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McGrath, Kelvin Paul (Kel) (1908–1979)

Kelvin McGrath, n.d.

Kelvin McGrath, n.d.

Kelvin Paul McGrath, one of Australia’s foremost foresters, died at Royal Canberra Hospital on 19 December, 1979, aged 71.

Kel McGrath was born in Hobart and was educated at St Joseph’s Christian Brothers College, Brisbane, the University of Queensland and the Australian Forestry School, Canberra. After graduating he served with the Queensland Forestry Department until 1944, attaining the position of District Forester.

He pioneered the surveying of northern Queensland and obtained a reputation for work, solving difficult harvesting, transport and road construction problems in rugged terrain.

In June 1944 he joined Hyne and Son, Maryborough, Queensland’s biggest sawmilling company, as logging manager.

He became a lecturer in Forest Engineering and Utilisation at the Australian Forestry School in 1947. He was appointed Deputy Principal of the school in 1955 and served as Acting Principal from 1959 to 1965. During that term he had the difficult task of administering the transfer of the school to the Australian National University.

After the transfer he was appointed Associate Director of the Department of Forestry until retiring in 1968.

During his 21 years as an academic he attended Yale University as a lecturer and student, and gained a Master of Forestry degree in 1955.

He also took part in five Food and Agriculture Organisation and Colombo Plan technical assistance missions in South America and South-East Asia. In recognition of his work he was awarded the Medal of the Marshall Rondon Order of Brazil in 1972.

Kel McGrath was a long term member of the Institute of Foresters of Australia, serving at various times as Chairman of the A.C.T. Division, Secretary to the Council and member of the organising committee for the second general conference in 1958. In 1959 he led an historic delegation from the Institute to the then Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, which had considerable influence later by assisting to create a favourable political climate for important forestry developments during the sixties and seventies.

The Institute recognised his contribution in 1966 by awarding him the N. W. Jolly Medal, the highest honour the Institute can bestow.

He was also a council member of the Royal Society of Australia and foundation member of the Australian Conservation Foundation. In 1955 he was honoured with membership of Sigma XI, U.S.A.

He published 40 papers in professional journals during his career.

After his retirement from the ANU he became a consultant to the Savoy group of companies and chairman of the group from 1971 to 1974. He was a director of Northern Woodchips and consultant to the Bond Corporation and its subsidiaries.

Because of his stature in Australian forestry he was asked to advise the House of Representatives Committee on Expenditure with its inquiry into forestry expenditure in the Northern Territory. He was commended in Parliament for his work.

He was also active in general community affairs in Canberra, especially in sport. As a young man he represented the A.C.T. in rugby league, playing against a touring English side.

In recognition of a lifetime’s contribution to forestry and conservation he was honoured, in January 1979, to be appointed a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

Kel McGrath is survived by two daughters, Beverley and Marilyn and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Australian Forestry, vol 42, no 4, 1979, p 197

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Citation details

'McGrath, Kelvin Paul (Kel) (1908–1979)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcgrath-kelvin-paul-kel-18378/text30023, accessed 21 September 2017.

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