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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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Clifford David Boomsma (1915–2004)

by David Boomsma

Clifford David Boomsma was born in Gawler, South Australia on 20th October 1915. That’s all we knew.

Dad never saw his father at all and his mother only a few times in his early years. By the time he was 3 he was made a ward of the state and suffered at the hands of the social welfare system of the day. His primary schooling was at Mylor in the Adelaide hills.

However, in Year 7 things turned around for him and he was sponsored for the remainder of his schooling as a boarder at Scotch College. Several Scotch College families took him under their wing and during the long summer vacations he revelled in beach holidays at Encounter Bay.

Dad talked about his introduction to the geology, ecology and biology of that coastal region courtesy of long walks from Victor Harbor to Waitpinga beach alongside Professor Cleland from Adelaide University. That was the beginning of his enduring passion for the Fleurieu Peninsula.

He travelled between Adelaide and Victor Harbor by train and at the ripe old age of 14 met Betty Snow who regularly went to Port Elliot for holidays.

His high school career consisted of football, until his knees packed it in, and boy scouts. Dad rose to be the troop leader at his school.

He related to us how hopeless some of his teachers were and how he opted to undertake two Matriculation subjects (geology and geography) by private tuition. In his case, private tuition really meant self-tuition. He couldn’t afford otherwise. He topped the state in both subjects in the public exams.

He went on to study science at Adelaide University and Forestry at the Australian Forestry School, Canberra. In Canberra he played in the inaugural Australian National University hockey team. In 1988, for the golden jubilee celebrations of his hockey club, articles in the Canberra Times featured the exploits of the 1938 team both on and off the field. One such story describes dad’s open tourer car carrying all 11 of the team ending up in a creek. This unplanned event was blamed on a large number of beer bottles that had somehow destabilized the car.

Cars and Dad had a strange relationship – he was rather like Toad of Toad Hall in the way he tore around the countryside and ran into the ditch.

In 1939 following graduation dad was posted to Penola Forest for a brief period before moving to Mt Burr Forest working for the Woods and Forests Department. He married Betty Snow that same year and they’re still remembered fondly in Millicent for their magnificent parties.

Jacqueline, Deidre and I were born from 1942-1944 and in 1945 the family moved to Adelaide with dad based at Woods and Forests head office. In 1947-49 Antonie and Richard were born.

Dad’s passion for plant ecology continued with a master’s degree focused on the ecology of Fleurieu Peninsula amongst some other regions in South Australia. Other survey work followed and formed the basis of his knowledge about species distribution and plant taxonomy. Professionally he liked geology and soil science and his early years got to do many soil surveys for the Department. He tramped every inch of the Fleurieu Peninsula, often camping overnight, and I remember his camping pack of a lump of corned beef, a jar of marmalade, one of sugar, one of salt and a kerosene lantern.

Over the next 35 years as a forester with the Woods and Forests Department. He had a great many professional duties. At one stage he was responsible for the oversight of Second Valley forest which is within the Fleurieu Peninsula and as early as 1949 described the benefits of superphosphate to the pine plantations of that region.

He continued to study and write about native tree species and ecology of South Australian woodlands describing many Eucalypt species endemic to the drier regions of our state. He wrote and co-authored several books on tree planting and the forest vegetation in South Australia. Sadly, Tree Planting Guide for South Australia is out of print now – but it is still a great book on the subject.

During the 1980s he established an arboretum at Monarto in the Adelaide hills consisting principally of the endemic South Australian eucalypts. This is a fitting memorial to his association with the State’s gum trees.

My father’s passion for trees rubbed off onto me and I too became a forester, Helen and I even lived in the same house on Penola Forest, 30 years later. The name Boomsma loosely translates from the Dutch as “son of a tree” – so we were fated to be foresters.

We all have wonderful memories of family holidays at Port Elliot (a heritage from mum) where dad would sleep in, we would all go cockling at Goolwa, go rabbiting in the Port Elliott hills, go fishing, go to the pictures, and eat crumpets soaked with butter. We looked forward to the May holidays all year!

