During his formative years, form 1913 until 1924, James Hamlyn Willis (or Jim as he was better known), lived with his family in Stanley, in north west Tasmania. It was here that his fascination and enduring involvement with natural history was nurtured as he avidly explored the coastline and nearby heathlands and bush. The family returned to Melbourne where Willis attended Melbourne High School until 1927, afterwhich time he received a scholarship to study for a Diploma of Forestry at the Victorian School of Forestry, Creswick from 1928 to December 1930. For the following seven years from 1931 to 1937, Willis worked as a forest officer in central Victoria and the Dandenong Ranges with the Victorian Forests Commission.
Jim Willis's botanical collections and observations extend over a long period, from his early days in Tasmania, and then during his long period with the Forests Commission, first as a student at the Victorian School of Forestry, Creswick, and later as a field officer. Willis 'researched and published not only on flowering plants but on lower plant groups also, particularly mosses and fungi. He was a man of prodigious energy, with an enormous capacity for work...[and] his activities continued unabated after his retirement....[Willis] was a prolific correspondent and avid reader, with a full realisation of the importance of history in taxonomy. His botanic interests extended beyond taxonomy, He prepared floristic lists for local areas, published descriptive accounts of vegetation, and was an early voice for conservation. Exotic plants also received his attention and his total revision of E.E. Lord's book Shrubs and Trees for Australian Gardens for its fifth edition (1982) is a notable contribution in this field'. (Aston, Helen I., Muelleria 9:1-4 1996, p.3)
In all, Willis published just over 880 works, including books, scientific and popular papers, pamphlets, essays and reviews. 'In his taxonomic role, Willis described 42 new plant species himself, and a further 22 species with co-authors, besides describing several new plant varieties and publishing many new nomenclature combinations... His A Handbook to plants in Victoria, Volume 1 (1962; 2nd edition 1970), and Volume 2 (1973), marked a milestone for Victorian botany... [This] was a work based largely on Willis's own meticulously gathered, first hand observations'. (Aston, p.3)
Willis gave his time and knowledge equally to amateur and professional alike. 'He would identify piles of specimens for enquirers and no one was ever made to feel that they were intruding on his time. His popularity as a clear, fluent and erudite public speaker was enormous and he was always in demand for lectures to scientific and community groups. For these he had thousands of colour transparencies, all neatly labelled and catalogued according to subject matter. Topics covered were as diverse as his many interests. He was an active member of some 16 botanically oriented organizations...[and] would often travel far afield throughout Victoria to speak to local groups or lead them on field excursions' (Aston, p.3). Willis was also active in the Uniting (former Methodist) Church in New Street Brighton as a lay preacher and sometime choir member.
1910 Born in Oakleigh, Victoria
1913-1924 Lived in Stanley, north west Tasmania
1924-1927 Moved to Melbourne, attended Melbourne High School
1927-1930 Diploma of Forestry at the School of Forestry at Creswick, Victoria
1931-1937 Forest Officer in central Victoria and the Dandenong Ranges with the Victorian Forests Commisssion
1937-1940 Bachelor of Science (Hons), University of Melbourne (conferred in April)
1937-January 1972 Taxanomic Botanist at the National Herbarium, Melbourne
1958-1959 Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, United Kingdom
May 1961 Assistant Government Botanist
1970-1972 Acting Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne (last fifteen months of service).
1974 Doctorate of Science, University of Melbourne (conferred in August ).
1938 The Victorian Alps
1940s East Gippsland
August - September 1947 Russell Grimwade Expedition (Western Australia)
November 1950 Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia
April 1954 Tasman Peninsula
September 1965, July 1966, May-June 1974 - Central Australia
July-August 1974 the Kimberley and Hamersley Ranges, Western Australia
July 1979 and July 1980 - Central Australia
May - June 1984 Far north Kimberley
June-July 1984 Kakadu, Katherine Gorge, and Melville Island.
1958-1959 visited most of the botanical institions in the United Kingdom, and several on the European continent; and spent three weeks in the United States including central California.
January-February 1968, October 1975, and October-November 1982 New Zealand
July-August 1970, July-August 1975, and August 1979 Papua New Guinea
1972 British Isles, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland
1984 Sri Lanka, Spain, Portugal, France and the Channel Islands, and Europe.
April 1986 China.
1960 Australian Natural History Medallion
1973 Royal Society of Victoria's Silver Medal
January 1974 Honorary Fellow, Faculty of Science Monash University
May 1976 Fellow of the Linnean Society of London (Honoris Causa)
November 1989 Honorary Life Member, Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens
September 1990 Australian Institute for Horticulture's Award of Excellence
November 1991 Australian Conservation Foundation Honorary Life Membership
1993 National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Certificate of Honour
June 1995 Member of the Order of Australia.
Active member of sixteen botanically oriented organisations, including
Royal Society of Victoria,
The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria (joined 1932),
The Society for Growing Australian Plants, the Australian Conservation Foundation,
National Trust of Australia (Victoria),
Victorian National Parks Association,
Geelong Field Naturalists' Club,
Native Plants Preservation Society of Victoria,
The David Stead Wildlife Research Foundation (NSW).
Published works extend to over 880 works, that is books, pamphlets, essays, scientific and popular papers and reviews, including:-
1941, 1950, 1957 & 1963 Victorian Toadstools and Mushrooms
1956 Editor of first three editions of the National Herbariums research journal Muelleria
1962 & 1973 authored A Handbook to Plants in Victoria, Volume I (Ferns, Conifers, Monocotyledons) and Volume II (Dicotyledons) published in 1962 and 1973 respectively.
Until its replacement by the multi-authored, four volume publication Flora of Victoria (Inkata Press, Melbourne, 1993), the 'Handbook' was widely regarded as the definitive text on Victorian flora.
1968, 1973 & 1980 G.R. Cochrane, B.A. Fuhrer, E.R. Rotherdam, J. & M. Simmons, and J.H. Willis, Flowers and Plants of Victoria and Tasmania
1982 Revision of E.E. Lords Shrubs and Trees for Australian Gardens (5th edition).