John Stewart Turner was born in Middleborough, England on the 9 September, 1908, son of Thomas Stewart and Ellen Turner. He received his early education at Stockport Primary School in Cheshire, England and then the Boys' High School at Sheffield. Turner won the undergraduate State Scholarship to Selwyn College (Cambridge University) in 1925. After three years at Cambridge, Turner took an Honours degree in the Natural Sciences Tripos, reading in Part I Botany, Chemistry and Zoology, and for Part II in Botany.
Turner remained a member of Selwyn College throughout his undergraduate years, between 1930 and 1934. During this time he held a renewed State Scholarship (1931), a grant from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (1932) and the University Frank Smart and University Allen Studentships (1933 and 1934 respectively). Turner conducted research in plant physiology and in 1936 he received a the degree of Doctor in Philosophy for his thesis 'On the relation between respiration and fermentation in excised carrot tissue, with special reference to the effect of sodium mon-iodoacetate on the metabolism of tissue slices'.
Between 1934 and 1935, Turner acted as Demonstrator in Botany at the Botany School, Cambridge, and was Senior Demonstrator from 1936 to 1938. In November 1937, Turner applied for the position of Chair of Botany at the University of Melbourne, Australia and was appointed to the position on the 3 March 1938. He arrived in Australia to take up his new post on the 8 August 1938.
It was less than a year after Turner took up his post at the School of Botany that the Second World War began. Turner diverted much of the School's personnel and resources towards assisting with the war effort. The many war-time projects conducted at the School included: the production of graticules for sighting telescopes and binoculars; optical cleaning and assembly of binoculars; research into the bio-deterioration and tropic proofing of instruments (including optical equipment); control of timber rotting by fungi; production of mannitol by native shrubs; growth and hyoscine and hyoscyamine content of Dubosia; control of viral diseases of vegetable crops; and survey of Australian fungi as sources of the drug penicillin. These war-time projects involved collaboration and liaison with the Ministry of Munitions, the Australian Army, the Scientific Liaison Bureau, the Forestry Commission, Broken Hill Pty. Ltd, the CSIR (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research), the University of Melbourne School of Physiology and Department of Agriculture, the Northern Regional Research Laboratory of the Department of Agriculture at Peoria, Illinois, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Turner pursued his scientific interest in plant physiology and also became involved in the field of ecology. He played a significant role in ecological research conducted in the alpine and sub-alpine areas of the Bogong High Plains, providing the botanist Masie Fawcett (later Carr) with the opportunity to conduct studies in the area. Turner attended field trips to the area, secured funding for High Plains research and co-authored papers with Carr (nee Fawcett).
Turner also recognised the need for ecological research to be conducted in areas closer to Melbourne. He set a number of his students and researchers to work on projects in different areas surrounding Melbourne, including the Dandenong Ranges, heathlands, dry eucalypt woodlands and Mountain Ash forests at Wallaby Creek on the Great Divide.
In the 1940s, Turner's interest in public education led him to become one of the pioneers of science education in Australian schools. Turner was involved with various committees responsible for making major changes to the science curriculum in Victorian schools. He wrote the textbook, General Science for Australian Schools, for the General Science syllabus that was introduced in Victoria in 1943. Turner also made changes to the structure of the undergraduate Science course at the University of Melbourne with the aim of providing a broader scientific preparation for science teachers.
Turner was the first President of the Science Teachers' Association of Victoria and for twenty-five years he chaired the General Science Standing Committee of the Schools Board (the organisation that controlled the General Science syllabus and examinations) . In 1945, Turner introduced Biology as a senior school subject in Victoria and he chaired the Biology Standing Committee of the Schools Board for thirty years. The Biology Standing Committee was the body responsible for the production and introduction of the Web of Life biology course that is utilized in Australian schools to this day.
From the mid-1950s onwards, Turner became increasingly involved in conservation issues and the conservation movement. Turner held a strong belief that proper conservation required ecological research to sustain it and that exploitation of natural resources should be accountable and fully restorative. He worked for the conservation cause at almost every level of society.
