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O'Brien, Graham (Gubby) (1925–1993)

by Clive Price

Graham (Gubby) O’Brien was born in Brisbane on 8 March, 1925 and died in Caboolture on 23 August, 1993. He had a long career as a forester with the Queensland Department of Forestry from where he retired in July 1985, as the Regional Director (North and West) in the Operations Division. He was a staunch member of the Queensland Division of the Institute.

Gubby passed away after a long battle with cancer. At his funeral, Clive Price, a long time friend and colleague presented the following remembrance of him:

“Graham O’Brien will always be “Gubby” to me,’ since I knew him from schooldays, where he was given his nickname. It came from the “GO’B” initials; but as he was usually the biggest kid in the class, no one was game to call him “Gabby”. It was the coincidence of his cricket prowess and the fact that the captain of England was G.O. (Gubby) Allen that it was appropriate and somewhat safer to call him “Gubby”. The name stuck.

He was a year behind me at Brisbane Grammar School; but our paths really started to link up when we both chose to study forestry after the war, in which he was a Naval signalman.

It was a two year course at the University of Queensland, followed by a further two years at the Australian Forestry School in Canberra. The residential two years in what was then a very rural Canberra were an extension of the mateship of Service days. We ex-service students, by then in early or mid-twenties, simply could not afford to fail; and the always conscientious Gubby worked harder than most. But he would agree that they were halcyon days with great mateship, with wonderful field trips. He was very much a hands-on bush forester. We reclaimed our stolen 'teen years there.

Sport played a large part in his recreational life there. He was a gifted and very competitive sportsman. I recall watching a cricket match against Duntroon Military College, where as a fast bowler he was in full cry. A hapless batsman returning to the pavilion muttered “There’s no more terrifying sight than that glaring face and those flailing arms bearing down on you at ninety miles an hour.” His mate replied “You want to see him about to tackle you on the rugby field: now that is terrifying” But like the archetypal “gentle giant”, there was never malice in his play.

Soon after graduation, he married Gladys; and they saw country service in Yarraman, Maryborough, Ingham, Murgon, Dalby and Gympie before moving to Head Office in Brisbane. At work, he always set out to master whatever task came his way. He was equally conscientious as a young father; trying to inculcate his work ethic into Clive, Evelyn and Glenys, of whom he was always justly proud.

At work, because he made such demands on himself he seemed to get the best out of his staff.

In our early field years, he and I worked in different parts of the State; but quite often our paths would cross. By then we were both in young family mode; and while our families interacted, he would show the side of his nature which old friends knew. For he could relax; and had a great sense of humour and of fun. Though it might be a year since the last meeting, the absences would melt away in the first few minutes.

He was more at home expressing himself with actions than with words; but when the need arose he had a uniquely succinct way of making his views known. Once, during a District Foresters’ conference there was mooted a Head Office proposal he was thoroughly against. Borrowing an analogy from naval days, he said “It’s one thing being torpedoed amidships, but this decision will torpedo us fore and aft; and that’s much more painful”. I don’t know if it won the day; but it brought the house down.

After a lifetime devoted to forest management, I know he was saddened in retirement to find his profession and competent practitioners like himself out of favour with the media and with Governments, who currently prefer preservation to conservation of forests. I know that history will give a more reasoned judgment of the efforts he and others made in keeping faith with the State’s timberlands. He firmly believed that if we want to maintain our present way of living we need to use the products of our forest in a sustainable way. He and I covered this subject as recently as two weeks ago. It says a lot for his character that at a time when he could be pardoned for being self-absorbed with the knowledge of his dying, he was still concerned with the direction society was taking.

He will be missed not only by Gladys, his children and their extended families. A host of his colleagues, his sporting and recreational friends will miss him too and remember him with joy and affection.

I know that in his self-effacing way, Gubby would be embarrassed if he felt we were to leave him here today with only sadness in our hearts. So let us all be glad for the exemplary way he faced the illnesses which ultimately claimed his life. His stoicism, his acceptance and outward cheerfulness showed me traits in his character in recent years which even I hadn’t been fully aware of. He gives us hope that we also might be able to find his sort of courage if and when we have to face the tests he faced.

He touched many people with his friendship; and we are all enriched by it.

The late Les Muller, a sawmiller whom we both knew, once described Gubby as “a lovely bloke”. One can’t better that description."

Original publication

  • IFA Newsletter, vol 35, no 1, March 1994, pp 27-28

Additional Resources

  • navy record, A6770, item O'Brien G (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Clive Price, 'O'Brien, Graham (Gubby) (1925–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/obrien-graham-gubby-18455/text30103, accessed 24 November 2017.

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