director, of parks and gardens. His responsibilities encompassed both forestry and landscape design, the latter an area in which he had little experience and for which there was no formal training in Australia. Canberra’s landscape planning was then ’in the doldrums’ (Pryor 1992, 23), with little development since the 1920s. His temperament was well suited to the need ‘to get things established’: ‘I was determined to plant,’ he recalled (1992, 36), and the city was ready for a significant expansion of its green landscape.

An early priority was to gain inspiration and develop networks internationally. Pryor travelled to Japan in 1946, and to America and Europe in 1947 to study current and traditional urban landscape architecture. He also researched tree growth in climates similar to Canberra and forged connections with urban planners, foresters, and botanic gardens.

Upon returning, Pryor got to work with little mechanical equipment but a large workforce. A commitment to making jobs available for prisoners of war, recently released criminals, and those suffering the effects of the economic depression now extended to postwar immigrants. While building on the early work of the horticulturalist Thomas Charles Weston, he brought a distinctive stamp to the development of newly built suburbs, as well as consolidating the landscape design in many older ones. He used a carefully selected mixture of native and exotic plants, reflecting his philosophy that ‘one should use species which grow well, irrespective of whether they’re indigenous Australian or exotic’ (Pryor 1992, 42). This approach also influenced the landscaping of major national projects, including the Australian War Memorial, the National Botanic Gardens, the Australian National University (ANU) campus, and preparations for Lake Burley Griffin.

As a landscape manager, Pryor sought to balance conservation with pragmatism. Many aspects of Canberra’s early landscaping were provisional, and he learned to ignore controversies that periodically erupted when rose-beds were removed, or trees cut down to make way for development. Taking account of the environmental and climatic challenges presented by the national capital, he also saw the need for experimentation. He began his own research on the Eucalyptus genus, and in 1958 submitted his papers on the subject to the University of Adelaide and was awarded a DSc (1959). With a special interest in the taxonomy and interspecific hybridisation of eucalypts, he combined his scientific knowledge with a practical interest in cultivation. This experience was recognised in his appointment to the foundation chair of botany at Canberra University College in 1959. When the college was incorporated as part of the School of General Studies at the ANU he became the first of the university’s appointments in this field in September 1960. In 1976 he published The Biology of Eucalypts, the results of two decades of research; he had in 1971 published his taxonomy of Eucalyptus.

During his time at the ANU he travelled extensively and advised more than twenty countries on forestry, usually through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization; he also advised Australian governments and manufacturers on the potential of eucalypts and poplar plantations. A larger-than-life figure for both colleagues and students, he was known for his ‘decency, scholarship, practicality and unstinting and ethical sense of public service’ (Burgess 1998, 9). Trees remained his abiding passion, and his career was characterised by long days of physical work, travel, and study. After Wilma’s death in 1975, he married Nancy Violet Green at the Births Deaths and Marriages Office, Canberra, on 23 February 1977.

Pryor retired in 1976 but remained at the ANU as a visiting scholar until 1990. In 1983 he was appointed AO. Flinders University conferred on him an honorary DSc in 1986. With J. C. G. Banks, he published Trees and Shrubs in Canberra in 1991. He died in Canberra on 17 August 1998, survived by his wife, and the two daughters and two sons of his first marriage. An arboretum, one of many he had established in Canberra in the spirit of experimentation, was named in his honour in 2001. The ANU also named a walking path after him; it featured a variety of eucalypts, including his namesake Eucalyptus pryoriana. Canberra’s vast urban forest, particularly with its brilliant autumns, is among the city’s most admired features and reflects Pryor’s vision and commitment.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Beer, Don. Miracle on Black Mountain: A History of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. Sydney: Halstead Press, 2020
  • Burgess, Verona. ‘A Major Contributor to the Bush Capital.’ Canberra Times, 21 August 1998, 9
  • Hawke, Allan. ‘The Inaugural Lindsay Pryor Memorial Lecture.’ 26 September 2006. www.anu.edu.au/cabs/chancellor/Lindsay Pryor Lecture.pdf. Copy held on ADB file
  • Hince, Bernadette. ‘A Pryor commitment: Canberra’s Public Landscape, 1944–1958.’ Canberra: ACT Landscape, Public Works and Services, 1994
  • National Library of Australia. Papers of Lindsay Pryor, 1935–1998
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Pryor, Lindsay Dixon. Interview by Matthew Higgins, July 1992. Transcript. National Trust of Australia (ACT)
  • Pryor, Sally. ‘Chance to Dig Up the Past.’ Canberra Times, 21 February 2009, Panorama 6–7

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sally Pryor, 'Pryor, Lindsay Dixon (1915–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pryor-lindsay-dixon-828/text40142, published online 2022, accessed online 6 December 2022.

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