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William Geoffrey (Geoff) Chandler (1908–1994)

by Mike Hall

The forestry profession has lost one of its most distinguished members in the death of William Geoffrey Chandler on 22 March 1994 at Mornington Hospital after a short illness. He was 85 years old, having been born at Esperance, Western Australia in 1908 where his father was the first headmaster.

Geoff Chandler attended school at Perth Modern School and took his Bachelor of Science Degree at the University of Western Australia and his Diploma of Forestry at the Australian Forestry School, Canberra. He entered the Forests Department in Western Australia in 1930 and rose to Assistant Divisional Forest Officer in 1938. During the years before the war he was active in the formation of the Institute which was born in 1935. For what must be a record period he was on the editorial committee of the Journal from 1937 until 1973. He was chairman of the Victorian Division from 1955 to 1958, and was both a Foundation Member and a Life Member of the Institute.

He joined the AIF in 1940 and had a distinguished career with the Royal Australian Engineers in England with the forestry company and later in Papua New Guinea, leaving as a major with an MBE (Military List) in 1945. On being “demobed” he joined the State Electricity Commission in Victoria as Forestry Officer. He was invited by Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd in 1949 to set up its new private forestry company, firstly as Forest Engineer and later as Forest Development Manager. The first pines were planted in 1950. In 1951, APM Forests Pty Ltd — the wholly owned forest subsidiary was established and in 1961 he became General Manager and held that position until retiring in 1971.

This was a vigorous period of development and when he retired the company had 24 000 hectares of pine and eucalypt plantations in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and was planting over 2000 hectares per year. About one third of the wood supplied to the parent company came from its own plantation resources and that proportion was rising quickly.

In 1961 when the Sirex wood wasp was found on the mainland, Geoff formed the Private Forest Owner’s Association and was chairman for nine years. The Association for the next 12 years concentrated on raising large sums for biological control through research by CSIRO. This Association still lives as it later joined the Australian Forest Development Institute and widened its brief.

In 1970 the Institute awarded Geoff Chandler the NW Jolly Medal and the citation includes the following: “The forestry practised under his direction is characterised by high standards of management, active programs in research and introduction and development of new procedures of operation and management. Mr Chandler has gained international reputation for his achievements in industrial forestry which in Australia owes much to the high standards which he demanded in the work under his control”.

Geoff Chandler I am sure would like to acknowledge the inspiration of John Brookes who was the first General Manager of APM Forests from its inception until Geoff took over. They complemented each other very well. Geoff was always meticulous and professional to John’s innovative mind.

Geoff was always the “Editor” and his red ink is well remembered by his staff. Even letters received by the company were edited to clarify their meaning. He published two wonderful memoirs: Forests and Faces of the Thirties (in Leaves from the Forest, 1987) and A Forester at War (in Echoes from the Forest, 1990). Both stories are lively and humorous and have significant historical importance for the forestry profession.

Geoff was persistent too! He wanted APM Forests to give the Victorian Government a scenic grotto on the Mitchell River called the “Den of Nargun” which was caught up in a land purchase. The Government wanted him to sell the land for a dollar which could easily be accomplished. Geoff insisted on a gift and a special Act of Parliament had to be passed.

On leaving APM Forests in 1970 he undertook short-term consultancies with Alcoa and Smorgans in Australia and with FAO for plantation establishment in Korea.

He and Nan settled at Sandringham and then Portsea in Victoria and he was a frequent attender of Institute functions. Nan died several years ago, and eventually he moved to a retirement village at Rye where he was very happy and played golf to the last. He invariably came to the December field days run by APMF for those who had retired.

He never lost interest in his profession that he served so well.

Geoff and Nan are survived by their daughter Jan, who lives in Melbourne and Geoff’s professional instincts are alive and well with his nephew, Roger Underwood, who is a private forestry consultant in Western Australia, a former General Manager of CALM and a Fellow of the Institute.

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Citation details

Mike Hall, 'Chandler, William Geoffrey (Geoff) (1908–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

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