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Dansie, Samuel Justin (Sam) (1927–2012)

by Peter Holzworth

At the Close of Day
Kirrama State Forest Camp
by Samuel Dansie

The yodelling calls of the scrub hen
All other calls suppressed
As it scratches up the litter
To build its mounded nest

From deep within the watered gullies
Its call echoes oft and long
Like some shepherd calling home his flock
At the time of evensong

The rustling of the wind moved leaves
Like myriad muffled lyrics
Provides a background for the home flight song
Of the red-breasted lorikeets…

…Then suddenly there’s silence
As though someone closed the door
Darkness falls upon the scene
And of bush songs there are no more.

Sam’s parents were English and lived in London. His father and uncle migrated to Australia and eventually came north and selected a rainforest block for farming at Milla Milla on the Atherton Tableland. Later, Sam’s father brought his wife to the new farm in the North.

Samuel Justin Dansie was born in Atherton on 7 March 1927. Sam went to a little bush school and finished Primary school in 1941 at the age of 14. He then got a job on a large dairy farm nearby, boarded there and earned 35 bob a week. And did he earn them! Up at 3am and down to the dairy to help with the milking until 10am. Then breakfast and planting kikuyu runners on the new burn, for cattle fodder, until three in the afternoon. Lunchtime and then back to the milking until 10pm. He had a hard taskmaster.

Norm Clough, retired Conservator, can verify the early rising later in Sam’s Forestry career: ‘When based in Ingham, I remember Sam arriving on my doorstep from Atherton at 7.00am, so he could go up to Mt. Fox with our Forest Rangers without holding them up.’ Forester John Grimmett also recalls ‘stumbling out of the scrub at Mt. Fox in the dark by the light of Sam’s torch to drive back to Atherton’. John also recalls being told by Sam that, as a young lad at the dairy, Sam had woken up to find that he had slept the whole night at the kitchen table with his head resting on his uneaten dinner!

Near his 18th birthday Sam joined the Australian Air Force in 1945, near the end of WWII. He served in New Guinea in a ‘cleaning up process’. During his Service, he spent nearly three years in Signals.

Following his RAAF Service, he took on contract rainforest felling in the Milla Milla region. Then he bought an unkempt old dairy and tried to upgrade it. The project didn’t work, so he sold it and joined Forestry, as did his brother, Lionel.

In 1952, Sam found himself involved in ‘silvicultural treatment’ at Danbulla and early work in harvesting and marketing of forest species. Sam knew little about species identification and wood properties in those early days but he learnt from local timber contractors, forestry overseers and Brisbane experts (to whom he would send specimens and receive good botanical information). This was the start of a career of outstanding knowledge of the north Queensland rainforests. He became a master of the ‘bush’.

Sam Dansie married Noelene from Herberton in 1958 and they had four children; three boys and a girl. By the mid 1970s, public pressure had increased for the complete preservation of the remaining areas of tropical rainforest in north Queensland. The public debate escalated during the next fifteen years and much acrimonious discussion among Queensland Forestry Department officials, timber industry spokesmen and members of the green movement, together with ‘sit ins’ and massive media coverage took place. Prime Minister Hawke on 5 June 1987 announced that his government would move to nominate the Wet Tropics of northeast Queensland for World Heritage listing.

Sam was caught up in this debate to a certain extent and logging rules with environmental guidelines were drawn up and enforced by Forestry on the industry’s loggers. By this time Sam had been promoted to Inspector for North Queensland (1976). Now came a controversy involving Sam. He had prepared a paper for a Departmental Marketing Conference in Gympie in 1980. It had been approved for presentation and it was controversial in that it cast some doubts on forest resource estimates on State Forests in North Queensland. The Green movement is alleged to have read Sam’s paper in the Gympie Forestry library. The Greens used the information to enhance their claims of over cutting in the northern rainforests.

Sam retired in 1988. Even after he retired, Sam’s driving work ethic had him painting churches and restoring cemeteries and as Michael Kennedy, GM, Horticulture and Forestry Science, ASQ, remarks: ‘He took on the restoration of the old abandoned and very decrepit Atherton cemetery, the original one. He recovered it from the encroaching bush, restored headstones, made it safe and then maintained it in wonderful condition for many years.’

Most people who worked with Sam remember him with great affection. Kerry Hanrahan believes he deserves to be called a legend and says, ‘I never worked with a more inspiring, knowledgeable, dedicated, unbiased and fair person’. He went on to say:

Some of the most enjoyable days I have experienced in a 40+ year career in Forestry were spent deep in the north Queensland rainforests with Sam Dansie. Spending a day with the great man, exploring remote, virgin rainforest for timber resources knowing that you were probably the first white people to have had that privilege is something that I remember with great fondness.

Forester Andrew Millerd, Acting Regional Manager, Wet Tropics, shared an office with Sam in north Queensland in the late 1980s. He called him a gentleman:

Sam never took sick leave (until very late in his career). He rarely swore, was incredibly diligent and dedicated, had the most amazing memory of things in the forest often down to where individual trees could be located. He wrote some good poetry, had a clever wit and sharp humour, was fastidiously tidy, drove about half the speed of everybody else and loved fresh fruit. When he retired, we arranged for his favourite brush hook to be chrome-plated.

Sam loved the bush, particularly the rainforests in which he most often worked. Sam’s nature poetry described the native flora and the animals that dwelt within, with a deft touch. His recognition of rainforest species (the sassafras smell of pepperwood, the white roots of rose alder and the cucumber smell of black bean, for instance) by smell and colour and other characteristics was indeed remarkable. However, his non-nature poems are at times disappointing in the somewhat bitter views he takes on certain Forestry matters, under the guise of satire.

Nevertheless, his achievements and bush knowledge were incontestable and he was a worthy legend of the N.Q. Rainforests. Samuel Justin Dansie died on 10 September 2012.

I’ll leave Sam with the following lines from Alex Lindsay, sent to me by Kevin Harding:

Sam Dansie headed off to mark trees on the other side last week!

Sam would have had a quiet chuckle at that one!

Original publication

  • Forester, vol 55, no 4, December 2012, pp 28-29

Citation details

Peter Holzworth, 'Dansie, Samuel Justin (Sam) (1927–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dansie-samuel-justin-sam-18280/text29887, accessed 25 September 2017.

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