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Gooding, Graeme Hugh (1954–2009)

Graeme ‘Woody’ Gooding will be remembered as a forest professional—hard working and intensely passionate about conserving the Australian bush while using it wisely, and as a loving father, husband and great mate.

Graeme started life on the family farm near Seaspray in Victoria‘s South Gippsland. His academic endeavours began well at Gifford Primary School, where he was elected dux and co-school captain in Grade 6, never mind that there were only two students in his year!

Graeme moved on to Melbourne‘s Wesley College as a boarder and then to Melbourne University. By the late-1970s he had graduated with a Bachelor of Science—Forestry and joined the ‘sawmill-study’ crew of the then Victorian Forests Commission. What was to be a lengthy and productive association with sustainable forest management was underway.

Before long Graeme and one of his ‘mill study’ colleagues, the aspiring artist Heather Shand, had become an ‘item’. They eventually married at a marvellous gathering in a rain-lashed woolshed on the Gooding family farm. In the years to come Graeme and Heather were to welcome their three talented sons Christopher, Piers and Darcy.

In a professional sense it wasn’t long before Graeme had learnt to absorb and then master the complexities of forest resource availability and the associated environmental, economic and social issues. He moved to the then Victorian Sawmillers’ Association, later the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI). Graeme was to become a thoughtful and formidable advocate on behalf of a sustainable and economically viable native forest based industry, first as Deputy Director of VAFI and then as the Association’s CEO.

During part of this period Graeme was also responsible for the operation of the Victorian Timber Promotion Council. In that capacity he was to play a pivotal role in the product and market development work that transformed the Victorian hardwood industry. On behalf of the Council he led a number of trade missions to Japan and North America.

Graeme was to spend much of his working life within the ‘eye of the storm’ as political efforts to remove virtually all economic activity from publicly owned native forests and woodlands gathered pace. On behalf of VAFI he was to be closely involved with the deliberations of the generally transparent and professional land-use determination body, the Land Conservation Council, an organisation that was replaced in more recent years by the somewhat more compromised Victorian Environmental Assessment Council.

In the late-1980s Victoria’s Timber Industry, to which Graeme was to be a major contributor, set the national agenda in promoting sustainable forest conservation and management, and industry viability. Increasingly however, the electoral cycle and the perceived needs of marginal urban electorates were to lead to real-life implications in the bush that saw increasingly regular industry and job-losses.

Along the way a smorgasbord of topics including ‘old-growth’ forests, rainforests, industry economics, catchment management, flora and fauna species concerns and the management of bushfire were to help fill Graeme’s working days.

Through all these controversies Graeme Gooding was a constant presence at both the State and Federal level. To the debates, whether they occurred on a University campus, in a Minister’s office or inside town halls in threatened rural communities, Graeme brought a masterly understanding of the issues involved, a preparedness to see the varying points of view and a calm, invariably polite approach that was not always evident amongst some of the other protagonists.

Graeme consistently recognised the importance of an environmentally sustainable and commercially viable forest industry in Victoria. His personal ability to empathise with and relate to those at the sawmill and in the bush, as well as those around Cabinet tables and in boardrooms, saw VAFI and the industry it served, punch for many years, ‘above its weight’—notwithstanding the political forces arraigned against it.

Increasingly Graeme came to understand the power of the media and was not averse to harnessing it to make a point, especially when he felt the livelihoods of his members were under threat. He could calmly articulate the science involved in forest management and the associated uncertainties to anyone who came his way. He learnt to pepper his dialogue with media ‘grabs’ which, when given the chance, were to often expose the weaknesses in opposing viewpoints.

In a true test of character and although gravely ill, Graeme worked stoically and determinedly with colleagues to finish a timber strategy for East Gippsland that will see an industry, so critical for the region’s community, bedded down for the longer-term.

While Graeme obviously did not welcome the cancer that was to stalk him over the last eighteen months, the period was to be characterised by his positive, optimistic outlook and his support for fellow sufferers. As his son Piers so eloquently and thoughtfully described in a eulogy at Graeme’s large farewell, he also used the time of his illness to deepen and broaden the relationship with his much-loved family.

Throughout his life Graeme maintained an impish sense of fun, a range of sporting interests (characterised by his long career as an amateur cricketer), eclectic musical tastes, a love of good food and wine and an unwavering support for the St Kilda AFL team.

Graeme was much loved and his family, friends and those Victorians reliant on our relatively abundant forests for which he cared so passionately, are sadly missing his presence.

Citation details

'Gooding, Graeme Hugh (1954–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gooding-graeme-hugh-18407/text30062, accessed 25 September 2017.

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