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Byrne, Peter John (Pete) (1947–2010)

by Ron Beck

Peter (Pete, Big Red) Byrne grew up with his sister and two brothers on a dairy farm just outside Rathdowney, a small country town south of Beaudesert in Queensland. He attended the local primary school, and following the untimely death of his father he assumed a role beyond his years in assisting his mother to run the farm. He moved to Nudgee College in Brisbane as a boarder in 1962 for his secondary schooling, where he achieved the distinction of Junior Dux.

Pete was awarded a State Forestry Scholarship in 1966. After two years at the University of Qld, a year of field experience, and two years at the ANU in Canberra, he was awarded a B Sc Forestry. He was always a team player, exemplified by his captaincy of the Forestry Rugby XV and presidency of the Forestry Students Society in 1970. This respect for the team and love of rugby continued for the rest of his years.

Pete commenced his distinguished professional career in 1971, a career that spanning 40 years of public service to the Forestry and Agriculture Industries. Drawing on his farming background, he was inspired by people able to run productive rural enterprises with a minimal environmental footprint; be they large enterprises, small farmers integrating crops and timber production, or livestock and timber producers.

He stepped onto the Queensland Department of Forestry job “merry-go-round” in 1971; managing forest plantations and native forests as an operational Forester/ Assistant District Forester/ Sub-District Forester in Dalby 1971–73, Beerburrum 1973–76, and Yarraman/ Blackbutt 1981–84. Pete was joined by Catherine on this circuit following marriage in 1975 and they raised three wonderful and very successful children—Mark, Tim and Hannah.

The Byrnes spent 12 years in Gympie while Pete worked in Fire Research during 1976–81 assessing forest fire effects and developing fire behaviour guides for prescribed burning in forest plantations and native forests, then Principal of the Forestry Training Centre 1984–89 responsible for sub-professional tertiary forestry courses. During this time he also applied the skills acquired as Principal in developing and presenting a forestry course for the new School of Forestry in the Solomon Islands.

Family pressures brought them to Brisbane in 1989–the country boy made the best out of working in the city. It took Pete some time following appointment to the position of Manager, Management Audit and Review Branch to adjust but he admitted that he grew to enjoy working in the city as long as he could remain connected to the bush.

Forestry in Queensland underwent radical structural upheaval in the 1990s. Audit and Review was followed by secondment to the Industry Analysis and Policy Evaluation Section of the Strategic Policy Unit in 1991, appointment as Manager, Recreation and Advisory Services in 1992, then Principal Policy Officer (Forest Management), Resource Management in 1996. This later role transferred to the Department of Natural Resources in 1996 where Pete held the position of Manager (Community Land Use) Forest Resources, then to DPI in 1997 as Manager, Forestry Industry Services. Again, adjustment was relatively easy as Pete enjoyed developing forest policy at a State level.

Pete spent 2002 and 2003 as National Farm Forestry Co-Coordinator whilst seconded to the Commonwealth. He played a pivotal role in coordinating stakeholder consultation nationally and the development of a Farm Forestry National Action Statement focused on heightening awareness of the on- and off-farm benefits of trees and expanding the farm forestry sector. He returned to DPI in 2004 to pursue industry productivity enhancement work with the Policy Analysis and Industry Development Group and more recently as Director Animal Industries. He pursued with passion the coordination of sustainable industry development at the enterprise level and along the value chain.

Not surprising, Pete particularly enjoyed these times, the country boy was happiest when conceptualising techniques he had observed in other people and places and implementing these on the family farm.

Upon graduation, Pete joined the Institute of Foresters of Australia and was an active member and contributor to IFA administration, activities and policy formulation during his career, including Chair of the Queensland Divisional Committee during 1995–1999. In recognition of outstanding service to Forestry and the Institute he was elevated to Fellow of the Institute in 2004.

Peter died suddenly and unexpectedly on 21 September 2010—a devastating shock to family and friends who remain absolutely awed by his meticulous attention to health and fitness. Pete was afflicted by diabetes for the best part of 40 years and his balancing of health regimen with family, friends and extra-curricular activities remains an ongoing inspiration to all.

The loss was particularly resonant as he had celebrated his 63rd Birthday the week before and with retirement planned for the following week was on the cusp of embarking on the next exciting stage of life—family wedding plans, more time on the farm at Rathdowney and the prospect of enjoying extensive travel with family and friends, particularly walking in remote places over the next few years…

It is always sad to lose a friend and colleague. When unexpected, this loss is particularly acute. Pete was a special person—loved, admired and respected by all. He was a true team player and leader, able to motivate and inspire to a common cause in his own quiet way. Pete had presence; his large stature, quiet considered personality and empathy for others commanded attention and garnered respect. We will miss him.

Catherine and children Mark, Tim, Hannah and partners can be enormously proud of a great man and an exceptional Forester. Our thoughts and best wishes go with them.

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 54. no 1, March 2011, pp 20-21

Citation details

Ron Beck, 'Byrne, Peter John (Pete) (1947–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/byrne-peter-john-pete-18235/text29827, accessed 21 September 2017.

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