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Tim Flannery has made many remarkable discoveries in palaeontology, mammology and environmental science.
Born in Melbourne on 28 January 1956, Flannery initially disliked school, but clearly remembers the moment when a teacher demonstrated that lemon-scented gums have a distinct smell. He was amazed that there is more than one type of gum tree. “She opened my eyes: it’s like the moment when you see the world is much more complex and more interesting than you could ever imagine”, he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014.
At university, he studied English literature, then geology, zoology and palaeontology, completing a PhD on the evolution of kangaroos. As part of this work he described 29 new kangaroo species.
In 1980 Flannery discovered dinosaur fossils on the southern coast of Victoria. From 1984 to 1999, he was the principal mammal research scientist at the Australian Museum. His work helped extend the Australian mammal fossil record by 80 million years. He also undertook many expeditions to remote areas of Papua New Guinea, discovering 16 species and many subspecies of mammal.
After a stint as visiting chair of Australian studies at Harvard University and director of the South Australian Museum, Flannery wrote a defining work on climate change in 2003, The Weather Makers, and argued for drastic measures to address the rise in greenhouse gases. He was declared Australian of the Year in 2007 and appointed chairman of the Federal Government’s Australian Climate Commission in 2011 and then leader of its replacement body, the Climate Council, in 2013. Flannery is also chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group.
As well as publishing more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, Flannery has written several award-winning books, including The Future Eaters and Mammals of New Guinea and co-authored Prehistoric Mammals of Australia and New Guinea – the most comprehensive reference works on these subjects to date.
Tim Flannery has been described by world-leading naturalist Sir David Attenborough as “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone” and received the Australian Museum Research Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
The critically endangered Greater Monkey-faced Bat, found in New Guinea, was named Pteralopex flanneryi after him when it was described in 2005.