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R.D. Fitzgerald Trophy > Nomination of Colin Bower


Nomination of Colin Bower for the R.D. Fitzgerald Trophy

By the Australasian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra) Inc.

Dr. Colin (Col) Charles Bower was born in Fairfield, in the western suburbs of Sydney on 29th August 1948 when it was still semi-rural, the eldest of three children, the son of Charles and Joan Bower.

The young Colin showed enough aptitude at primary school in Fairfield to be admitted to an “opportunity class” at Berala Public School. There was an emphasis at Berala on biology and Miss Wilkes, a knowledgeable and inspirational teacher, sparked Colin's interest in natural history, opening up a whole new world through bush excursions.

Charles Bower had a strong belief in the value of sport in child development and harboured ambitions of sporting glory for his offspring. Consequently Colin, his sister Marilyn and brother Stephen trained at swimming twice a day, five days a week and raced in swimming carnivals on the weekends. Marilyn came closest to immortalising the Bower name is swimming, just missing out more than once on selection in the national team. Colin couldn't compete with the bigger and stronger lads but nevertheless benefitted from the exercise and physical development. Swimming ultimately gave way to more academic pursuits in his final year at Fairfield Boys High School.

Colin entered Sydney University in 1966 and emerged in 1975 with a PhD in Zoology. During this time he developed a strong interest in bird watching, spending a lot of time in the bush with other like-minded students. He also remembers seeing his first native orchid, the large Flying Duck orchid, Caleana major, on a first year biology excursion. Also at university, Colin became involved with the environment group, Ecology Action, which played a major role in opposing the Eden woodchip scheme. He conducted independent research on the effects of forest clear-felling on birds and subsequently gave evidence to a Senate Inquiry.

Dr. Bower joined the NSW Department of Agriculture as a research entomologist in late 1975 at the Bathurst Agricultural Research Station, before being transferred to the Orange Agricultural Institute in 1980. He worked for 17 years on the development of integrated pest management in New South Wales deciduous fruit orchards with the primary aim of reducing dependence on synthetic chemicals for pest control, with some success. In 1992 he was promoted to the role of Program Leader of Horticultural Product Systems and later of Extensive Horticulture (1992-2002) in NSW Agriculture. In this role he led the adoption of quality management training for departmental horticultural staff and assistance to NSW horticultural industries to adopt quality assurance systems.

In 2003, Dr. Bower left the public service to become an environmental consultant and he now works full-time undertaking flora surveys for environmental assessment of development projects. He is a member of the Ecological Consultants Association of NSW, an Honorary Associate of the Australian National Herbarium and a member of the Australian Entomological Society.

After moving to Bathurst, Dr. Bower joined the Central West Bushwalking Club and Bathurst Field Naturalist and Conservation Society, participated in the first Australian Bird Atlas program and helped found the Central West Branch of the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA), serving as the foundation Secretary and later President. Conservation activities continued with articles in the National Parks Journal and participation in the NPA State Council. In Orange, he joined the Orange Camera Club, developed his photographic skills and for several years exhibited in national photographic competitions.

It was on an NPA camping trip to Newnes in the late 1970's that Dr. Bower's interest in native orchids began in earnest after a colleague pointed out on a walk that he was about to step on some orchid flowers. He went home and looked them up in Cady and Rotherham's wonderful little book, Australian Native Orchids in Colour, which he happened to have, but hadn't really studied until then. He was then hooked! His whole focus from that point on through the 1980's switched to finding orchids and photographing them. This led to a long association with many orchidologists, both professional and amateur. Like a few others, Dr. Bower developed a large collection of images, gathered all the literature and began to write a book. This enterprise ended with a house fire in 1990 which destroyed all the colour slides.

Not wanting to repeat all that work, Dr. Bower decided it was time to head in a new direction. Fortunately, in 1988 he went to a talk by Rod Peakall who had just finished his PhD on orchid pollination and population genetics. This began a long friendship and inspired Dr. Bower to start investigating, in his spare time, the pollination biology of Australian native terrestrial orchids and especially the sexually deceptive members of the subtribes Drakaeinae and Caladeniinae in eastern Australia. This work has now continued for nearly 20 years and has been extremely fruitful both personally and scientifically. It has allowed him to combine his entomological skills with his interest in orchids. It has resulted in the development of novel field bioassay techniques, the application of experimental scientific methods to the study of associations between Australian orchids and their pollinators, the discovery of new cryptic orchid species and new species of wasps. He has reported his discoveries in eight scientific papers published in refereed international scientific journals and seven articles published in The Orchadian. These publications have earned Dr. Bower an international scientific reputation as an innovative and productive pollination biologist and an expert of the pollination biology of Australian orchids. This reputation led the European and North American editors of the encyclopaedic series Genera Orchidacerearum to invite Dr. Bower to provide the pollination accounts for all genera of the tribe Diurideae published in volume 2 of that series. Perhaps most importantly, his research on orchid pollination has been seminal in providing crucial background knowledge underpinning a series of ground-breaking studies by Professors Rod Peakall, Florian Schiestl and their colleagues, on the biochemistry of pheromones produced by sexually deceptive orchids and their pollinators.

Dr. Bower is highly regarded by those who know him. My initial contact with Dr. Bower was shortly following the formation of the Prasophyllum affine Recovery team in 2001, when an expert Entomologist was required to conduct an in-depth study into the pollination dynamics of P. affine and Dr. Bower was the person suggested by the scientific authority on the team, Mr. David L. Jones. Expressions of interest were requested from various qualified persons but Dr. Bower was chosen due to his knowledge and interest in native orchids and their pollinators. The study required three continuous weeks in the field across three sites and resulted in a very detailed 65 page document (Feb 2002), which is the most comprehensive work on the pollinators of P. affine. Two subsequent papers were also completed into specific areas of pollinator requirements. These related to Distribution and Movements (May 2004) and Nectar Resources (April 2005). All three reports contributed greatly to the eventual decision to excise 53 hectares of P. affine and pollinator habitat from the planned Regional Shopping Centre at Vincentia, which ultimately ensure the protection of 300 individuals of P. affine, a population of Cryptostylis hunteriana and 25% of the known population of the rare Calochilus pulchellus.

His knowledge of pollination of native orchids is unsurpassed and Dr. Bower is highly regarded by his peers. A perusal of the papers he written (reference list attached) is testament to his overall plant knowledge and his conservation ethic. Dr. Lachlan Copeland has high praise for the conscientiousness and thoroughness of the work of Dr. Bower and his collaboration with others well qualified in orchidaceous matters, such as Dr. Mark Clements and Jeff Jeanes, indicates he has the ability and willingness to work with a range of people for the long-term benefit of those concerned with orchid conservation and pollination.

Letters of support from a number of eminent Australian and international biologists are attached to this nomination. With Colin Bower's excellence in Australian Orchids, ANOS Illawarra wish to nominate him for the R. D. Fitzgerald trophy.

Alan W Stephenson
President ANOS Illawarra
National Conservation Officer
Australasian Native Orchid Society


Supporting Documentation for the Nomination of Colin Bower for the R.D. Fitzgerald Trophy

  • Letter from Peter Bernhardt, Professor Biology Research Assoc., The Missouri Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney)
  • Letter from Professor Stephen D. Hopper FLS, Director, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
  • Letter from Professor Rod Peakall, Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University
  • Letter from Dr. Florian Schiestl, Professor Institut fur Systematische Botanik, Universitat Zurich
  • Dr Colin Bower's Curriculum Vitae


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