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Campbell, Keith George (1922–2013)

by Lyndel Wilson

Keith Campbell, 1943

Keith Campbell, 1943

Australian War Memorial, UK0454

Keith [Campbell] was a member and regular supporter of the Institute of Foresters of Australia. He attended field excursions and meetings, particularly in the Sydney Region. He was passionate about the bush and maintained a professional interest at all times. Keith was well known for his ability to tell a tale, debate facts and be involved in scientific discussions. His other contributions and interests may not be so well known, so in his spirit, here is Keith’s tale.

At the age of 18 Keith served in World War II as an Australian Flying Officer where he conducted 2 tours in the photo surveillance squadron over 4 years. At a young age he became an Aussie hero, heralded in the British papers and the radio for his flight over Berlin, where he captured some of the first photos of the bombed city and was honoured with a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

He gained a Bachelor of Science (Forestry) in 1948 at Sydney University. Keith also studied for two years in Canberra at the Australian Forestry School and completed his Diploma, initiating his love for trees and science. He came top of his year, receiving the Schlich Gold medal, and later completed his Master of Science in Entomology.

During his time studying the family Nancy, Alec and Christine lived in an army truck, converted by Keith to accommodate the family. They set up camp in Sydney, Jenolan, Kyogle and Canberra—including the icy slopes of Black Mountain.

He worked for the Forestry Commission NSW from 1951, based in Kyogle as a Forest Researcher, and worked closely with his esteemed industry peers. Some of the people Keith met and worked with were Alex Floyd (Rainforest trees), Ray Margules (a long term friend since studies and fellow Forestry student) and other experts Ken Moore (Lerp specialist), Phil Hadlington (boss at Forestry, and expert in pests, borers and tree care) and Harry Flower. He managed forests, specialising in tree insect pest and diseases, and traversed parts of NSW in a range of other forestry duties.

His interest and expertise in entomology led him to be involved in programs for the control of serious insect threats to the hardwood and Red gum forests of NSW. In the mid-1950s there was a plague of Phasmids in the tablelands of NSW, from Batlow in the south to Walcha and Nundle. The Alpine Ash forests of Tumut/Batlow/Tumbarumba were badly affected and Keith was actively involved in the control work. His work on Phasmids also extended to other affected areas. Control work involved aerial reconnaissance and Keith mentioned a helicopter crash at Nundle where he was fortunate not to be injured. He was also involved in control of Uraba (Roselia) lugens a moth which destroys eucalyptus leaves and was affecting the Red gum forests along the Murray River.

In 1957 Keith was appointed Senior Forester–Entomology reporting to Phil Hadlington in Head Office in Sydney. He authored and co-authored a number of publications relating to his work, including important findings about Phasmids.

Some of the many papers that Keith researched and published between 1950s to late 70s covered Phasmids, the Sirex Wood Wasp, Cedar Tip Moth, Psyllids and Bell Miners. In the process of researching one paper, Keith (and Nancy, on hand as always with nets and jars) assessed 5 threatened and vulnerable Eucalypts found on Hawkesbury Sandstone for Psyllids specific to these host trees. From these studies two new genera of Glycaspis were discovered, and one he named after his wife with affection—Glycaspis nancyana. Nancy enjoyed assisting him in the search for bugs.

After serving in Forestry for 17 years he established his own business “Abaris Scientific Services” working as a scientific consultant in tree surgery, insect and pest diseases of trees and forests in the Sydney region. The meaning of Abaris in Greek is sage, healer and esteemed prophet illustrating Keith’s sense of humour and pride in his work. His legacy was the protection of many significant trees across Sydney, and clients heeded his advice, many becoming friends and a few also went head to head with him when it came to tree preservation. Keith was never quiet when it came to saving significant trees, and won many battles.

His specialist knowledge in his field was well-recognised. In 1964 he was invited to Pennsylvania to present at a conference on insects and genetics, and he was also contacted by research scientists in South Africa and South America about their insect studies.

Keith was passionate about conservation, and was a strong advocate, joining multiple committees, reference groups, conservation groups and societies. He also was a strong environmental lobbyist and secretly contributed funds to many causes including Chilworth Reserve, M2 development protests, and Greenpeace, which he supported through attending conferences and joining debates. His work and passion led to the conservation of natural areas, and the flora and fauna within them.

He was very fond of teaching and seeing youth learn about science. He volunteered at Melrose Park Public School at lunch time sessions introducing children to the fascinating world of science. To the delight of the students and teachers they discussed fungi in vegemite, and pawed over deceased native animals and other fascinating paraphernalia.

Keith had many interesting extracurricula activities. He was deeply fascinated by indigenous rock carvings, and independently kept extensive records of carvings that these days are long gone to development. Also an avid reader, to visit his study at any time was to see piles of books on plants, pests, scientific journals, tales of adventures, aboriginal history, early settler and bushranger accounts, boats, planes and more. He always had a book or three on the go. Keith spent many days on his yacht in Sydney Harbour and Kuringai Chase, where he could freely wander the bush, bringing back tales of his adventures.

His love of nature, science and discovery has been passed to his daughter with her passion for nature, the outdoors and scientific illustration, and to his grandchildren who work in forestry and conservation. His longtime friends Clary Chadwick and Ray Margules from the 1950’s also shared his lifetime of adventures, along with his passions.

Writing this as Keith’s only granddaughter, I fondly recall growing up in a world filled with microscopes and scientific journals, listening to tales of discovery and observation, watching documentaries and delving into nature in vials, jars, live specimens, boxes of insect collections and through binoculars, telescopes and endless piles of books and magazines, including New Scientist which Keith subscribed to for over 40 years! Keith never was slow to share a new discovery, theory, or fact, and was sharp and witty. His wife Nancy family, friends and colleagues were all brought into his world of science and discovery through his ability to constantly learn, and share his excitement of nature. He will be greatly missed.

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 56, no 4, December 2013, pp 30-31

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lyndel Wilson, 'Campbell, Keith George (1922–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/campbell-keith-george-18237/text29829, accessed 25 September 2017.

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