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31 March 2015

Francis Rouden McKillop (17 October 1917 - 2 July 1979) of Arawa Plantation

AUSTRALIAN-BORN orchid collector and philanthropist Francis Royden "Kip" McKillop thought differently from his contemporaries and looked at his field with innovative eyes.

He was fired by an original vision for tropical plants. He urged latter-day European breeders of New World staple crops such as potato to develop new varieties in their natural tropical climates because the rotation and yield potential was greater there.

He took popular tropical fruits from South-East Asia such as mangoes, rambutan and durian and bred better varieties on his plantations in New Guinea, resulting in a stronger import market later in Australia. With his wife Mary, Kip established the largest private orchid collection in the southern hemisphere, numbering about 36,000 plants.

And he collaborated in the founding of the "New Guinea Biological Foundation", which later became the "Australia & Pacific Science Foundation". His dream combined with the financial muscle of investor and philanthropist Stanley Smith, when they met at the World Orchid Conference in Singapore in 1962.

The duo became a quartet shortly afterwards when brothers George Hermon and William Russell Slade, who shared the same interests and vision, joined McKillop and Smith.

Kip had a guiding principle, not uncommon in his generation: That the quality of the goal is paramount and that is what should inspire people; by whom and how it is achieved is irrelevant. Kip McKillop was born into a third-generation grazier family that pioneered the central west of NSW.

He served in New Guinea during World War ll and this contact with the tropics inspired him to buy into the plantation industry there. From his Arawa plantation in Bougainville he revolutionised the production of premium quality cocoa and copra in that country. Kip, Mary, and three of their children moved to Brazil in 1974 where he continued his pioneering work in tropical agriculture.

More on Arawa Planation and Francis McKillop here.