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Richard Vynne (Dick) Woods (1923–2004)

by Chris Haynes

On 6 September, about 100 friends and members of his family assembled at Centennial Park in Adelaide to farewell and acknowledge the passing of one of South Australia’s foremost foresters, Dick [Richard Vynne] Woods. He will be remembered by many for a passionate and energetic pursuit of his beloved profession and a host of other interests.

He grew up in the Adelaide suburb of Woodville and attended secondary school at Scotch College. During his formative years, encouraged by his parents and school, he showed talent as a violinist and a rower: he represented the school in the first VIII. After 2 years of study at The University of Adelaide he continued his forestry studies at The Australian Forestry School, graduating with the Schlich Medal in 1944. During his time at the forestry school, encouraged by the principal C. E. Lane Poole, he was an outdoor adventurer who took to riding his bike in the mountains at every opportunity. He had been a keen rider for many years, riding from Adelaide to Melbourne when only 15 years old. Possibly the most distinguished sortie from Canberra was the ascent of Mount Bimberi with fellow South Australian, Norm Lewis, in 1944: they rode as far as the old Orroral Hut and walked the rest of the way. Years later he reflected on the hardship of those years, not only because of the scarcity of resources, but also that he was among a few who had been chosen to study for the rebuilding of Australia while many were still away fighting overseas.

On graduation, he was appointed as a foreman initially and later as a forester in the Woods and Forests Department at Mount Burr under A. J. Sorby Adams and promoted to officer in charge of Mount Crawford Forest in the Adelaide Hills in 1950. At Mount Crawford he became interested in the geology/site quality correlation there and produced a large scale geological map of the central area around HQ which became a standard feature of Mt. Crawford Working Plans. It was here also that he developed a life long interest in pine nutrition, something that he put into practice by broad scale use of superphosphate, much of it spread from aircraft.

He was promoted to District Forester at Mount Gambier in 1962. Here his interest in nutrition flourished further. Dick was particularly challenged by the second rotation problem, as it was known, and experimented with imaginative treatments that he hoped might be remedies. He was not then an expert in pine nutrition but experts took notice as he tried to fill in the gaps in his knowledge in this field, and continued to experiment with the aid of any advice on offer.

Before the funeral Hugh Waring told me: “He still had his regular jobs to do and yet he was serious about applying the best thinking available and, above the call of duty, he went about properly laid out field trials that were accurately recorded and analysed, leading on to the next and the next experiments.” Hugh went on to say that Dick was outstanding in the whole of Australia as a field forester thinking about nutrition, an opinion backed up by Sadanandan Nambiar who, in his praise of Dick, said he was 25 years ahead of his time.

At Mount Gambier, Dick had the opportunity to pursue a wide variety of interests including, once again, playing his violin in the local orchestra, and developing plantings of ornamental trees in a district where alleviation of the dark green of radiata was most welcome. He played a major role developing the groves of ornamental trees seen today in the lakes area, a task accomplished by firing up community support. The work was done by volunteers with some assistance from local government. At this time he had 5 growing children who became used to a major part of their family recreation taking place around whatever forestry or community activity Dick had on his mind at the time. His eldest son, Paul, remarked that he grew up in the back of a Land Rover.

Dick left the Woods and Forests Department in 1968 to try his hand in private forestry at Bunnings in Perth. For a variety of reasons he decided that he should return to South Australia and he became District Forester at Tantanoola in 1971. He maintained his by now very keen interest in nutrition while in WA and, on his return to South Australia, resumed more sophisticated trials on the marginal first rotation sites on the Mount Burr Range. He published the results of these trials in W&F Bulletin 24 (1976). The marginal lands problem soon showed affinities with the Second Rotation Problem and the trials resulted in the adoption of the fertilizer regime known as the Maximum Growth Series, as from 1976 plantings, on both marginal and second rotation sites until further experimental work enabled its refinement in the early 1980s. It solved the second rotation problem for South Australia.

In 1977 he became Senior Forester with responsibility for silviculture in the South East of SA, a position he held until his retirement in 1983. In the final years of his career, and after he retired, Dick was gratified to be acknowledged by nutrition experts, both in Australia and overseas, and also gratified to be able to travel widely, something he had no opportunity to do in his younger days. In 1981 he was awarded a William Gottstein Scholarship for a 3 month overseas study of forest nutrition in Canada, USA, UK, Sweden and Finland. During other overseas travels he lectured in New Zealand, consulted in Madagascar, and pursued his wider interests in Europe, America and Asia. After retirement he continued in the profession as a consultant and was active in a host of voluntary activities and other interests, especially field geology and natural history, until shortly before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1999 and his subsequent hospitalisation.

Three of Dick’s children have been connected with their father’s professional life. Sarah (Ryan), the eldest, has worked as a research scientist in CSIRO for more than 20 years, mostly in the natural resources area. She still has work connections with CSIRO Forestry and Forest Research. Paul, the first son, worked on native forest nutrition in the same CSIRO Division, before taking his interests to developing countries. Mark, the next son, has worked diligently in the forests of the SE of South Australia for more than 30 years. To these, and sons Rick and Chris, as well all his grandchildren, his brother Donald, sister in law Maureen, and long term companion Margaret Wilson we extend our condolences.

Original publication

  • Forester , vol 47, no 4 , December 2004 , pp 18-19

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Haynes, 'Woods, Richard Vynne (Dick) (1923–2004)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

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