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Roger Doherty Cowley (1940–1976)

Roger Cowley, forester and more recently research officer with Victoria’s Land Conservation Council, died after a long battle against cancer. In his short life he achieved much in the fields of land use, natural history and in forest management. He will be remembered for these achievements, for his knowledge of Victorian birds and plants, and especially for his friendly and unassuming nature.

Roger was born at Oakleigh, Victoria on July 21, 1940. He attended Scotch College between 1947 and 1957, and at the age of 17 he entered the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick. He approached his work there with a quiet ease, and took out most prizes in the diploma course. His interest in natural history was already strong and he had a keen sense of observation. He became thoroughly familiar with the plants and birds of the eucalypt forests near Creswick and spent much of his leisure time in these forests. His earliest work, The Birds of the Creswick District which he completed in 1960 was the result of this study. On his graduation from Creswick he was appointed as a forester with the Victorian Forests Commission. His first posting was in the Wimmera and Mallee area in 1961. He then attended the University of Melbourne to complete the degree of Bachelor of Science (Forestry).

Roger led the 1964 reconnaissance and the later assessment of the Tea Tree Range in the headwaters of the Wonnangatta and Wongungarra Rivers, the heart of the Victorian alps. At that time the area was virtually in its natural state. Roger was greatly influenced by this experience, as were many of his colleagues in similar areas. He established the continuous forest inventory in the Wombat Forest in the Ballarat-Daylesford area, and as field planning officer at Ballarat he then drew up prescriptions for their management and oversaw their early use. The loyalty of the field workers whom he trained is a tribute to his professional skill. In 1969 and 1970 he made a comprehensive survey of the present and potential use of State forest in Polwarth County—the Otways proper. This study is still notable for its breadth and perception, and played an important part in his later work in land use.

His appointment as the first research officer of the new Victorian Land Conservation Council was thus a logical step. Roger brought to the L.C.C. a practical philosophy of conservation and land use and he made a valuable contribution to the pattern of operation of the council in public land use planning. His extensive knowledge and expertise in natural history proved to be of great value in the new organisation. Roger was most notably concerned with the Melbourne Study Area but was widely consulted on problems over the range of the Council’s operations.

He was a skilled bird observer and naturalist with a long background of practical research and experience. He was a councillor of The Environmental Studies Association of Victoria and participated in several field courses as leader. Among his published works, he contributed the section “Birds and their Forest Associations” to Volume 2 of Birds of Victoria, and was awarded the 1972 Hedges Prize for his article in Australian Forestry entitled “Birds and Forest Management”. A very capable middle distance runner, he particularly enjoyed the one and two mile events. He competed regularly at the major Victorian professional meetings, including Stawell and Bendigo, until his illness overtook him.

Roger had an open, friendly nature, and he approached his tasks with a quiet enthusiasm. In his profession he stood out as a dedicated and practical conservationist, and during his short career he has made a lasting contribution to the management of Victoria’s natural resources.

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'Cowley, Roger Doherty (1940–1976)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

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