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Beaton, Gordon William (1911–1988)

by T. W. May

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Gordon William Beaton (1911-1988), motor mechanic and mycologist, was born on 14 June 1911 at Lismore, Victoria, only child of William Beaton, a Victorian-born boundary rider, and his wife Elizabeth, née Garrow, who had been born in Scotland. William was later a station manager and a shire overseer. Educated at Noorat and Terang State and Terang Higher Elementary schools, Gordon left after attaining the merit certificate. He subsequently read widely in philosophy and radical left-wing politics, becoming an atheist and in the 1940s a member of the Communist Party of Australia.

Working as a motor mechanic, Beaton rose to foreman with J. W. McKenzie Motors Pty Ltd, Terang. On 7 December 1935 at Waarre, near Port Campbell, he married, with Presbyterian forms, Katrine Campbell Owen, a bookkeeper. Mackenzie Motors manufactured military equipment under his supervision in World War II, the standard of work earning praise from the Department of Munitions. In 1948 he moved to Cobden, and ten years later to Camperdown, where he established a garage and dealership, Beaton & Son. He retired at Eildon in 1972. A keen rifle-shooter, he had won the Victorian junior King’s prize (1936) and grand championship (1949), and represented the State three times.

Through Herbert Reeves, a fellow rifle-shooter and an accomplished nature photographer, Beaton became interested in photographing plants. He turned to fungi as subjects, because flowers would not keep still in the wind. Hoping to be told the names of different fungi, he contacted local experts but found that detailed knowledge was lacking, especially of the small disc variety which attracted his attention. He joined the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, consulted Ethel McLennan at the University of Melbourne and James Willis at the National Herbarium of Victoria, and from the 1960s provided identifications to Willis and to field naturalists such as George Crichton, Bruce Fuhrer and John Landy. Concurrently, Beaton sent his unknown fungal specimens to the Commonwealth Mycological Institute and the Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, both at Kew, London.

Beaton’s collections at the Kew herbarium provided novel and interesting material for a book on Australasian Pezizales by Mien Rifai (1968) and another on Australasian Helotiales by Brian Spooner (1987). Richard Dennis, at the Kew herbarium, encouraged Beaton to publish. In 1976-86 he produced thirty-eight papers, mostly in the Transactions of the British Mycological Society, introducing five new genera and forty-eight new species. Usually working with Gretna Weste of the University of Melbourne, he prepared descriptions and illustrations of the fungi, and Weste completed the papers for publication. He also collaborated with two London-based scientists, David Pegler and Thomas Young, in a series of papers on Australian truffles, published in the Kew Bulletin.

Beaton’s contribution to the study of Australian fungi is significant not only for the volume and quality of his publications—a notable attainment for a person with no formal scientific training—but also for making his country the centre of that study, something which only Sir John Cleland had achieved for native macrofungi. Beaton also had a key role in identifying the considerable diversity of truffles eaten by native mammals. He died on 2 April 1988 at Fairhaven and was buried in Eildon cemetery. His wife and two of their three sons survived him. Beaton’s herbarium, stored in old ammunition boxes, was donated to the department of botany, University of Melbourne. The fungi Microthecium beatonii and Underwoodia beatonii commemorate him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Forth (ed), The Biographical Dictionary of the Western District of Victoria (1998)
  • Victorian Naturalist, vol 105, no 4, 1988, p 90, vol 105, no 6, 1988, p 153
  • Australasian Mycological Newsletter, no 16, 1997, p 3
  • Alexandra & Eildon Standard, 1 June 1988, p 12
  • Gordon Beaton papers (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne archives).

Citation details

T. W. May, 'Beaton, Gordon William (1911–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/beaton-gordon-william-12188/text21849, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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