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Leslie Thornley (Les) Carron (1920–2004)

Dr Les [Lesley Thornley] Carron died in Canberra on November 19, 2004. By the time Les retired from the ANU Department of Forestry in 1985, he had made a significant contribution to teaching and research extending over 36 years.

Les was born in Cairns on 17 January 1920 and was educated at Townsville Grammar School where he was dux of the school and a champion athlete. He was appointed a Queensland Forestry Department Cadet Forester and commenced his Queensland University course in 1938. However, World War II intervened and he enlisted in the Army’s First Australian Survey Corps. He spent several years mapping vegetation in Queensland and, in 1944 joined a Forest Engineering Group in New Guinea undertaking aerial photo interpretation. It was in New Guinea that Les met Dr Max Jacobs who was to play an important role in his personal and professional development.

After the war Les completed his science course and in 1946/47 attended the Australian Forestry School. He returned to Queensland in 1948 where he worked initially in research and then as sub-district forester at Beerwah. In 1949 Les accepted an invitation from Dr Jacobs to take up a temporary lectureship at the AFS. This was extended a further two years after which the appointment was made permanent.

Les entered into the spirit of his new job, both professionally and socially. He was an enthusiastic contributor to staff-student social events, and instituted the ‘Les Carron Shield’ for an annual rugby league game between student years.

Les’s early teaching was in mensuration and photogrammetry with contributions to surveying and statistical methods. His research in forest mensuration resulted in the award of a PhD for a thesis on a volume tariff system for even-aged forests of Pinus radiata, and contributed to his book Outline of Forest Mensuration (with special reference to Australia) published by ANU Press in 1968. This book was one of the earliest written by an Australian forester and for many years served as a standard reference both in Australia and overseas.

Les completed a Diploma in Forestry from Oxford in 1958 following a year on a Commonwealth Public Service Postgraduate Scholarship. In 1967 a Leverhulm Fellowship in the Forest Department of Tokyo University fostered a continuing interest in all things Japanese.

During the 1970s Les’s interests in both teaching and research moved to forest management, forest policy and land use—topics which were of increasing interest to him socially and professionally. He published many articles and spoke at many conferences on issues relating to forest management, forest policy, the conservation movement and Commonwealth-State relationships in forestry. Les recognised that while the actions of forest services were within the framework of a coherent forest policy, the attitudes and role of the services had to change in line with evolving social attitudes. He liked to quote the philosophy expressed by Passmore in
Man’s Responsibility for Nature:
not merely in order to understand
why men behave as they do, but
also to estimate what the prospects
are that they can be persuaded to
act differently, we have to take
account, I firmly believe, of the
traditions they have inherited

An abiding interest in ‘the traditions they have inherited’ is expressed in Les’s monumental History of Forestry in Australia (ANU Pergamon Press, 1985). This work presents a truly national perspective of Australian forestry. It examines the development of forestry in each state—from early settlement to the end of the 1970s, the powers of the Commonwealth Government and its role in land use decisions and forest policy formulation, and the conservation issues of the 1970s.

Les was a dedicated supporter of the Institute of Foresters. He was one of a group in the 1950s who saw the need for greater professional communication and initiated publication of the IFA Newsletter. He maintained that interest through his career and in retirement was a regular contributor to Australian Forestry through book reviews. Les became a Fellow of the Institute in 1971 and in 1981 was awarded the Jolly Medal for his outstanding service to the profession.

Towards the latter part of his career within the ANU Department of Forestry Les was a sort of ‘senior statesman’—always ready to draw on his accumulated knowledge and wisdom to encourage and assist others. While perhaps at times somewhat old-worldly in his attitudes, his counsel was invariably stimulating and helpful. Les tended to preside over regular lunch time discussions in the tea room; he was a great raconteur and his style and the spirit of the discussions greatly contributed to the collegiality of the Department. This, in addition to his formal accomplishments is an important testament to the man he was.

Les was a true forestry professional whose contributions undoubtedly will long survive him.

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'Carron, Leslie Thornley (Les) (1920–2004)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 April 2024.

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