A PASSION that began professionally with a weed in the Zambezi River has taken David Mitchell around the world and now to an AM.
The adjunct professor at Charles Sturt University in Albury has been named a Member in the general division of the Order of Australia.
The citation lauds Dr Mitchell for his “significant service to conservation and the environment, particularly wetland and water research”.
Dr Mitchell, 79, was delighted by the honour which comes nearly 40 years after he moved from Africa to Australia to work for the CSIRO.
“It’s a mix of feeling quite humbled by it and in a sense ‘why me?’, but at the same time you rejoice in the recognition,” Dr Mitchell said.
“You’ve got to be mad if you don’t.
“Working with the CSIRO offered a range of opportunities and I found it a really invigorating environment to work in and the CSIRO was tremendous.”
Dr Mitchell grew up in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and was training as a teacher in Cape Town when his interest in aquatic life was inspired by a lecturer interested in ferns.
Back in Rhodesia, Dr Mitchell was asked to examine a water weed invading Lake Kariba on the Zambezi River.
He documented a new species now known as Salvinia molesta.
This discovery lead Dr Mitchell to become an authority on aquatic plants and after a sabbatical at Adelaide University in 1975 he moved permanently to Australia.
He became the foundation director of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre in 1986, a post he held until 1993.
Dr Mitchell has co- authored more than 250 scientific papers and reports.
“It’s a gift to be asked to do things you like doing and to be paid to do them,” Dr Mitchell said.
“I’ve travelled in connection with this expertise in inverted commas to about 20 to 30 different countries.
“I’ve travelled from the north of the Americas to the south, Australia and up and down Africa, the only place I really haven’t been is Europe — because they don’t really have tropical plants there, which are my speciality.”