For the rest of the year at home dad insisted all 5 children did some gardening every week, in fact each child had a designated plot to manage and pocket money was withheld if insufficient work had been done. We had three large suburban blocks requiring slave labour to keep them going. In addition, extra money, 6d per bucket, could be earned by digging up portulaca, a particularly noxious weed. Also in the garden we had a row of almond trees and every year came the job of harvesting and shucking the huge mounds of almonds.

We all remember that for a time in our lives we traded in Christmas trees: growing, harvesting and selling them kept us all busy especially in school holidays before Christmas.

At least once a year mum and dad would throw a large party in our back yard with the shed floor waxed for dancing and coloured lights to brighten the scene. Loud music, dancing, food, drink and a chocolate wheel were the vital ingredients. But there was a motive for the fun, money was raised and donated to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital.

Later on our parents’ charitable energies were directed to Westminster School and Dad raised a small forest of potted plants for the annual fete’s plant stall.

The other things that dad loved besides forestry and gardening were fishing, reading and bridge. He taught Richard and me the fundamentals of fishing and we are hooked for life. He played bridge regularly till the latter years and read till his last days.

In my early memories dad loved a glass of beer or on other occasions a whiskey and it is not surprising that he became a connoisseur of white and red wine. He really enjoyed to the full his Beefsteak and Burgundy Club.

After Mum died, he married Maisie, a dear lady whom we were happy to welcome into the family. His first stroke was 3 years ago and the time since must have been very tedious for him – but he was still as sharp as ever when it came to forestry matters. I walked into his room one day with a branch of Eucalyptus leaves and fruits for him to identify and quick as a flash he said: “You’ve been to Wirrabara.” And he was spot on! It was a form of E. leucoxylon ssp leucoxylon that was characteristic of the southern Flinders ranges.

I had a professor in Florida who used to say to his graduate students:

What must a man strive to achieve in this life?

• To plant a tree
• To sire a son and
• To write a book

Clifford Boomsma was fortunate to achieve all three goals.


Two extracts of verse were read by the celebrant at the funeral parlour and at the graveside:
It’s the gum-trees’ country.
They had it before we came,
They’ll have it again when we’re gone.
Ages they’ve had it,
Sinking their roots in the rock, covering the ridges,
Weathering the droughts, crooking their green fingers
At life again when the fires have burned them black,
Growing – they’re all alive.
They’re growing now
While you and I shout in their shadow.
From Douglas Stewart’s play Ned Kelly (1943).

Whoso walketh in solitude,
And inhabiteth the wood,
Choosing light, wave, rock and bird,
Before the money-loving herd,
Unto that forester shall pass
From these companions, power and grace.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Wood Notes II.

Acknowledgement: Dad never talked about his origins. I acknowledge Jacqui and Richard’s diligent research in seeking out his life story. 

Boomsma, C.D. & A.J.S. Adams (1943). The Pine bark beetle (Hylastes ater) at Mount Burr, South Australia. Aust. For. 7: 33-7.

Boomsma, C.D. (1945). The disposal of sawmill waste. Aust. For. 9: 53-60.

Boomsma, C.D. (1948). 1. The Ecology of the Fleurieu Peninsula. 2. The Ecology of the Eastern Half County Hindmarsh. 3. The Ecology of the Western Clare Hills. 4. Contributions to the nomenclature of the Genus Eucalyptus in South Australia. A thesis presented to the University of Adelaide for the degree of Master of Science in Botany, 87 pp.

Boomsma, C.D. (1949). Phosphate for top dressing as a normal plantation operation. Aust. For. 13: 108-12.

Boomsma, C.D. (1949). The Ecology of the Western Clare Hills, South Australia, with special reference to the disjunct occurrence of E. macrorryncha (F.v.M.). Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Aust. 72: 216-220.

Boomsma, C.D. (1949). Nomenclature of Eucalypts with special reference to taxonomic problems in South Australia. Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Aust. 72: 221-227.

