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Alfred Oscar (Alf) Lawrence (1904–1986)

Alf Lawrence, n.d.

Alf Lawrence, n.d.

Alfred Oscar Platt Lawrence was an outstanding leader of the profession in Victoria in a career which included twenty years as a Commissioner for Forests, for the final twelve years of which he was Chairman of the Forests Commission of Victoria. By example, he set a high standard of application to his work. He expected, and received, a high standard from his staff in return.

Born on 20 July 1904, Alf Lawrence undertook his initial forestry training at the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick in 1920–22. After working in the field as a Cadet Forester at Bright and Beaufort, he was nominated by the Forests Commission for entry to the Australian Forestry School. His first year of this course (1926) was spent at Adelaide University and the second at the newly established campus at Canberra. His Bachelor of Science in Forestry studies were completed part-time back in Adelaide in 1928.

In 1928 he undertook forest assessment and mapping surveys in the red gum forests along the Murray River, in particular Gunbower and Barmah, at a time when these forests were still in their heyday of timber production, for sawlogs and railway sleepers. Following the fieldwork he prepared detailed and highly regarded working plans. In 1930 he was appointed Divisional Working Plans Officer, and in 1931 was transferred to Ballarat with similar duties in the western region of the State.

On receiving the award of the Russell Grimwade Prize he travelled to Oxford where he furthered his studies during 1934-35 and gained a Diploma of Forestry. On return, he resumed his duties at Ballarat which also included those of District Forester for Ballarat and Creswick.

A major change in his career occurred in 1940 when he was appointed Fire Protection Officer for the Forests Commission. Following the disastrous bushfires of 1939 he was responsible for developing a highly organised departmental fire fighting force, including introduction of the use of modern equipment such as powered pumps, aircraft and a state-wide radio communications network. From 1946 to 1949 he was also a member of the Country Fire Authority of Victoria.

His organisational and professional abilities were further recognised in 1949 when he was appointed Commissioner of the Forests Commission, and again in 1957 when he became its Chairman, a position he held until his retirement in 1969.

During the twelve years of leadership the service forged ahead guided by his foresight, his confidence in the team supporting him, his confidence in his profession and his rugged determination to see the job through. He initiated and followed through a major re-structuring of the Commission's field and central staff into territorial and functional Divisions.

Throughout his years of professional forestry he maintained an active involvement with the Scouts, in which organisation by 1969 he held the position of Deputy Chief Commissioner.

The climax of his career was attained in 1969 when the Queen honoured him with the Order of the British Empire for his services to forestry and scouting.

It would be impossible to list fully the boards, councils, committees, advisory bodies and service organisations to which Alf gave his services so freely. He was the first to admit that a large share of any credit was due to his wife, Florence, whose patience, understanding and support were a great help and comfort to him through the years.

He died on 15 March 1986 after a long illness. Alf Lawrence is remembered as a driving force in forestry over many years, and for setting high standards of performance and dedication for all those who worked with and followed him.

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'Lawrence, Alfred Oscar (Alf) (1904–1986)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 April 2024.

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