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Eleanor (Nora) Bolza (1920–2014)

by G. H. Dean and W. G. Keating

Eleanor Bolza, n.d.

Eleanor Bolza, n.d.

Eleanor Bolza, and her colleagues at CSIRO in Melbourne, evaluated and reported on the mechanical properties for hundreds of timber species from Australia, Africa, South East Asia, South America and the Pacific.

Eleanor (Nora) Bolza was born Eleonóra Teleki, in Budapest, Hungary, on 13 March 1920. She married Alfons Bolza (b. March 1918) on 1 December 1939 and they had three children: Elizabeth Celia (b. July 1940), Frederick (b. August 1941), and Marianne (b. July 1943). However, by 1944 the Second World War was reaching its climax, and armies in Europe were on the move. The Bolza family was literally torn apart when Eleanor and Alfons were compelled to flee to Austria and leave their children behind in Hungary. Their efforts to secure their children and reunite their family were to take 13 years. Eleanor and Alfons remained in Austria for five years and there were two additions to their family during this period, Helen (b. March 1945) and Josef (b. March 1946). Alfons used the time to qualify as a doctor (physician). Eleanor studied Agriculture and Engineering at university in Vienna to supplement her previous studies in Budapest.

When the opportunity arose, the family decided to seek permanent residence in Australia. In November 1949 they arrived in Melbourne as ‘displaced persons’ in the ship MV Nelly, and in due course became naturalised Australians. Alfons was keen to register as a medical practitioner in Victoria, and this did happen, but not until 1961. In the intervening years he supported the family as a part-time weather observer, with Eleanor acting as his assistant. Alfons spent the year 1955 as a weather observer with the expedition to Macquarie Island and 1958 with the expedition to Antarctica. During these periods Eleanor managed the family affairs at home.

The federal Immigration Department worked with the Bolzas for six years to bring the three older children to Australia. On the recommendation of the Minister for Immigration, Mr Harold Holt, “Dr. Alfons Bolza and his wife… wired the Soviet Premier [in April 1956] asking for the release of their three children from Hungary…” Meanwhile the political situation was in turmoil and in late 1956 the Soviet Union sent tanks into Hungary; with about 20 000 people killed in the associated uprising. Finally, in March 1957, came the longed for headline, “Children Freed After 13 Years”. Elizabeth, Frederick and Marianne Bolza arrived by air from Austria to an emotional reunion with their parents, and also to meet for the first time their sister and brother, Helen and Joseph, born after the Bolzas fled from Hungary in 1944.

With the family reunited and the children becoming self-sufficient, Eleanor was able to turn her attention to her chosen profession; she described herself in an interview as ‘a European educated forest engineer’. During her 30 year professional career she was employed with CSIRO, Division of Forest Products, and it successors. It was there that she developed a particular interest in the dissemination of information on the properties and characteristics of timber species on a world-wide basis. This interest was influenced by her gift of languages, the encouragement of her senior colleague NH Kloot and the access to a first-class library of forestry and Forest products references.

Eleanor felt that knowledge only achieved its potential when it was disseminated efficiently to those who could take advantage of it. So while she was meticulously collecting data on the properties and characteristics of timber species from around the world she always kept in mind how this could be used to the best advantage.

In 1959 came her first publication under the CSIRO name: a German–English Glossary of Forest Products Terms. There was a later supplement, and then a second edition.

Then followed a long series of publications, in conjunction with other CSIRO staff, detailing timber properties and uses: “174 Australian timbers” (1963, Bolza & NH Kloot); “King William Pine” (1964, Bolza); “African timbers… 700 species” (1972, Bolza & WG Keating); “56 Fijian timbers” (1972, Bolza & NH Kloot); “175 timber species from Papua New Guinea and West Irian” (1975, Bolza); “Timbers imported into Australia” (1961 & 1977, NH Kloot & Bolza); “South American timbers… 190 species” (1979, CA Berni, Bolza & FJ Christensen); “33 Solomon Islands timbers” (1981, Bolza). This series culminated in a major study of timbers from South-east Asia, Northern Australia and the Pacific (1982, WG Keating & Bolza).

Altogether she co-authored three books on timber species from Africa, South America and Southeast Asia numbering over 1200. To facilitate presentation of such a large amount of data a grouping format was used.

The project on African timbers, co-authored with WG Keating, was a highlight and was carried out at the request of IUFRO. Late in her career Nora edited the data and converted it to metric. It was digitized with the assistance of several CSIRO colleagues and was eventually made available in digital format.

Eleanor had an interest in the potential hazards of working with wood, which prompted Timber and Health (1976) a review of the topic. Hazards range greatly from mild (such as skin irritations and coughing) to occasionally severe (such as nose bleeds, vomiting, breathing difficulties, and cancers). She recommended better ventilation, washing hands afterwards, using protective gloves and goggles, or, simply choosing another wood. The report included information about potentially troublesome species.

In 1978 Eleanor obtained a Master of Forest Science degree at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis was an investigation into the wood density and strength properties of Eucalyptus maculata and variations due to age, latitude and provenance. The major sources of variation were controlled by thorough prior investigation and appropriate sampling design. There are also useful sections on taxonomy, provenance variation, and damaging agencies such as insects and fungi.

Eleanor was often approached for her opinion on an alternative choice of timber species for one purpose or another. Being an amateur musician, on both piano and guitar, she particularly enjoyed making recommendations of Australian native timbers which might substitute for imported timbers in the making of musical instruments.

Eleanor was a Fellow of the Institute of Wood Science and a member of several Australian and International Standards Committees. Her work attracted interest internationally and is still widely quoted. As one could imagine she had many other interests particularly her family of husband and five children together with her love of the Daintree rainforest area of North Queensland. She retired in 1980.

Eleanor Bolza died on 22 June 2014, a much loved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great grandmother. She is sadly missed by the forestry and forest products communities.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. H. Dean and W. G. Keating, 'Bolza, Eleanor (Nora) (1920–2014)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Eleanor Bolza, n.d.

Eleanor Bolza, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Teleki, Eleonóra

13 March, 1920
Budapest, Hungary


22 June, 2014 (aged 94)
Victoria, Australia

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