David Branagan

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It seems appropriate that the geological and mineral wonderland of Broken Hill should be the home town of one of Australia’s foremost geologists – a literal rock star: David Branagan. Born in Broken Hill in 1930 to a Maths-teacher father and music-teacher mother. Branagan won a scholarship to study at St Ignatius college in Sydney and started his scholarly pursuits at a young age, buying books with his lunch-money. 

David Branagan’s passion and endless curiosity for the mysteries of deep time, live volcanoes, mineral formation and the history of geology, inspired generations of university students as well as his own peers, both Australian and international, over a long academic career at the University of NSW.  

Anyone who came into contact with David Branagan was affected by his knowledge, humour and charisma. He excelled at just about everything he tried. Long before he became one of Australia’s foremost geologists, Branagan was a long-distance cyclist and could beat future olympians in athletics. He was also a choir singer, his rich baritone voice still strong into his eighties. He formed St Gregory Choral Choir, which he also conducted.  

David Branagan has been described as a ‘classical geologist’ because of the breadth of his interest and expertise. He was a founding member of the Australian Geologist. Although his PhD was in Coal geology, he was also an author and academic, a researcher in geophysics, earth sciences, geological history and mineral exploration.  

Even with an international reputation as a geologist, Branagan found the time to write papers, study Aboriginal star maps and historical geological maps; to lug mineral samples around the world, build a boat, join a conservation society, swim regularly and coach rugby and athletics. Amongst his many acknowledgements, awards, publications and achievements, Branagan was in 2018 awarded the Order of Australia for significant service to geological sciences. He was a true Broken Hill visionary. He died in 2022. 

Audio transcript available.