About Us

About the Hellaby Indigenous Grasslands Research Trust and a tribute to the late Geoff Baylis

The Hellaby Trust was established in 1959 by Miss Eleanor Lilywhite Hellaby of Auckland to promote and fund student research into the ecology and sustainable management of New Zealand’s indigenous grasses and grasslands.

A family member of the successful meat processing and exporting company R & W Hellaby, Miss Hellaby originally was of a mind to support an animal welfare home in Auckland.

Discussions with her influential brother Arthur, however, and he in turn with a close friend in Auckland’s Northern Club Gordon Cunningham, persuaded Miss Hellaby to devote her substantial funds to supporting research into New Zealand’s indigenous grasslands. These grasslands, at the time, were the cinderella of several government research departments and the main responsibility of none, unlike our exotic grasslands. At the time, assistance to the farming community was considered to come largely through the extension work of relevant government departments. The lack of significant direct government-funded research into the indigenous grasslands was largely in relation to the perceived lack of a financial return from any such investment. This was despite widespread and continuing concerns with the continuing degradation of these grasslands under pastoral farming.

The idea of money from the land being re-invested in the land, obviously made a strong appeal to Arthur and Eleanor Hellaby, along with the added value of keeping good young scientists in New Zealand.

Gordon Cunningham, who was raised in Central Otago and was Director of DSIR’s Plant Diseases Division at the time, was appointed as the first Chair of the Trust’s Board of Governors in 1959. He had persuaded his colleague in the Otago University’s Botany Department, Professor Geoff Baylis, to join him as one of the three founding Governors, to oversee the operation of the Trust, along with Miss Hellaby’s lawyer, the Honourable Mr Justice Haggitt. Arthur Hellaby became a Trustee, along with the manager of the NZ Insurance Company’s Trust Department, which handled the Trust’s finances. So Geoff Baylis was not only a foundation Governor of the Hellaby Trust in 1959, but was also its longest serving member, by far. He played a pivotal role over the 42 years he served as a Governor of the Trust, the last 33 years as its Chair. Other distinguished governors included Dr Leonard Wild, Chair of the University Grants Committee, Sir Malcolm Burns, Principal of Lincoln College, Dr Eric Godley, ex Director of DSIR’s Botany Division, Professor Reinhart Langer of Lincoln University, Dr Bill Lee of Landcare Research, Dunedin and Dr Jim Crush of AgResearch, Ruakura.

I was the Trust’s first Fellow from 1960 ‘till 1965 and had the pleasure of hosting the Hellaby family and Governors to two of my three study sites in Otago, in 1963. The visit must have reassured the founder as she subsequently increased the assets of the Trust. The Hellaby family also attended the first of the Trust’s triennial seminars in 1966. The operation of the Trust, as had been set up in the early years, was continued under Geoff’s leadership, and with the continued support of the Hellaby family. Overall, the turnover of Governors has been very slight over the 45 years that the Trust has been in operation. I continued as the Trust’s Research Advisor until I was invited to replace Geoff as Chair of the Board of Governors in 2000. At this time, my successor in the Botany Department, Dr Katharine Dickinson, was invited to take over my advisory role for the Trust.

To date, well over 200 post-graduate research students, involving all of our seven universities and many of their departments, as well as several university and government scientists (through the funding of many summer research bursaries), together with several distinguished overseas visitors, have been supported with fellowships from the Trust.

Alan Mark, December 2004