In the scientific sphere, Turner played a significant role in the field of ecological research and used his diplomatic skills to persuade people in high places to provide funding for such research and for conservation. Turner also became involved with a number of studies focusing on land use and conservation issues and he was a member of, or had links with, a large number of conservation groups and organisations. Some of the more well known conservation bodies with which Turner was involved included, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Conservation Council of Victoria, the Victorian Land Conservation Council, the National Trust (Victoria) and the Victorian National Parks Association (foundation member). Turner was also involved with a number of smaller, community based conservation groups including the Save the Dandenongs League, the Albert Park Protection League, the Blackburn Tree Preservation Society, the Beaumaris Tree Preservation Society, the Native Plant Preservation Society and the Heytsbury Historical Society.
Turner's interest in conservation continued into his retirement. After leaving the University of Melbourne, Turner and his wife Kaye moved to Castlemaine, Victoria. Here Turner was involved in a number of battles to preserve various local buildings and historical sites from destruction and encroaching development and, even until his death in 1991, he was promoting a new vision of the landscapes and streetscapes of Castlemaine to its civic leaders.
On top of all of his professional and personal achievements, John Stewart Turner could also play the piano and was a gifted word-smith and artist. He enjoyed writing poetry and sketching and, following his retirement in 1973, Turner had time to indulge his interest in art. He developed expertise in scraperboard and lino and wood cutting techniques, successfully exhibiting his work at local galleries in the 1980s. Turner was still painting landscapes until ten days before his death in Melbourne on 9 May 1991.
Throughout his professional life and during his retirement, Professor Turner was most generous with his time and played an active role in a large number of committees and boards. Some of his various activities and interests included:
*Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (Member of Council, 1967-1970; Chairman, Publications Committee; Member, Committee on Environment; Chairman, Academy of Science Committee on the Conservation of the Kosciusko Tops)
*Professor of Botany and Plant Physiology, University of Melbourne, 1938-1973)
*Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne
*Acting Vice-Chancellor, University of Melbourne
*Chairman of the Professorial Board, University of Melbourne
*Member, University Council, University of Melbourne
*Board of Forestry Education, University of Melbourne
*Examiner at the Creswick Forestry School (University of Melbourne) and at various universities in New Zealand, Malaysia and Hong Kong
*Chairman, Board of Management, Melbourne University Press
*Author of some 40 publications in Ecology and Plant Physiology
*Part-author, "General Science for Australian Schools", Volumes 1 and 2
*Honorary Member, American Society of Plant Physiology
*Member, Victorian Section of the National Trust of Australia (Founding Member and Chairman, Landscape Preservation Council; Member and Chairman of the Landscape Classification Committee; Chairman of the Como Gardens Sub-committee)
*Foundation Member and Chairman, Save the Dandenongs League (President 1970-1972)
*Foundation Member, Victorian National Parks Association (Vice-President 1969-1973, Member of Council 1960-1975)
*Member, Land Conservation Council of Victoria
*Member, Conservation Council of Victoria
*Member of Provisional Council, Australian Conservation Foundation
*Member of Policy Committee, Australian Conservation Foundation
*Member, Scientific Sub-committee of the National Gallery of Victoria
*Member, Civic Advisory Panel for the City of Melbourne
*Member, Royal Society of Victoria (President 1951 and 1952, Life Member 1981)
*Member, Wallaby Club (President 1962, Life Member 1982)
*Member, Melbourne Club
*Lecturer, University of the Third Age
The above description of Turner's life is mostly a summary of Turner's biographical memoir, "John Stewart Turner 1908-1991" by David Ashton and Sophie C. Ducker. The article, which originally appeared in Historical Records of Australian Science, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1993, provides a highly detailed account of Turner's life. The article may also be accessed on the Australian Academy of Science Home Page, published on the ASAP Web, at the following address:
Other sources utilized for the preparation of this entry included Who's Who in Australia, 1988, The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, Melbourne and the records of J.S. Turner and the University of Melbourne School of Botany (held at the University of Melbourne Archives).