Kevin Kenneally, AM


  • The University of Western Australia (M004), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


I am a botanist and biogeographer working across the areas of plant taxonomy and anatomy, ethno-botany and ethno-archaeology in Australia. My extensive field-based research spans nearly 50 years and has been foundational to the understanding of the floristics, biodiversity, conservation and ethno-botany of the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  My work has been at the forefront in promoting ‘citizen science’ research expeditions into remote areas of Western Australia.   

My more recent research has focussed on the tropical monsoon rainforests of northern Australia and their biogeographical links with SE Asia.  I have also investigated early European exploration, botanical collecting and colonisation of the Kimberley and its impact on Aboriginal dispossession of country.  I have published over 150 peer-reviewed volumes, chapters, papers, books and numerous environmental reports and developed research alliances with both interstate and overseas colleagues in tropical botany and tropical taxonomy.

I have been a guest lecturer and researcher in the USA at University of Texas at Austin; Texas State University; Texas (A&M); University California (Santa Barbara), and the University of Minnesota.  In 1999 I was a group facilitator at the International Partnership Summit, in Durban, South Africa and also in that year a guest speaker at the 8th National Minerals and Education Conference, at Elko, Nevada, USA.  I have been a visiting scientist at the major botanical institutions in the United Kingdom and Europe that have included, Cambridge University; the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the British Museum; Botany Department, National Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d’Histoire naturelle, Paris), France; University of Uppsala, Sweden; Natural History Museum, Stockholm, Sweden; Reijksherbarium, Leiden, Netherlands; New York Botanical Gardens; Singapore Botanical Gardens and Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.  I have conducted field work in the USA; Central America; (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico; Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala) the Amazon rainforest, Brazil; Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

I was born in Cottesloe, Western Australia and attended Hollywood High School.  On leaving school I worked in an industrial laboratory for one year, before becoming a research assistant in the UWA Department of Microbiology. I was then appointed to the technical staff of the UWA Botany Department.  I was conscripted into the army for two years National Service during the Vietnam War. On completing basic training, I was assigned to the Medical Corps, and posted to 1 Military Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland.  I was sent to undertake an instructor’s course in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare at the School of Military Engineering in Liverpool, NSW.  After completing the inaugural three-month pathology training course at 1 Military Hospital, I was asked to stay on as an instructor, training army personnel for service in pathology laboratories in South Vietnam and Australia.  During this time, I was given a civilian detachment to the Queensland Institute of Technology and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to gain further clinical laboratory teaching experience.  On completing my two years of National Service, I returned to my former position at the Botany Department at UWA where I was a tutor-demonstrator.  In 1973, I was appointed to a research botanist position at the Western Australian Herbarium.

My research has included the taxonomy of Triggerplants (Stylidium: Stylidiaceae); ecology of mangroves, studies on Kimberley wetlands and the anatomy of resurrection plants in Western Australia.  I have organised and led biological surveys to areas of high conservation significance in the Kimberley (Dampier Peninsula, Anjo Peninsula, Mitchell Plateau, Purnululu National Park, Kimberley coast and islands).  I have collaborated with Aboriginal communities, recording traditional knowledge of bush foods and bush medicines and edited books on rock art.  I have an interest in the natural history of the Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea after a visit there in 1977 with the Royal Australian Navy investigating and recording the impact Indonesian fishermen have had on the wildlife of the islands and surrounding reef systems.

In 1979, I undertook a Churchill Fellowship in Britain, Europe and North America to investigate methods of encouraging amateur participation in natural history data collecting.  I was the scientific director of the multi-disciplinary LANDSCOPE research expeditions program, a partnership between UWA Extension and the Department of Conservation and Land Management, that provided ‘citizen science’ research opportunities for Australian and international scientists across Western Australia.  The program conducted over 17 years (1992-2009) resulted in 50 expeditions to remote regions of Western Australia involving over 1,000 volunteers, raised $2 million dollars for wildlife research, resulting in books and numerous research papers.   

In 2007 I was a consultant on the Inpex-Maret Island Kimberley environmental studies team and in 2008 I was a member of Western Australian Government’s Northern Development Taskforces environmental studies team.  In 2009 I was an environmental consultant on the Kimberley gas hub site impact survey at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula.

I have served on a number of State and Federal government committees, in both a professional and community capacity. I was a community member of the Herdsman Lake Management Advisory Committee between 1986 and 2000 and served on the Western Australian Biological Surveys Committee and from 1984 to 2000.  I was a member (1990-2000) of the Natural Environment Evaluation Panel (WA) of the Australian Heritage Commission, providing advice to the Commonwealth on areas proposed for addition to the national estate.

I have provided expert botanical forensic advice to the Federal Narcotics Bureau, State and Federal police forces, National Crimes Commission, Australian Customs and the various military forces.  I appeared in Local, District and Federal Courts as an expert witness and in one landmark decision my evidence was presented in an appeal to the High Court of Australia.

I am committed to promoting and leading not-for-profit environmental organisations that foster and support hands-on nature studies through grass-roots science-based education programs directed at school children and the broader community.  In 1977-78 I was successful in applying for a Commonwealth School Commission grant, made through the WA Naturalists' Club, to establish the first field studies centre for schools in Western Australia. The Centre, at Tomato Lake, was opened in 1979 and filled an important role in providing a resource for field studies for the local community.  Over the last 50 years I have served as president (and Honorary Life Member) of the WA Naturalists’ Club; president (and Honorary Life Member) of the WA Gould League at the Herdsman Lake Discovery Centre; Director of the Australian Council of Gould Leagues and President of the Kimberley Society.

I have served as the Scientific Editor of the journals Nuytsia, The Western Australian Naturalist and Conservation Science.


My achievements have been recognised by my peers in numerous awards, including the Serventy Conservation Award for life-time achievement (2020), Adjunct and Honorary Award (2019), UWA School of Agriculture and Environment (SAGE) in recognition for continued commitment to Teaching and Community and Engagement within Geography and Environmental Science; Pride of Australia Medal for the Environment (2009), DRV International Environmental Award (2003), the CSIRO External Medal for Excellence in Research Achievement (1996), the Australian Natural History Medallion (1994), a Churchill Fellowship (1979) and the Anthropological Society Prize for the Faculty of Science (1972).

In 2005 I was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the community through a range of organisations that promote environmental education and for advancing botanical knowledge, and for encouraging youth involvement in natural history pursuits.


Teaching overview

ENVT4404 Environmental Planning and Management (collaborator)

Co-supervisor PhD on Kimberley plants in rock art


The natural history of the Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea.

Monsoon rainforests of the Kimberley, Western Australia.

Refining the understanding of climate change and chronology on the evolution of Kimberley vegetation and landscapes.

Biogeographical and floristic connections between Indonesia (including Wallacea) and the Kimberley.

Taxonomy of tropical Stylidium (Stylidiaceae).

Origins and biogeography of the Kimberley Boab (Adansonia gregorii).

Interpreting plant motifs in Aboriginal rock art of the Kimberley.

Historical plant collectors and collections from the Kimberley.

John Gilbert’s plant collections from Western Australia (made between 1839 – 1840 and 1842 – 1843).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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