Author: Mike Smith, Director, National Rock Garden

Extract from National Rock Garden Newsletter No. 13, September 2016

Earlier this year, the Steering Committee of the National Rock Garden gained the collaboration of the Professional and Community Engagement (PACE) Program at Macquarie University to build up a set of descriptions of rocks which may be suitable for inclusion in the NRG site in the future. PACE is a program unique to Macquarie University that seeks to broaden the study experience by embedding real world learning activities into the degree.

The link-up was suggested by incoming NSW GSA Division President, Associate Professor Kelsie Dadd, to assist with the acquisition of the information needed to identify and select the most appropriate large and spectacular rocks for transportation to and for long term display at the NRG site in Canberra. The PACE Project involved two senior Earth Science students, Zechariah Yap and Eillen Cornejo, pictured below with Kelsie Dadd and the author.

L-R: Associate Professor Kelsie Dadd, Zechariah Yap, Eillen Cornejo and Mike Smith. Image courtesy Mike Smith.

The students began by making email contact with specific senior geoscientists who have previously agreed (through personal contact from Mike Smith or John Bain) to participate by providing a description of an agreed rock (or rocks). For practical reasons, we focused on the state of NSW for this initial program, and a list of potential rocks supplied by the NSW Rock Selection Sub-Committee formed the basis for contacting expert geologists. The geoscientists who provided detailed one or two rock descriptions include Paul Ashley, Jane Barron, David Branagan, Ian Collett, Kelsie Dadd, Morris Duggan, Peter Lewis, Barrie McKelvey, Joanna Parr, Ian Percival, Brad Pillans, Ian Pringle, Mike Smith, Barney Stevens and Tony Yeates. In addition, the two students compiled basic data for several other reports. Several other reports have been pledged, but are still pending availability of time for the writers.

The writing of the rock descriptions is facilitated by the use of a fairly straightforward pro forma table, the NRG Specimen Preliminary Fact Sheet. Key elements include formal and common name of rock, location (including map and GPS coordinates), and reasons for selection (in three separate categories – geological significance, cultural significance and economic significance). Essential components are photographs of the actual rock and scientific references relating to the rock. A time frame was suggested to the respondents, based on the need for the students to finish at the end of the Semester in June. In some boxes on the form, the words “not known” or “not available at this time” were noted as a logical response, and these can be added later as new information becomes available. Nevertheless, the responses have certainly advanced the documentation of preferred NRG rocks. The students followed up with the authors from time to time to make the fact sheets as complete as possible.

The benefits of this project for the two PACE students included gaining useful experience in various aspects of geological research, acquiring some skills in technical communication and developing expertise in the documentation of geoscientific data, while also building up a small network of senior contacts in the geological community.

The NRG Steering Committee herein thanks Zechariah and Eillen for their enthusiastic participation in the PACE project. We also thank Kelsie Dadd for her constructive supervision. Each student gave a presentation on the project in mid-June (unfortunately the writer was overseas) and both students received very good grades for their assignments. The PACE management have indicated that the university would be interested in a follow-up program in 2017, and this opportunity will be actively pursued. We are seeking support from additional senior geologists to help with descriptions of a further group of rocks from the other states of Australia.