Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Eric Peter Bachelard (1931–2009)

by Ken Shepherd

Eric [Peter Bachelard] completed an Associate Diploma at the Creswick School of Forestry in 1952, leading to employment with the then Victorian Forests Commission. As an outstanding member of his class he was selected to undertake a degree in forestry at the University of Melbourne, which he completed in 1958. Not long after he went to Yale University where he completed a Master of Forestry degree. After a short stint back in Australia he returned to Yale to complete a PhD in 1962. A year later he was offered a post at Harvard University where he remained for a year teaching biology, but rather than pursue an academic career in the United States he returned to Australia to work as a member of a research group within the Forests Commission. He was subsequently appointed Chief Silvicultural Research Officer. I first met and became a friend and colleague of Eric in Melbourne during the period between completing his PhD at Yale and returning to the US to work at Harvard. We were good friends for some 47 years.

In 1965 the Australian National University replaced the Australian Forestry School at Yarralumla with a Department of Forestry within the Faculty of Science. Eric was one of the initial group of teaching staff assembled by the founding Professor and Head of Department, Derek Ovington. He later became a senior lecturer. By 1978 the department had increased in size and Eric was appointed as a second professor. The then head of department, Professor David Griffin, and Eric came to an arrangement that Eric would undertake the main role in relation to Australian forestry whilst David focused on international forestry. Eric coordinated the administration of post-graduate students.

Eric remained with the Department of Forestry for the rest of his professional career. From 1980 to 1983 he was Dean of Science. From 1986 to 1989 he was chairman of the Board of The Faculties, The Faculties being responsible for the undergraduate teaching and associated staff and post-graduate research activities within ANU. He served as Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor on occasion. From 1992 he served as head of the Department of Forestry until his retirement from the university in 1996.

Eric saw the 1980s as the culmination of his career as both scientist and academic manager. It was a period when his personal and professional skills came together to considerable effect—for the Department of Forestry, for the Faculty of Science and for the university more generally through his inputs within the Chancery and on a number of university committees. One wider connection he valued was maintaining significant departmental contact with the CSIRO Division of Forest Research at Yarralumla. During the 1980s he served for some years as the university representative on the CSIRO Forest Research Advisory Committee, part of the time as chairman.

This was a period of great satisfaction to him, as he related recently during interviews for the Emeritus Faculty Oral History Project. The profession of forestry was undergoing great change during this period. Eric recognised and was involved with the beginnings of a marked transition in forestry education and research, a trend now ably carried forward by his successors.

Eric was a staunch member of the Institute of Foresters of Australia, of which he was a Fellow. He was editor of Australian Forestry for five years during the 1970s. He always gave freely of his time to his colleagues with editorial advice on scientific publications arising from their work. He retained his professional interests in the institute throughout his retirement and was chairman of its Publications Committee until quite recently.

The facts detailing a career, like those above, do not tell much about the person involved and their journey through this career. Eric mentioned his ‘personal skills’ in his recent oral interviews, and these skills are widely recognised and lauded amongst the alumni of the Department of Forestry. His former students now occupy many responsible positions both here and abroad, bringing distinction to the university he served. He was greatly pleased when one of our own distinguished graduates, Peter Kanowski, succeeded him as professor in 1996.

His many graduate students developed particularly close personal as well as professional bonds with him and still hold him in great affection and esteem. This was especially evident during the troubled times of his recent illness. His research interests ranged widely but gradually tended to concentrate on water relations of forest trees, particularly eucalypts—an interest in what plant could grow and survive where. His graduate students were frequently mature aged with a background of field research and investigation. Eric was happy to adapt his interests to further their chosen field of research, and this led to much productive scientific endeavour for both student and teacher.

Professor Eric Peter Bachelard was a distinguished member of the profession of forestry in its broadest sense. He was a loyal colleague and mentor to many. We pay tribute to a life lived well, with integrity and great friendship.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Ken Shepherd, 'Bachelard, Eric Peter (1931–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024