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Shedley, Phillip (Phil) (1928–2013)

The death of Phil [Phillip] Shedley brings to a close the final link to the pioneering era of forest management in WA. Phil was a forester, and the son of a forester, his father being Charles Shedley who worked with the first Conservators, Charles Lane-Poole, Stephen Kessell and TN Stoate, all of whom Phil knew. Phil himself was the first professional forester appointed to the new division at Shannon River, responsible for the southern karri and tingle forests. Here he developed the first maps, roads, bridges, fire lookout towers and settlements in the area. Some of the forests he regenerated after timber cutting in the 1950s are today nearly 60-years old and form an admired part of the Shannon National Park.

Born in 1928, Phil grew up in Perth where, famously, he was a volunteer “bicycle runner” for the air raid defence during World War II. His driving ambition was to become a forester. He won a scholarship and graduated from the University of WA and the Australian Forestry School in 1950. No professional forestry positions being available, Phil joined the WA Forests Department as a Forest Workman, for which the salary was 12 shillings ($1.20) per week. Stationed at Willow Springs (near Nannup) he undertook inventory work under the direction of Dr Stoate. Phil proved good at his job, but it was also at this time that he also made his first move in a career interest in bettering the working conditions for foresters. He asked Stoate for a raise. To his surprise, Stoate agreed and raised his wages ... by an extra sixpence a week.

After many years as Officer in Charge at Shannon River (which included a period of severe illness when he contracted polio), Phil became impatient with lack of opportunities in the Forests Department and accepted the offer of a management position with the Kauri Timber Company, an international firm with interests all over Australia, the Pacific and New Zealand. Appointed WA manager, Phil was responsible for large sawmills at Nannup and Northcliffe and a number of smaller mills in the Denbarker area. Unfortunately, through no fault of Phil’s, KTC went broke, and Phil decided to re-join the Forests Department. But his interests in timber continued, and eventually he was appointed to run the department’s Wood Utilisation Research Centre, where he was responsible for innovative research into timber seasoning and manufacture. One of the outcomes of this work was a remarkable product made from sliced, rapidly-seasoned glued jarrah produced from regrowth trees previously considered too small for timber production.

Throughout his early years as a forester, Phil was involved repeatedly in fighting serious bushfires and in dealing with their impacts. As a result he was a firm believer in the value of fuel reduction burning, and never lost an opportunity to promote it. He was also critical of the current approach to forest management, especially the failure to thin regrowth forests on water catchments. He believed that this operation would not only restore the flow of fresh water into reservoirs and enhance the health of the forest at a time of low rainfall, but it would produce timber that could either be manufactured into useful products, or used to generate electricity. He was also strongly opposed to bauxite mining in the jarrah forest, which he regarded as the greatest conservation sin in Western Australian history. In the controversies that surrounded these issues Phil took on all opponents (whether they be senior government officials, giants of industry or environmental activists) without fear or favour – but always with courtesy.

Phil Shedley was a man of fierce passions, boundless energy, and commitment to the principles of forest science and management. After his retirement from the public service, and well into his 70s and 80s, he attended and spoke at meetings and conferences, and was a prolific writer of submissions, of letters to Premiers and Ministers, and Letters to the Editor. To the end of his life (aged 85) his greatest ambition was to see Western Australian forests properly managed and protected and providing the basis for a sustainable timber industry. His greatest pride was to have followed his father into a profession that he loved.

Outside forestry, timber and woodworking, Phil was also passionate about his vegie garden, hydroponics and his family. He is survived by four children and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • West Australian, 13 February 2014

Citation details

'Shedley, Phillip (Phil) (1928–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/shedley-phillip-phil-18720/text30320, accessed 24 November 2017.

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