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

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Alan Edward White (1938–2013)

by Chris Done

Alan White, n.d.

Alan White, n.d.

Alan White graduated from the Australian Forestry School at the end of 1961 having also completed two years at Sydney University and a year as a cadet with Papua New Guinea Forests Department. He and childhood sweetheart Sandra married in December 1961 before heading north to take up a position with the PNG Department of Forests at Kerevat (on the island of New Britain–Papua New Guinea). 1963 was a spent assisting family “down south” and he was posted to Brown River Forest Station, about 41 km from Port Moresby, on his return in 1964. During this period he took on a lot of Papuan Regional duties as well as being OIC of the station. Later (in 1968) he was posted to Rabaul for New Britain Regional duties particularly silvicultural with the establishment of plantations of teak, kamarere and balsa following logging.

The PNG DoF undertook a programme of very large scale forest inventory surveys and Alan was involved in a number of these. It was during this period that I first met Alan and he and I were both involved in the major Tonolei Harbour (Bougainville) survey. We were involved in many forestry projects together after that in various PNG districts. Alan and I also got involved in car rallies with Alan initially being the driver and yours truly, the navigator. We swapped places after a few rallies and enjoyed competing together for a number of years.

We were great mates and our families were close not only in PNG but also after they moved to Darwin (in 1976) and we came to Kununurra a mere 830km away in WA. Alan worked for the Conservation Commission of the NT along with several other foresters. He (and they) made me welcome in their group and geographically they were by far my closest professional neighbours. We felt like we contributed greatly to cross border professional relationships.

Alan was passionate about forestry and loved the outdoor life and work. He was recognised for his services to the country of Papua New Guinea with a PNG Independence Medal in 1977.

Ian Whyte recalls that Alan gave him great support as a boss and mentor, he was always friendly, always willing to talk about the job at hand without losing sight of the fact that a steering hand was needed from time to time—and that he was great to work for. Ian also commented on Alan’s dedication to forestry and his loyalty to the Department and the people with whom he worked and from whom he attracted loyalty in return, and that he was a great team player. His sense of humour and common sense were recalled too as was his convivial company, particularly over a cold beer after work. He was the sort of happy-go-lucky but dedicated forester who is the backbone of forestry organisations, both agencies and companies. You don’t get good forestry organisations without the Alans of the world. These thoughts reflect the memories of the very many other friends who got in touch.

There was never a dull moment in Alan’s life. Dick McCarthy recalled memories of Alan the “car buff” including a never to be forgotten time filler whilst Dick waited to catch a plane to Bulolo. Alan decided that he could take him on a hair raising ride down the back “track” from the top of Burn’s Peak, Moresby’s highest hill. This was one of the area’s toughest rally tracks and definitely not for the faint hearted. Dick too says that Alan was a great mentor and friend and is sorely missed in the world of foresters. Paul Ryan reflected as did many others, on working together on major inventory surveys, particularly the Watut/Markham one in 1967 and Tonolei in 1969. He was always great company as well as a good organiser recalled Paul.

A stint with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation saw Alan spend 2 years mainly in Dominica but with assignments in Mexico, many Central and South American countries and Spain, he broadened his experience enormously and in the process learnt Spanish and became an enthusiast of Spanish and Central American music, food and culture.

Alan had a passion for ornamental native plants and had a broad knowledge of them in both PNG and Australia. A beautiful and lasting legacy to him is the presence of a great many PNG weeping rosewoods (Pterocarpus indicus) which he introduced to Darwin as a street tree. It came from PNG’s Milne Bay District – an area he loved and knew well. He had successfully used the same beautiful variety (which had been discovered on Samarai Island by Kevin White some years previously) in extensive landscaping in the new town of Alotau too. He became Head of NT Botanic Gardens and Herbaria in 1992 reflecting his huge interest in and knowledge of these disciplines.

He followed his beloved Parramatta Eels Rugby League team with a zeal that had to be seen to be believed and played competitive hockey through to the veterans’ ranks, including representing Australia against a visiting English team. Alan’s life was lived to the full and was celebrated by family and many friends at a dynamic ceremony in Darwin on the 3rd of December. Another of his passions was recognised there with the choice of jazz music from Louis Armstrong and other greats as well as a Papua New Guinea version of “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man” as part of the proceedings.

Alan is survived by Sandra and their three sons as well as their seven grandchildren. He is missed by them all as well as all his forestry mates.

Original publication

Citation details

Chris Done, 'White, Alan Edward (1938–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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