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Clarke, Albert (Bert) (1914–2001)

by Ellis Nicholson

One of New South Wales’ best known and respected foresters, Bert [Albert] Clarke, died on May 23, from pneumonia at age 84. He had been quite ill for the past 18 months and had been a resident of Legacy Nursing Home in Coffs Harbour.

With a Legacy scholarship, Bert completed his High School years at Hurlstone Agricultural School and Sydney Grammar School, where he was a boarder from the age of 10. His father had been killed fighting in Gallipoli in World War I.

The highlight of his school life was playing in the Hurlstone Rugby Union team as a curtain-raiser to an All Blacks game. He was quite active in sport throughout his life especially in tennis. He had been noted for his wily play by the Davis Cup squad although he had not been included as a candidate for the team.

Bert began his tertiary studies studying agriculture at the University of Sydney. Part-way through this course, his interests changed to forestry. He completed his forestry degree at the Australian Forestry School, Canberra, graduating with three others in 1936.

He began his working life as a forester and was based throughout NSW, and notably in the Bobo Pine Plantation west of Ulong, near Coffs Harbour.

During his time in Coffs Harbour he met his wife Mary, known as Mollie, who was a teacher at Coffs Harbour High School. They met at the Pier Hotel and were married in July 1941. In July this year, they were due to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

Bert’s forestry work took him throughout the world and he worked in USA, Europe, the Middle East and South America. His first international posting was with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Washington DC, USA. Bert left the USA after two years and went on to work in Rome (Italy), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Damascus (Syria). Within a few weeks of his appointment in Damascus, the Suez War started and he was evacuated back to Rome, with all other Australian and British citizens within the FAO. The FAO appointed him to Kabul, Afghanistan, and he later became a consultant for them in Venezuela, as he had a good working knowledge of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

On return to Australia, Bert joined Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM) and was again based at Coffs Harbour. Bert’s main task was buying up old dairy farms and converting them into eucalypt plantations. In ground-breaking work in the 1960s and early 1970s, some 15 000 hectares were planted to Blackbutt and Flooded Gum in the Coffs Harbour locality with the intention of establishing a paper mill in the area. Economics eventually overtook this project and the plantations now form part of State Forests of NSW wood resource. Bert pioneered many new establishment techniques for converting pasturelands to eucalypt plantation. Some of APM’s original plantations were sold to commercial interests. An example is the magnificent Bonville International Golf Course that has been built within one of Bert’s original Flooded Gum plantations.

Throughout his career, Bert was an active member of the Institute of Foresters. Along with George Baur and Geoff Armstrong, Bert founded the very first branch of the Institute within a State division in 1955. It was called the North Coast Branch and latterly has been renamed the Northern Branch. Bert became the first Chairman of the North Coast Branch and served in this capacity for several years. It is testimony to the good work of these pioneering foresters that the Northern Branch thrives to this day, holding regular meetings every six months. For his lifelong services to the Institute, Bert was elevated to Fellow of the Institute. He was also a life member.

Bert’s office in Rio de Janeiro was situated inside the city’s Botanic Gardens where he was constantly surrounded by the sweet and heady scents of the flowering plants. This helped inspire his part in the establishment of an international botanic garden at Coffs Harbour. Bert became part of the original team that had the vision to plan and commence construction of a regional botanic garden. He was also instrumental in establishing a foundation for the garden that could be used for long-term development, and he was known to have made substantial anonymous donations to the foundation with his wife Mollie. Today Coffs Harbour can arguably boast it has the best botanic garden outside capital city areas.

Bert was also a founding member of Birthright, Coffs Harbour.

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 42, nos 4-5, September 2001, p 24

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Ellis Nicholson, 'Clarke, Albert (Bert) (1914–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/clarke-albert-bert-18271/text29870, accessed 21 September 2017.

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