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Geary, Peter (1957–1999)

by Gerard O'Neill

On 1 December 1999, East Gippsland in particular and Victoria in general tragically lost not only a highly valued community leader and family man, but also an outstanding research scientist and a highly professional practising forester. Peter Geary’s accidental death cut short a life that during its 42 years had been lived to the fullest and which was marked with both outstanding personal and career achievements. These achievements have been acknowledged publicly elsewhere, however, I would like to take this opportunity to further dwell on the contribution Peter made, in his career as a forester and researcher, to the management of Victoria’s publicly owned forests.

Peter had a long and distinguished research career in both softwood plantations and native forests, commencing in south-western Victoria studying several aspects of the silviculture of softwood plantations. His pioneering work on weed management, including control of pine wildlings, and on the management of logging slash during the establishment phase of pine plantations has strongly influenced the management of over 100,000 hectares of radiata pine in the Green Triangle until the present day. Research by Peter and his colleagues on slash retention for moisture and nutrient conservation attracted international acclaim.

Peter and his wife Anne had a strong affinity for the forests of East Gippsland. Following the release in mid-1980 of the first Timber Industry Strategy for Victoria, Peter was promoted to OIC of the Eastern Research Centre at Orbost. Overnight, he became responsible for the three large and complex forest-based experiments; these became known as the Silvicultural Systems Project (SSP), the Value Adding and Utilisation System (VAUS) trial, and the Regrowth Management Study. To meet these challenges, Peter recruited several young scientists and technicians and soon moulded them into a very efficient and effective R & D team. He also pro-actively encouraged other research providers like CSIRO and Universities to participate in multi-disciplinary studies associated with SSP, VAUS and Regrowth Management. He had a unique ability to communicate at all levels with third-party research institutes. It is therefore no coincidence that SSP in particular received national recognition in terms of scientific excellence and in terms of on-going impact on the future management of the diverse East Gippsland forests based on sound scientific principles.

Without exception, the staff recruited for SSP, VAUS and the Regrowth Management projects were privileged to have been given special training and guidance from Peter in scientific principles and concepts, and the importance of a corporate approach. He taught them about experimental designs, about analysis of complex data sets, and about teamwork.

Peter Geary was gifted with highly developed communication skills and had an intimate knowledge of the ecology of the East Gippsland forests. He was an author of some landmark scientific papers, many of which were published in peer-reviewed international scientific journals. Peter continued to write scientific papers when he, at his volition, left R & D for a new career in operational production forestry. A paper presented by Peter at the recent IFA conference in Hobart was widely judged as one of the best papers presented over the 5-day conference.

Peter’s move in the mid-1990s into operational production forestry, as Forester in Charge of the Orbost District, was a challenge to which he responded in characteristic fashion. In no time he was recognised as a highly competent field forester, applying much of his research findings to day-to- day operations and instilling his knowledge in others.

Peter set and achieved high standards for himself in all that he did and in doing so commanded respect from all those with whom he came in contact. This extended to wildfire suppression, so that when he was operating as a fire controller there was always complete confidence that the fire would be suppressed in an efficient and effective manner.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Peter’s work in recent years was the management of forest protests in State forest. His ability to work with police and harvesting contractors and co-ordinate appropriate responses was without equal.

Victoria has just lost a renowned and highly respected scientist and practising forester. The SSP experiment that he established and monitored at Cabbage Tree has attracted worldwide acclaim as a Long Term Ecological Research site of international significance.

He can rest in peace in the knowledge that the forests of East Gippsland will benefit in many ways from the work of Peter Geary.

Our deepest sympathies and support are with Anne, Billy, Robbie and Sallie, and Peter’s colleagues at Orbost.

Original publication

  • IFA Newsletter, vol 41, no 2, April 2000, pp 7-8

Citation details

Gerard O'Neill, 'Geary, Peter (1957–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 September 2017.

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