Keith Holmes (palaeobotanist)

William Brian Keith Holmes is a renowned Australian palaeobotanist, best-known for his work "Fructifications of Glossopteris" (1974), published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. Despite having received no formal training in palaeontology, he has become an important contributor in the field and has described some 80 new species, mostly from 2 quarries at Nymboida in northern New South Wales, and situated on the Triassic.


Born 5 March 1933 in Penrith, Australia, the second of four children of William Henry Maitland Holmes, a farmer from Berowra, and Ethel Vea Jay from Bellingen, Keith Holmes started his schooling at Berowra Primary School where he fell under the influence of a Mr. Dawson who instilled in him a lasting interest in natural history. At Homebush Boys High School he was inspired by the principal, Dr. Watson, who had been to Antarctica as a geologist. On leaving high school he joined the CSIRO for a year and attended night school courses in chemistry at the University of Technology in Sydney. From here he joined the family dairy farm at Berowra and moved with it to Raleigh, New South Wales in 1952. In 1958 he went to the United States and visited Maryland and Minnesota under the Young Farmers Exchange program.

From the 1960s Holmes had been collecting fossils from every site in Australia that he had been able to access, and particularly Glossopteris specimens from the Dunedoo formation in the western part of the Sydney Basin. When his farming operations moved to Wellington in New South Wales to start a beef herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, he finally managed to put together his first paper for publication. The South African palaeobotanist, Dr. Edna Plumstead of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, who had focused world attention on the glossopterids of the Permian and Triassic as supporting evidence for continental drift, acted as referee for this first paper - Holmes had met Dr. Plumstead at the Conference on Stratigraphy and Palaeontology in Canberra in I973.

In 1980 Holmes became an Honorary Research Fellow in the Geology Department of the University of New England in Armidale and worked on the taxonomy of the Middle Triassic Nymboida Flora. His collection of approximately 3 000 specimens, supplemented by those of Gould, Flint and Retallack, is one of the most comprehensive Gondwanan Triassic floras, and is preserved in the Australian Museum. Parts 1-7 of the Nymboida Flora have been published, as well as papers dealing with early eucalypts from the Tertiary, cycads and conifers. Holmes enjoyed close relationships with the Australian Museum and his mentor, the former director, Dr. A.B. Walkom, as well as Dr. Rod Gould of the University of New England.

After his wife's death in 1998, Holmes left the management of his farming operations to his daughter 'Netta' and started visiting palaeobotany centres all over the world. In 2005 he was elected Fellow of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. He is an active member of Rotary International and staunch conservationist, having been delegate to the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales He was chairman of the Burrendong Arboretum Trust from 1985 to 1995, as well as chairman of the Mount Arthur Reserve Trust near Wellington.


Keith Holmes married Felicity Gowing (1930-1998) from Kempsey, New South Wales in 1959, and they had 2 daughters, 'Marnie' Heather Marion born 1962, and 'Netta' Arlene Annette born 1964. He married fellow palaeobotanist Heidi Schwyzer from South Africa in Pretoria in 2002.



  • Nomen Nudum
  • Retallack, Gregory John, Gould, R.E. & Runnegar, B. 1977. Isotopic dating of a Middle Triassic megafossil flora from near Nymboida, north-eastern New South Wales. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 101(2):77-113

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