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Ian Brooker was born in Adelaide, South Australia on 2 June 1934. He obtained a B.Ag.Sc. from the University of Adelaide, and a M.Sc. and D.Sc. from the Australian National University in Canberra. He worked with the Soil Conservation Branch of the Department of Agriculture in South Australia from 1957 to 1963; then joined the Department of Botany at the Australian National University until 1969; and then spent a year with the Western Australian Herbarium.
In 1970, Brooker joined the Forest Research Institute in Canberra, now part of CSIRO. His research since then has specialised in the Eucalyptus genus, especially its taxonomy. He has travelled widely throughout Australia collecting specimens, and has published 100 research papers, 180 leaflets, and four books, and is the principal author of "Forest Trees of Australia".
In his role as a eucalypt specialist, he has travelled widely in the world, including the USA, Brazil, most European countries, southern and eastern Africa, Morocco, Israel, India, China, and New Zealand. In 1980/1981 he was appointed Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at Kew in the UK.
In 2006, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.