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Boden, Robert William (1935–2009)

by Ken Taylor

Robert was born in Dulwich, Sydney, the younger son of Gordon and Jean Boden and brother of Donald. He attended local primary schools and then Canterbury Boys High School. Originally Robert had wanted to study veterinary science, but when he won a Commonwealth forestry scholarship in 1952 he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Forestry) program at the University of Sydney. He went on to complete a Diploma of Forestry at the Australian Forestry School, Yarralumla, in 1956, followed by a Master of Science in 1963 (University of Sydney).

In 1955 he was appointed by Lindsay Pryor as an arboriculturist to undertake research and management of parks and reserves in the ACT and based at Yarralumla Nursery; he remained in that role until 1966. This was a meeting of two formidable, but dedicated, intellects.

Robert, working with Pryor, a notable world expert in eucalypts, was interested in adaptation of eucalypts to water-logged conditions, and this topic became the focus of his masters studies. He also collected, propagated and trialled a wide variety of exotic and indigenous vegetation, thereby establishing a thorough understanding and knowledge of trees.

In 1963 the former principal of the Australian Forestry School, Max Jacobs, recommended Robert for a three-month appointment in India as a Colombo plan adviser on afforestation. The Indian Forest Service, particularly interested in eucalypts and casuarinas, was nevertheless doubtful a 28-year-old had the necessary expertise. Suffice to say that after going to India, Pakistan asked Robert to extend his stay by two months.

Through a National Capital Development Commission/Department of the Interior post-graduate research scholarship in 1968 Robert undertook a PhD research [project] at the Australian National University. His topic was ‘changing land use in the ACT’. His thesis was a critically rigorous piece of research into 150 years of ecological changes in the region with particular reference to conservation and recreation. Working with the foundation head of the Department of Forestry at the ANU, Derek Ovington, Robert’s perspectives broadened substantially through his PhD research.

On completing this study he became Executive Officer responsible for National Parks and Tourism in the Northern Territory (1971 to 1973). From 1973 to 1976 as Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment and Conservation, Robert was instrumental in developing departmental policies and participated in international whaling and migratory bird conventions as an Australia representative.

In 1979 he became Foundation Director of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, a position he held for ten years. A luncheon was held at the gardens in June 2007 to mark his 70th birthday and to unveil a plaque dedicated to him on the Eucalypt Lawn.

On leaving the Botanic Gardens in 1989—Robert established a successful consultancy practice in conservation and natural resource management.

Robert’s contribution to Canberra from 1989 has been prodigious. He was renowned for his generosity in giving time and advice to people on questions about trees. In this vein he wrote the popular ‘tree portraits’ in The Canberra Times from 1989 to 1992 and a weekly series on heritage places during 1992 and 1993. The tree portraits were the inspiration for his delightful 1993 book Favourite Canberra Trees.

Additionally he co-authored other influential publications including Extinct and Endangered Plants of Australia (1985—Leigh, Boden and Briggs) and Jumping the Garden Fence: Invasive Garden Plants in Australia and their Environmental and Agricultural Impacts (2005—Groves, Boden and Lonsdale).

From 1998 to 2004 he served as council member for the National Trust of Australia (ACT). As first deputy chairman of the ACT Flora and Fauna Committee, Robert drafted criteria for assessing threatened species and ecological communities in the ACT. He undertook tree assessments for ACT schools and colleges and for development projects, for CSIRO Black Mountain, CSIRO Yarralumla and Government House. He was in 2001 tree adviser under the ACT Tree Protection Act.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2007 for service to horticulture, particularly through contributions to the development of the Australian National Botanic Gardens and to the preservation of the natural environment.

He is survived by his former wife Anne MacDonald and several family members.

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 52, no 4, December 2009, pp 26 & 28

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Ken Taylor, 'Boden, Robert William (1935–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/boden-robert-william-17804/text29384, accessed 21 September 2017.

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