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Muir, William Douglas (Bill) (1905–1980)

Bill Muir is entitled to a special place in Australian Forestry. From very humble beginnings at Carlton, Victoria, on 29 October 1905, Bill rose to become recognised as one of the foremost foresters in the land.

After attending various primary schools, Coburg High School and Scotch College, Melbourne, Bill obtained the Leaving Certificate in 1919. In 1922 Bill embarked upon his forestry career by undertaking the three year course at the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick where he graduated Dux of the School in 1924. After a further two years with the Forests Commission of Victoria at Neerim South and Anglesea he was prompted to apply for a position with New South Wales, an application which was accepted conditional on completion of the course at the Australian Forestry School at Canberra. At the end of two years, in 1929, Bill graduated as Dux of the School and recipient of the coveted Schlich Medal.

Bill’s first professional task in New South Wales was to bring the sadly neglected plantations of the Tumut and Wagga Districts under proper management. The evidence of his good work was contained in the approval expressed in the report of the enquiry into plantation forestry in 1936.

The period 1930–37 at Tumut provided some hallmarks in Bill’s life. Tumut was the town where he took his bride and set up a home. Also, his son Ian was born there. Tumut was where his love of golf blossomed with his involvement in the establishment of the Tumut Golf Course and Tumut District was where Bill’s compelling belief in the future of softwood plantations was born, nurtured and developed. It was with pride that Bill saw his dream culminate in a 50th anniversary of his arrival to see the reality of vast areas of softwood forests and thriving dependent industries. It was with sadness that his absence from Tumut was noted at the Timber in Tumut Inaugural Convention, March 1980, where he had been invited to be a special guest to mark his anniversary.

It was also from Tumut that Bill became actively involved in the formation of the Institute of Foresters of Australia. Despite Departmental opposition, he put his forestry career in jeopardy and became a signatory to the Articles of Association and one of the founding members.

In later years Bill continued his active support of the Institute and was Divisional Chairman in New South Wales from 1952 to 1956 and participated in every major conference of the Institute. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 1969 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to forestry and the Institute.

In 1937 he transferred to Head Office to prepare basic management plans for forests throughout the State.

In 1939 Bill was awarded a Russell Grimwade Scholarship and when his studies at Oxford were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II he was directed into special projects concerned with producer gas and fire control in the United States. On his return from overseas he was placed in charge of all technical activities of the Forestry Commission. This led him into 12 years as Forest Management Officer, and in November 1953 he was appointed Assistant Commissioner and Senior Assistant Commissioner until March 1966.

Bill capped his career with a very successful four year period as Commissioner for Forests and on his retirement in October 1970 was able to look back over a period of extraordinary growth in the management of N. S. W. forests.

During his career Bill represented N.S.W. at many conferences throughout the world, commencing with the New Zealand Timber Conference at Rotorua in 1954. Then followed the Seventh British Australian Forestry Commonwealth Forestry Conference at Canberra and in various States in 1957, the Fifth World Forestry Congress at Seattle, U.S.A. in 1960, the Sixth World Forestry Congress in Madrid in 1966, the Ninth British Commonwealth Forestry Conference in India in 1968, the Forest Development Conference in New Zealand in 1969, the Austis Conference at Lismore in 1968 as joint Chairman, and the Austis Conference at Port Moresby in 1970.

Bill was a member of the Hunter Valley Trust and a member of APPITA (Australian Pulp and Paper Industry Technical Association) for many years. He was responsible in 1951 for the formation of the Hume Snowy Bush Fire Prevention Association, a hallmark in rural fire protection in the world.

Despite his commitment to the cause of forestry, Bill still found time to continue his love affair with golf which culminated in Presidency of Roseville Club from 1960-65 and life membership.

Bill is remembered by his staff for his warm and open nature which encouraged personal approaches from his staff and generated and sustained an active and effective organisation.

Bill passed away on 27 February 1980 and is survived by a daughter and son and four grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Australian Forestry, vol 42, no 4, 1979, pp 198-99

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Citation details

'Muir, William Douglas (Bill) (1905–1980)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/muir-william-douglas-bill-18392/text30039, accessed 20 September 2017.

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