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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.

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Bauer, Francis Harry (Slim) (?–1998)

by J. B. Toner

Francis Harry "Slim" Bauer was not born in northern Australia but he had a great affinity for the place. He came from New York — not the teeming concrete jungle but a tiny country town upstate. His father ran a timber mill and the 6-foot plus Slim worked there until the USA entered WWII. He remembered clawing nails out of timber to be used again — in the Depression everything was of value. In later life he continued to collect materials "which might come in handy" and references to the habit of the bower bird only raised a smile.

During the war Slim was a medical corpsman serving in the South Pacific, including Bougainville, and afterwards he was the beneficiary of that marvellous creation the G.I. Bill of Rights. Returned servicemen could enrol at universities at no cost and Slim's modest country education proved no barrier to him gaining a degree.

So well thought of was his degree that he was accepted by the ANU as one of the earliest PhD candidates in its Geography Department. Slim researched Kangaroo Island for his thesis and, despite being a Yankee, his rural background allowed him to fit in there readily.

When Dr Bauer became a lecturer at the University College, Townsville, he remained "bush-happy". He drove all over Queensland and relished camping, meeting station folk, and overcoming hazardous road conditions. He also found a wife, a grammar school teacher from Toowoomba, and took her to California where they lived comfortably in a university town for some years.

Slim's last project before returning to USA was to explore the Top End on behalf of the CSIRO and report on its agricultural, mining and pastoral endeavours. This enabled him once again to mix with Australians with dirt on their hands and the result was a most detailed but very readable book titled Historical Geography of White Settlement in the Katherine-Darwin Region.

At the instigation of the late "Nugget" Coombs, the ANU founded its North Australia Research Unit to look into the social and economic problems of development of the North, and Slim jumped at the offer to become its first Director. With wife, June, he arrived in Darwin in July 1974 and by Christmas he had five staff on strength in temporary offices. Then he went to Toowoomba to visit his in-laws.

Probably Slim was one of the few people who felt cheated by missing out on Cyclone Tracy. As a professional geographer he yearned to have been a witness to this unique natural phenomenon. However, on hearing news of the disaster, he went to Brisbane, bought a caravan, loaded it with food, tools and materials, then drove north to Darwin arriving on the fourth day. So he got the full flavour of that wet and warm post-cyclone January.

Although in his mid-50s, Slim Bauer still had the physique of his timberyard youth and he was as busy replacing roof iron on his house (purchased a mere fortnight before Christmas) as any other Darwinian. He often remarked on the camaraderie of those days.

Solely because Slim had established good relationships with the heads of CSIRO and the Australian Archives in their younger days, NARU was afforded free accommodation in their respective buildings for the next six years until the ANU could finance new premises. The first collations of research reports and scientific data on the whole of Northern Australia were undertaken and published.

In 1977 Slim initiated the first of NARU's annual Seminars. It was the first major academic conference to be held in Darwin and ran for three days.

The subject was "Cropping in North Australia, Success and Failure" and the many qualified speakers were headed by Sir William Gunn. Conferences and workshops are a feature of the Darwin scene today but this was a pioneering effort so soon after Tracy.

Slim enjoyed six years in Darwin but the experience was marred towards the end. Despite the fact that he had edited and published nine collections of academic papers, also four research directories, a Review Committee thought that he ought to have spent less time on these, preferring to have seen the reputation of NARU enhanced internationally by books written by its academic staff.

The Bauers moved to Canberra in mid-1981 but this year relocated to Queensland for the sake of the climate. Sadly, Slim had left his run a little late, passing away in June only six weeks after escaping the Monaro winter.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. B. Toner, 'Bauer, Francis Harry (Slim) (?–1998)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bauer-francis-harry-slim-85/text85, accessed 28 January 2022.

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