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Banks, John Charles (1942–2004)

by Peter Kanowski

Dr John Banks contributed greatly to Australian forestry through a 35-year career at The Australian National University—almost the entire duration of his professional career. John came to ANU from north Queensland, where he was an inaugural student and student union president at the new Townsville University College. He graduated in Forestry from the ANU in 1966, as one of the first graduands after the forestry degree was transferred from the former Australian Forestry School. He was appointed to the ANU’s Department of Forestry initially as a Senior Technical Officer, and then Senior Tutor in 1969; John was promoted to Lecturer in 1978 and Senior Lecturer in 1992. He completed his ANU MSc, on taxonomy of Eucalyptus viminalis, in 1972, and his ANU PhD, on the use of dendrochronology to interpret dynamics of snow gum forests, in 1982.

John’s theses characterised two of the principal strands of his academic work. The first of these, which he developed under Professor Lindsay Pryor’s guidance, was in taxonomy and dendrology—the classification of trees. The second was in dendrochronology, the use of tree ring data to interpret historical patterns in trees and forests, and to draw inferences from these about past climatic and management regimes. The third principal strand of John’s academic work, urban trees and treescapes, also built on his collaboration with Lindsay Pryor.

John became an authority in each of these areas. His dendrological knowledge, and its ecological application in interpreting patterns of variation in forested landscapes, was outstanding. His work on dendrochronology of Australian trees was renowned nationally and internationally, and informed both science and management. John assumed Pryor’s mantle as the authority on Canberra’s urban trees, and was Tree Advisor to the ACT Government at the time of his death.

John had enormous capacity to communicate this rich knowledge to others in a variety of ways—through his teaching and supervision of students, through his scientific writing, and through the media to lay audiences. His wisdom was evident in each of the arenas; his teaching and public communication were also characterised by great helpfulness and patience. John had a gift for helping others to learn. He also had the capacity to work with others to apply his knowledge in very practical ways, as his advisory work with on the ANU campus and across the ACT demonstrated to professionals, and to members of the ANU and ACT communities.

At the time of his death, John was flourishing: he was teaching 1st, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates; supervising Honours and PhD students; working actively on research projects in each of his areas of interest; and was closely involved with many aspects of the ACT’s recovery from the 2003 bushfires. He was relishing in each of these roles, as were those with whom he worked in each arena, despite suffering intermittent ill health as a legacy of major trauma and surgery, and extended convalescence, in 2000. John’s commitment to his colleagues and students, as well as to his scientific work, was typified by his determination to continue full-time work despite these challenges to his health.

John’s death leaves us all the poorer, but leaves us also with rich legacies of learning, knowledge and landscapes. We share the sorrow of his family—his wife Margaret and children Julian and Lynnette—at his untimely death, but also celebrate with them the many ways in which his work and legacies continue to enrich our lives.

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 46, no 2, June 2004, p 22

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Citation details

Peter Kanowski, 'Banks, John Charles (1942–2004)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 September 2017.

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