SCMB alumnus remembered

5 Feb 2018

Dr Joe Baker sitting next to high school studentsDistinguished University of Queensland alumnus, former chemistry staff member, and “Queensland Great” Dr Joe Baker, AO, OBE has been remembered as one of Australia’s most respected marine scientists and environmental advocates.

Dr Baker, who increased knowledge about plants and animals in Australia’s marine territory, died in Canberra on January 16, 2018 aged 85.  

Born in Warwick, he graduated Bachelor of Science (Honours), Master of Science and PhD from The University of Queensland and commenced his academic career as a demonstrator in UQ’s then Chemistry Department in 1956.

Dr Baker became a lecturer at the newly-established University College of Townsville in 1961, then an annex of UQ. He completed his PhD in 1966 and, when the University College became James Cook University in 1970, was promoted to Associate Professor of Chemistry. 

In 1973 he became Director, Roche Research Institute of Marine Pharmacology in Sydney, returning to JCU in 1981 as Director of the newly-established Sir George Fisher Centre for Tropical Marine Studies.

In 1985 he was appointed Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; in 1993 he was appointed Commissioner for the Environment in the ACT; and in 1999 he became Chief Scientist for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

Professor of Chemistry in UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences Mary Garson said Dr Baker enlisted her into his Townsville lab when she emigrated to Australia in 1983 as a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow, and he had mentored many of Australia’s leading scientists.

“Without his professional support, I simply would not be where I am now,” said Professor Garson, an international leader in the chemistry community regarded for her studies of natural products and bio-organic chemistry.

“Through the initiatives of his research teams, and also those of the many scientists, both biologists and chemists, that he mentored, Joe significantly advanced the discipline of marine biotechnology in Australia,” Professor Garson said.

“I remember him as extraordinary hard-working, often throughout the night, and yet at the same time collegial, warm-hearted and with a generous sense of humour.”

Dr Baker was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1982 for services to marine science; and appointed an officer in the Order of Australia in 2002 for contributions to environmental studies and chemistry.

He was elected as a Fellow, Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1989; was Leighton Medallist (RACI) in 1993 and Adrien Albert Lecturer in 1995; served on three UNESCO committees, and was a foundation member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Dr Baker was influential in Earthwatch, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Australian Heritage Committee, World Wildlife Fund Australia and played an important role in gaining World Heritage listing for the Great Barrier Reef.