Australian Flora Foundation 1981–2021: 40 years of funding research

By Charles Morris, Australian Flora Foundation

Australian Flora Foundation logo

The following article celebrating 40 years of the Australian Flora Foundation appeared in the newsletter Research Matters, No. 34, July 2021. It was written by Charles Morris, President and Treasurer. Members of the Australian Plants Society have been keen supporters, including Ian Cox, life member of APS NSW, who is the Secretary.

Please accept this invitation

Please accept this invitation to attend the Inaugural Meeting of the Australian Flora Foundation at The University of Sydney, on Friday, 14 August 1981 at 2.30pm.

At 2.30 pm a Reception will commence and refreshments will be served. A short informal meeting will follow and the Foundation will be formally proclaimed by Dr Lloyd Evans, President of the Australian Academy of Sciences. The Hon. Neville Wran QC, Premier of New South Wales, and a number of selected speakers will then briefly address the Meeting.

The text above headed an invitation to attend the inaugural meeting of the Australian Flora Foundation. The records I have of the early period state that the concept of a Foundation arose from a Symposium held at (then) Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1978. There were meetings of a Steering Committee/Provisional Council in 1980 and early 1981 to scope out the workings of the Foundation.

This preparatory work culminated in the August 1981 launch, timed to coincide with the International Botanical Congress held in Sydney in August 1981. The people involved in getting the Foundation up and running were a mix of academic and government scientists, horticulturists from both academia and from industry, and members of the Society for Growing Australian Plants, who gave and still give (under various names such as the Australian Plants Society) strong support to the Foundation.

The objective of the Foundation was stated as “to foster research into the biology and cultivation of the Australian flora”. It was to be a national body, with invited membership (annual fee, $1), a governing Council, and a scientific Committee to review research applications, which would allow tax deductibility for donations.


Several milestones followed in short order. Tax deductibility status was achieved by April 1982, with the stipulation that a Scientific Committee (which had been formed and vetted by CSIRO) approve research expenditure. Formal incorporation was achieved as a Company in 1983, and then as an Incorporated Association in 1988. By 1984, invited membership was dropped and membership was opened to the public (143 members by April 1984). By 1986, the Council decided that the financial position of the Foundation was sufficiently strong to allow a call for research applications to be issued for grants commencing in 1987. The call for grant applications has been issued annually ever since. Communication with members was by Annual Reports early on; in 1983, a Newsletter was established as an alternative way of doing this, and it is now issued twice a year. In 2004, the Foundation established a website, courtesy of Peter Goodwin and Val Williams.

Managing funds

From its inception, the purpose of the Foundation has always been to raise money for research and distribute it as grants. Peter Goodwin, in his Presidential Report of 2012, conveniently divided the grant activity into three phases. In the first (pre-bequest) phase, incoming funds came from donations by members and the public, and membership fees. Three grants were supported in the initial 1987 round, and by 1992, the Foundation had distributed $30,000 in grants, and was averaging two grants, totalling $4,000, per year.

A second (small bequest) phase opened from 1993 onwards, with the Foundation receiving some smaller bequests (Bowden, Armitage) and one larger bequest (Carver), and money from external sources via the efforts of Malcolm Reed (RIRDC; $34,450; Lord Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal; $56,336). Numbers of grants, and grant size, increased as a result.

A third phase began in 2000, when, with assistance from Ross Smyth-Kirk, money from bequests was consolidated into three Managed Funds. The aim was to allow capital growth of the financial assets (then $591,500), whilst using the dividends to support research. By 2012, the Foundation had distributed over $500,000 in grants, and was awarding three or four grants, totalling $40,000, per year. Capital growth resulted in assets in the Research Fund reaching $953,000 by 2020. Overall, to 2021, the total amount spent on grants reached $986,000 spread over a grand total of 137 grants. The average number of annual grants was now four, totalling $49,000, per year.

The Reed bequest

The Foundation is about to embark on a fourth phase of its growth, based on the very generous bequest from former President, Malcolm Reed. The details of how this will run are still being worked out. In summary, the assets of the Research Fund will be in excess of $4,000,000, and the annual granting budget will probably exceed $200,000.

In relating the story above, I am struck by the courage and vision of the founders seeing the need for a fund-raising and grant-distributing body to focus on native flora and seeing through the actual formation of the Foundation. The story of its subsequent growth (patchy at times) over 40 years, and the extent of support to scientific research in the native flora that has been made possible, fully justifies their vision.

A million dollars to scientific research

The Foundation has contributed just short of a million dollars to scientific research into Australian native flora since its launch. If the Foundation has not been formed, while some of that research would have been funded by other means, a fair proportion of it would not have been funded.

Then in addition to being thankful for the vision of the founders, we should also be grateful to the donors (the various Australian native plants societies have consistently been our major donors), the members whose annual fees have largely covered administration costs, the scientists who have served on the Scientific Committee, and the scientists who have applied for funds and carried out the research. Then there are the volunteers who have served on the Council of the Foundation; their time is given freely and has meant that administrative costs have been minimised.

I have not given an account of the impact of the research funded by the Foundation in the account above but hope to do so in a later issue of the Newsletter. I think all members, Councillors, researchers, and donors can be proud of what the Australian Flora Foundation has achieved to date. And we can look forward to a brighter (and busier…) future.

Charles Morris

President and Treasurer

Australian Flora Foundation

26 July 2021


About the Australian Flora Foundation

The Australian Flora Foundation is a charity fostering scientific research into the biology and cultivation of the Australian flora. It was established in 1981 and celebrates the 40th year of the Foundation’s operation in 2021.

Each year the Foundation provides funding for a number of grants for research. While the grants are not usually large, they are often vital in enabling such projects to be undertaken. Many of the researchers are honours or postgraduate students and their success with a Foundation grant hopefully stimulates their interest in researching Australia’s unique and diverse plants throughout their careers.  Donations most welcome.

Find out more on the Australian Flora Foundation website.

A newsletter is issued twice a year. Read about recent newsletters here and here.