Dr William Dall


Tribute to Bill

by David Smith, colleague and friend.

29 April 2011


I worked with Bill in CSIRO for 25 years and would like to say a few words about him and his contribution to science.


The beginning of Bill’s work with prawns

William Dall’s professional career started in 1951 in his final undergraduate B.Sc. year, when he was asked to undertake a study of prawns in Moreton Bay. Subsequently he enrolled for a part-time M.Sc on the taxonomy and biology of penaeid prawns of Moreton Bay. The project ultimately led to a full-scale taxonomic revision of the entire group of animals. Over the following 50 years he maintained a close interest in prawn taxonomy and is rightly recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities in this field.


CSIRO – the Cleveland Laboratory

In 1969, after completing his PhD at the University of Queensland and post-doctorial research in Canada, Bill joined CSIRO, to research the physiology of the Western Rock Lobster at the Western Australian Marine Laboratories in Perth. In 1973, he submitted a proposal to CSIRO for a new, comprehensive research program to investigate the biology of prawns in the tropical regions of Australia. The proposal was accepted and put Bill in the enviable position of getting a new project, a new laboratory and a new, young and enthusiastic research team. In January 1975 all this came together with the beginning of field studies in the Gulf of Carpentaria and laboratory research at Cleveland. Bill remained the Program leader and Director of the labs from the beginning until his retirement in 1990. The research at the Cleveland Laboratory has been very productive scientifically, while also being valuable to both the industry and to fisheries managers. A book about the history and achievements of the Cleveland laboratory, entitled “Prawn Tales” will be launched next Friday. This book is a monument to Bill and shows how much he and the team he put together have achieved.


Dr William Dall – the team leader

Bill was a leader who had the courage and foresight to employ staff who may not previously have had the opportunity to prove their worth. He gave them responsibility, staff, funds and facilities and a broad direction for their research. He gave them enough latitude and freedom to be creative – room to move and grow – and to deliver on the research objectives. He was not prescriptive in how others should work, but demonstrated the standard that he expected in the way he went about his own work, and the rest of us watched, learnt from his example and strove to achieve that standard.

In 1971, Bill appointed me to be his assistant in the Western Rock Lobster project in Perth. Subsequently he invited me to join him at Cleveland to continue to work on his research. When he retired, I was given leadership of the research project that was evolving from Bill’s own work. Throughout the years, even after he left CSIRO, there was nothing I enjoyed more than to discuss our research, and hear his thoughts and ideas and to learn from him. Bill gave me the greatest opportunity I have had in my life. I owe a great deal to him. He has been my boss, my mentor and my friend throughout those years.


Bill and boats – an uneasy mix!

In the early years Bill spent a great deal of time in boats and research vessels, but not that often as the skipper. From what I saw, I felt that despite being such a brilliant scientist, he had a bit of a problem with boatmanship. This could manifest itself in a high speed ride along the top of an exposed mud bank in Karumba, difficulty with the mooring of a houseboat in the Sandy Straits or dinged propellers and scraped gel-coat on quite a number of boat ramps. It seems that Bill and boats were an uneasy mix.


A man who could “walk with kings nor lose the common touch”

In 1973 David Wright, a technical officer in Perth, quoting from Rudyard Kipling, described Bill as a man who could “walk with kings nor lose the common touch”. I have always remembered this and it has been reinforced over and again in seeing Bill talking comfortably with people such as the Federal Minister for Science, and senior scientists within CSIRO, government and academia, and then seeing him quite happily sit down with technical staff at morning tea and discuss fishing or other areas of common interest. Actually, I don’t think I ever saw him as happy as when he was shoulder to shoulder with some of those same technical staff fishing off the beach for tailor.


Thank you, Bill

Well, Bill, thank you for everything. Thank you for being such a fantastic scientist, mentor and friend. You have left an indelible mark on all of us which will never fade.





Read this brief summary of Dr William Dall’s career, in “Bill Dall retires

Read Bill’s account of his own life from a more personal perspective

Or return to Dr William Dall home page.