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Bateman, Wilfred Rhodes (Bill) (1907–1985)

by L. T. Carron and Mark Edgerley

This bald statement does not tell you much! You do not get the picture of the solidly built, laconic Bill, of the long cigarette holder; of the sardonic grin, ready to break into a dry chuckle; always ready to enthuse, in slightly nasal tones, about making ‘the dry plain green’; with simple, pragmatic solutions to apparently difficult problems, born out of making-do with a bit of fencing wire and a stick like so many other early forestry graduates. I remember Bill’s slide shows of ‘The North’ at Forestry House. He had a way of bringing the country, its special characteristics and the special people in it, into sharp focus; partly, because he immersed himself in it and its affairs so wholeheartedly. You were ‘with’ Bill in his slide shows; up in the cockpit of a light plane, in a bouncing utility, or stalking crocodiles in a lily-decked lagoon.

Wilfred Rhodes Bateman was born to a cricket-loving father at North Meots, Ornskirk, Yorkshire and came to Australia in 1913. He trained as a school teacher in South Australia. His life-long interest in military affairs and arms commenced with his joining of the 5th Militia Battalion, parading at the opening of Parliament House, Canberra in 1927. During World War II, he was a Platoon Commander in the Volunteer Defence Corps and later, a member of both the Rifle and the Pistol Clubs in Canberra.

Bill switched from school teaching to forestry by doing two-year preliminary training at Adelaide University, followed by a Diploma in Forestry at the AFS in 1939–40. He was appointed as Assistant Forester in the SA WFD at Wirrabara. By this time he had married, with his two sons William and Peter being born in 1941 and 1944 respectively.

In 1950, he was appointed Forestry Officer for the Northern Territory within the Forest Resources Division of the F&TB in Canberra which, under the Forest Bureau Act of 1930, was responsible for advising the Northern Territory Administrator on forestry matters. Max Jacobs, as a Research Officer of the Bureau, had made a reconnaissance along the main trans-continental traffic route in 1933, but the government of the time, due to the severe economic depression, did nothing about the recommendations which Lane Poole made as a result of Jacobs’ report. A. W. Shillinghaw made a reconnaissance of the timber supply of the Territory for the armed services in 1944. But, by 1950, with the aid of aerial photos and, with solid help in interpretation and mapping by Norm Hall and Bill Sins in Canberra, Bill began a much more extensive resource investigation of ‘The North’ culminating in 1955 in the F&TB Leaflet No. 72 ‘Forestry in the Northern Territory’. Trials of likely species for the afforestation of this difficult ecological area began, and Bill became ‘urban forester’ for Darwin and Cockatoo Island amongst his many other jobs.

In the late 1950s, Bill transferred to the A.C.T., marrying Adele (Del) Mildenhall in 1961. A keen Mason, he achieved a high ranking in the Canberra and Queanbeyan lodges.

(Mark Edgerley continues)

For the last 15 years up to his retirement from the public service forestry in 1972, Bill Bateman played a key role in the management of A.C.T. Forests as Acting Supervising Forestry Officer and Assistant Director. Throughout most of that time, A.C.T. Forests was in a state of continuing change from a conservative cost-conscious departmental unit to a vigorously developing profit-conscious business. Bill’s special role was to provide continuity, stability and common sense amid the enthusiasms of all the new young men. This he did in a very special way by knowing and caring about people of all ages and conditions, from stroppy students on casual summer jobs to grey grandads who had met him in the tough old days before we all drove Landrovers. Bill treasured these contacts and remembered names that others forgot, from these contacts he was able to draw out much goodwill not otherwise engendered by A.C.T. Forests.

Our remembrance is of a very gentle man – a true keeper of the future of forestry wherever he wandered in the wide open spaces of Australia.

Original publication

  • IFA Newsletter, vol 26, no 4, December 1985, pp 7-8

Citation details

L. T. Carron and Mark Edgerley, 'Bateman, Wilfred Rhodes (Bill) (1907–1985)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bateman-wilfred-rhodes-bill-18225/text29814, accessed 21 September 2017.

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