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Bryan Paul Ruxton, 1929 – 2008

Bryan Ruxton was born in Birmingham into a devout Methodist family of modest means. He was evacuated due to wartime bombing and liked to reminisce that his love of geology started as he collected rocks and fossils in the English countryside. His school’s honours list for 1947 shows that he matriculated with distinction and won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge. He had to defer this because of National Service in the Army; but over the subsequent three years at Cambridge he excelled, winning a prestigious prize in geology.

In 1950 he married Catherine (Kay) Hainworth. This was a brave step for a penniless undergraduate as she had three young daughters. The birth of a son soon followed and the need to provide for his new family made the decision between remaining in academia or going into the field an easy one. He left England in 1952 and for the next nine years the family, either in part or whole, was to accompany him on postings in Sudan (twice), Hong Kong and Ghana.

After his first posting to Sudan, Bryan left for Hong Kong to serve as a lecturer in the Department of Geography and Geology, the University of Hong Kong from October 1954 to August 1956.

The time spent in Hong Kong was a very rewarding time in Bryan’s professional career. According to the bibliography of the Civil Engineering and Development Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government, he published numerous papers - including seven with Leonard Berry. One outcome was his classic paper on granite weathering, a world-leading paper for the time and one that is still widely quoted. In 2007 the journal Progress in Physical Geography carried an article devoted to this paper in its regular feature Classic Papers Revisited.

For his contribution towards the understanding of the geology of Hong Kong, in 1982 Bryan was awarded honorary membership by the Geological Society of Hong Kong. He was also a consultant to Binnie and Partners and the Geotechnical Control Office.

In September 1956 Bryan returned to Sudan to serve as Government Geologist for two years. He produced valuable papers on various aspects of landscape evolution. He was clearly laying a foundation for the work that would interest him for the rest of his life. An amusing tale, told against himself by Bryan, concerned his safaris in the Sudan. The carriers would set his tent up first, and then make the main camp 150m away. At first he thought this was in deference to his position as the leader: but later found out he was the leopard bait.

After a term as an academic at the University of Ghana, Bryan settled down with his family in Australia in the early 60s. He joined the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Australia. He became Party Leader of the Darwin Group, and his early work was on uranium deposits in the Northern Territory. He later joined the Division of Land Resources, CSIRO in the golden days of that organisation. He worked on projects in Papua New Guinea during pioneering days when lots of country was unexplored. Bryan was ideally suited for the tough physical life involved and was a fine leader. His work on lavas and tephras of different ages around Mount Lamington is another classic. So is his paper on erosion under tropical rainforest, which was counter-intuitive. Later he moved to Canberra and among other things produced, with Ernst Loffler, a Landform Map of Australia.

At his peak Bryan was probably the best leader the Division of Land Resources ever had. He retired from CSIRO for health reasons, but recovered in a while and for the next twenty years taught geology as an Honorary Fellow at the University of Canberra. The students voted him best lecturer on at least one occasion. During his retirement Bryan went to as many conferences as he could and always presented a paper, mostly full of novel ideas - one of his hallmark traits. He was a true lateral thinker.

Bryan continued his quest for knowledge until he died, peacefully in his sleep, on the last day of a geological conference where he had presented a well received talk and was happy to be among friends and colleagues. Bryan Ruxton will be missed by all who knew him or his work; we have indeed lost a geological pioneer and thinker.

Wyss Yim