Barley Loses Its Elder Statesman

Photo of Dr Paul Johnston

Internationally recognised barley breeder Paul Johnston, of Warwick, Qld, died suddenly, at the age of 62, from a cerebral haemorrhage, on 11 June.

Dr Johnston was leader of the GRDC's Northern Barley Improvement Program, chairman of the International Barley Genetics Symposium and — through a recent appointment — leader of Queensland's winter cereals breeding programs.

A Fellow of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology since 1997, he took his Honours Degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Queensland in 1961, and joined the QDPI's Hermitage Research Station, outside Warwick, as a linseed breeder.

After completing his PhD at Adelaide University, Dr Johnston moved back to Hermitage in 1972 to begin a barley breeding career that lasted nearly 30 years. He released six varieties, with another two — one of them a feed barley promising a major yield increase — scheduled for release later this year.

(Dr Johnston named four of the barley varieties after cricketers — Grimmett, Tallon, Lindwall and Gilbert. Cricket was a lifelong passion, a cherished memory being 26 runs — including two sixes — taken from one over by then Test spinner Terry Jenner during a Warwick visit. He played his last match only weeks before his death.)

Hermitage colleague Bob Henzell told an overflowing St Mark's Church in Warwick that, on top of an exemplary professional life, Dr Johnston would be remembered for his leadership, in the Warwick community, the wider barley industry and at Hermitage. He had led the station to current recognition as an international Centre of Excellence, "staffed by people with a real sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging to a team.

"Paul Johnston was a great mentor to young scientists — and the not so young. He had a rare ability to distil the essence out of a complicated issue," Dr Henzell said.

GRDC barley consultant Deirdre Davis said barley breeders, malting and brewing industry players and GRDC representatives from all around Australia travelled to Warwick to farewell a great man, an industry "elder statesman" who would be sorely missed.

Dr Johnston is survived by his wife Mary, daughters Fiona and Charlotte, three grandchildren and his mother Alice.

Region North