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Rodger, Geoffrey James (1894–1982)

by Brian Herbert Bednall

Geoffrey Rodger, n.d.

Geoffrey Rodger, n.d.

A host of friends and acquaintances throughout British Commonwealth forestry circles will be saddened to learn of the passing of Geoffrey James Rodger on 27 December 1982, in Adelaide, South Australia, at the age of 88.

G. J. Rodger’s forestry career started in 1915 when he obtained his degree from the University of Adelaide, at that time the only School of Forestry in Australia.

He joined the Woods and Forests Department in South Australia but almost immediately afterwards he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces, gaining his commission in France. After the armistice, he gained forestry experience in Britain, Belgium and France with what was then known as the Interim Forest Authority, and eventually returned to Australia late in 1919.

He began work as Assistant District Forester with the New South Wales Forestry Commission in the South Coast District, but later moved to Western Australia as the Senior Divisional Forester responsible for the jarrah and karri forests. In 1926, he was appointed to establish a forest service in the Australian Capital Territory and as its first Chief Forester he was based in Canberra, the national capital. During the two years of this assignment he was seconded by the Commonwealth Government, on behalf of the Development and Migration Commission, to report on forests and forestry resources in Tasmania.

In 1928, he returned to New South Wales where he was appointed Chief Working Plans Officer in the Forestry Commission, where he was second in rank to the Commissioner. It is worthy of note that in the period 1928 to 1935, and without any other professional assistance, he achieved an annual rate of about 2 000 hectares in the establishment of plantations of exotic species, mostly pines.

In 1935, he was appointed Conservator of Forests in South Australia, where he had additional responsibilities in controlling the operations of the two state-owned sawmills (huge by the standards of those days) in the South-east of that State.

He acted as Controller of Timber for South Australia during the Second World War.

In 1946, Geoffrey Rodger was appointed Director-General of Forests, the senior position in Australian forestry, where he worked for long hours well beyond the course of duty, serving on many committees overseeing the post-war expansion of the Australian forestry industries.

Commencing in 1950. Rodger chaired the Forests and Forest Products Sub-committee which advised the National FAO Advisory Committee to the Commonwealth Government. A significant development of this group was the sponsorship of the Eucalyptus Study Tour in 1952 and the subsequent FAO-UN World Eucalyptus Conference in Rome in 1956 of which G. J. Rodger was elected Chairman.

He will probably be remembered by the Australian forest services for his complete success in healing the rifts that had developed between the services before his appointment.

In 1951, he was twice appointed as a Royal Commissioner to enquire into various forestry practices in Western Australia.

He was instrumental in the formation of the Australian Forestry Council and the then Forest Research Institute at Canberra, and they bear full witness to his increasing efforts to assist the cause of forestry in Australia.

In 1954, he was Chairman of the 4th Australian Fire Control Conference, which was a landmark in Australian fire research history. The principal areas for co-ordinated fire research within the Forestry and Timber Bureau were set out in six major recommendations of this meeting: fire behaviour, fire weather, publicity, use of aircraft, type of training and, in addition, the need for periodic conferences for the exchange of information.

British Commonwealth forestry old-timers will remember his leadership of the Australian delegation at the Empire Forestry Conference in London in 1947, and also his chairmanship of the Commonwealth Forestry Conference in Australia and New Zealand in 1957.

He retired on 8 December 1959, and then became a director and forestry consultant to a large South Australian timber company, where he was especially concerned with silviculture and utilisation.

In the late seventies, as the toll of the years became apparent, he lived quietly at home but continued several forestry friendships of very long standing, until declining health led him to enter a nursing home just a year or so before his death.

Geoffrey Rodger was the last surviving founder member of the Institute. He served as the member representing South Australia on the first Council, before the formation of Divisions, in 1937–38. He was elected to be an Honorary Member in 1966.

He was a fearless fighter for forestry, a down-to-earth man who could evaluate his many problems with common sense, without making an enemy.

His passing is a distinct loss to world forestry.

Original publication

  • Australian Forestry, vol 46, no 1, 1983, pp 4-5

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Brian Herbert Bednall, 'Rodger, Geoffrey James (1894–1982)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/rodger-geoffrey-james-15613/text30123, accessed 25 September 2017.

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