Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Saxton, Wilbur Grenville (1909–1990)

by Rick Hand

Wilbur Saxton was about three quarters through his eighty years when I, barely past 20, first met him. He was an especially kind and generous host in the following 14 years of visits to his impeccably run “Naringal” property near Sale in Victoria. For the cost of a warning telephone call, Wilbur would extend a huge hand in greeting, his rounded features warmed by twinkling lips and eyes. Leaving the office in Traralgon at 2 a.m., for pre-dawn measurements in Saxton’s radiata pine seed orchard, was no hardship when balanced against the pleasures of being welcomed on the farm by Wilbur and his wife, Janie. The only despondency I ever saw from him was when the CSIRO station at Traralgon was closed and we, his partners in intellectual enterprise, were transferred interstate.

Wilbur loved to chat. There was never any apparent contradiction between his twin enthusiasms for people and profit, only a previous commitment would dissuade him from spending a quarter hour greeting each day’s visit. Apart from a physical resemblance to Gardner Cox’s portrait of Robert Frost, he might have been the subject for Frost’s poem A Time to Talk.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, ‘What is it?’
No, not as there is time to talk,
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

His unquenchable interest and curiosity included the sentiments in Frost’s The Road Not Taken, he was aware of being confined to one road in life and delighted in sharing reminiscences.

Wilbur’s memory and practical ingenuity could have been legend. He attributed a lifelong loathing of snakes to the memory of one slithering across his face as an infant. He would listen, think and suggest; in that sequence. His need to understand the rhyme and reason for our researches on his farm enriched everyone. His capacity to apply and manage strange technologies in irrigation and propagation seemed limitless and his practical support of our studies was also unfailing. His imagination led to all sorts of ways of producing and harvesting pine cones more efficiently. There was a terrifying 10 metre tower of scaffolding on a trailer behind his farm tractor so that heroic workers, including Wilbur, could walk the plank into the crowns of the trees and pick the cones.

Wilbur turned his hand to writing in his sixties. From the meticulous farm records which were his habit, he extended his talents to a paper on seed orchard management and, more personally, a career reference. In both he was clear, concise, fair and to the point.

Wilbur freely and proudly shared his love of his family with us and extended that warmth to my immediate family and friends. Most of all, by his own example, he spread enthusiasm. He was both a gentle man and a fighter impatient with his own incapacities due to bodily wear and tear. I would be among the last to be convinced of his not raging ‘against the dying of the light’. I am proud and privileged to have had him visit my life.

Original publication

Citation details

Rick Hand, 'Saxton, Wilbur Grenville (1909–1990)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/saxton-wilbur-grenville-18543/text30200, accessed 27 November 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022