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Ian James Elsley (1950–2005)

by Steve Dobbyns

Ian Elsey, n.d.

Ian Elsey, n.d.

Ian James Elsley prematurely passed away on his 55th birthday whilst holidaying in Western Australia.

He was educated at Fassifern, Toronto and Fennell Bay primary schools and Booragul High. Ian was academically gifted, becoming Dux of the school in 1968 and making the HSC honours list for Maths, English and Modern History.

Ian received a scholarship to the ANU, Canberra in 1969 to study forestry and as they say—the rest is history. Forestry became his life and those he worked with, his surrogate family. He travelled around the state for his field year, generally in pairs or threes camping with other field workers often in pretty primitive conditions, working on surveys, road construction, timber assessments, silvicultural work, planting, fire fighting, picnic area construction, measuring and grading logs, collecting data for log volume equations and all manner of field work.

Over the next three years Ian settled into forestry studies in Canberra with over 40 other students, friendships broadened, got involved in football, “pewter nights” where students celebrated 21st birthdays in a local bar, forestry and college balls and excursions to South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Batemans Bay, Urunga, and Western Australia. Ian was always a romantic and he wore his heart on his sleeve.

On completing his forestry course Ian went to Tumbarumba and then to Coffs Harbour. During his time at Coffs Harbour, Ian worked on some cutting edge forestry projects using new sampling technologies for forest inventory. Ian was a member of the NSW Northern Branch of the IFA and turned up to many weekend field trips. He became the District Forester at Urunga, became disenchanted with public forest management, only to return several years later to work at Taree on the Wood Resources study for Central Region in the mid 90’s. Ian was a key driver of this project which modelled wood using GIS for the first time ever for State Forests. The project was a great success and led to the model for Wood Resources II and eventually FRAMES. He ultimately moved to the Hunter Region at Newcastle as the Resource Officer and settled into life next to Lake Macquarie.

Ian was always passionate about forestry, his many interests and social issues. He was concerned about the communities he served as a forester and his work mates. In the past few years he had adopted a missionary zeal in Union and industrial affairs, perhaps partly due to his Newcastle heritage coming through but also his strong concern for his fellow human beings. He was also a devotee to Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Neil Young and many more.

He was one of the people that added some continuity and backbone to our approach to the forests. I always had the sense that the forests were paramount in his mind—how we could best manage them, regenerate them and measure what we were actually doing to them. He knew better than most people that managing the forests meant understanding and managing the complexity, the detail (there is nothing but the detail) and he just rolled up his sleeves and got on with it. His knowledge of the silvicultural management and history of the north coast forests was remarkable and probably tended to overwhelm most people, but his encyclopaedic knowledge and diligence in collating that knowledge remain as a significant legacy.

His workmates at the Hunter Region remember Ian as a passionate and deeply introspective person who, as a result could be perceived as difficult, intense or hard to get to know. However, for anyone who did spend time with Ian, and for those sharing common interests (there wasn’t too much that he didn’t know something about!), Ian quickly became a person of vast knowledge and very interesting and thought provoking ideals. When he believed in something, it was very difficult to change his mind, and more often than not, he was right anyway.

Lynda, Ian’s sister, gave the most beautiful blessing in her eulogy to carry Ian on his way:

Goodbye my brother,
May the music in heaven be Van the Man,
May the chair be comfortable for reading
and may the beer be always cold.

Original publication

Citation details

Steve Dobbyns, 'Elsley, Ian James (1950–2005)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

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