Boomsma, C.D. (1949). Deaths in Pinus radiata plantations in South Australia. Aust. For. 13: 40-9.

Boomsma, C.D. (1951). The Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis (Dehnh.)) association of Australia. Aust. For. 14: 99-110.

Boomsma, C.D. (1951). Stocking counts in Pinus radiata plantations at Mt Crawford Forest Reserve South Australia. Aust. For. 15: 121-3.

Boomsma, C.D. (1960). Tree Planting Guide for Rural South Australia. S.Austral. Woods and Forests Dept Bull. 12: 71 pp. (1966 2nd edn); (1975 3rd edn); (1983 4thedn).

Boomsma, C.D. (1964). A description of a new mallee species of Eucalyptus from central Australia. Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Aust. 72: 214-220.

Boomsma, C.D. (1969). Contributions to the records of Eucalyptus L’Heritier in South Australia. Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Aust. 93: 157-162.

Boomsma, C.D. (1969). The forest vegetation of South Australia. (Woods and Forests Dept., Adelaide), 37 pp.

Boomsma, C.D. (1972). Native trees of South Australia. S. Austral. Woods & Forests Dept. Bull. 19: 224 pp. (1981 2nd edn).

Boomsma, C.D. (1974). Contributions to the genus Eucalyptus from South Australia. S.Austral.Naturalist 48: 52-57.

Boomsma, C.D. (1975). Three new species of the genus Eucalyptus from South Australia. S.Austral.Naturalist 50: 28-33.

Boomsma, C.D. (1979). Four new species of Eucalyptus L'Herit. from South Australia. J.Adelaide Bot.Gard. 1: 361- 370.

Boomsma, C.D. (1980). One new species and two new subspecies of Eucalyptus from southern Australia. J.Adelaide Bot.Gard. 2: 295-297.

Boomsma, C.D. & N.B. Lewis [1980]. The native forest and woodland vegetation of South Australia. S. Austral.Woods & Forest Dept. Bull. 25: 313 pp.

Boomsma, C.D. (1988). A new Eucalyptus species from the Wyola region, in the far west of South Australia. J.Adelaide Bot.Gard 11: 59-61.

Cliff Boomsma was a regular visitor to the State Herbarium of South Australia and attended some of the early meetings of the South Australian Chapter of ASBS. As attested above by David, Cliff obviously delighted in a drop of good red. At one Christmas get together of the Chapter he sidled up with a special bottle of red tucked under his arm. The twinkle in his eyes remains my lasting recollection of him. As well as his handbooks to the trees and shrubs of South Australia and his publication on the vegetation of the state, he was most noted for his intimate field knowledge of Eucalyptus of South Australia. He published 12 species and subspecies and made two new combinations.

Eucalyptus species named and combinations or new ranks designated by Cliff Boomsma, with date of publication.

E. mannensis (1964) E. sparsa (1979) E. pyriformis ssp. youngiana (F.Muell.) Boomsma (1969) E. peeneri (Blakely) Pryor & Johnson ex Boomsma (1979) E. lansdowneana ssp. albopurpurea (1974) E. yumbarrana (1979) E. incurva (1975) = E. gillenii E. yumbarrana ssp. striata (1980) (now not recognized) E. eremicola (1975) E. viminalis ssp. cygnetensis (1980) E. yalatensis (1975) E. flindersii (1980) E. calcareana (1979) E. wyolensis (1988)

His collections, initially housed in the South Australian Woods and Forests Department Herbarium, were donated to the State Herbarium near his retirement in 1980. The State Herbarium of South Australia contains 2200 of his collections. Of these 1640 were Eucalyptus, 1660 came from South Australia, 138 from Victoria, 262 from Western Australia, 84 from New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory and 30 from Northern Territory, with principal activity in 1993-37 and 1947- 90, particularly 1962-87. Collection books for specimens numbered 1-900 are located at the State Herbarium.

Bill Barker

Original publication

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Citation details

David Boomsma, 'Boomsma, Clifford David (1915–2004)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

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