Vale Bob Newman

Friday 28 Aug 2020

As reported in last week’s issue of Offcuts, Bob Newman, forester, consultant, past Chairman & Vice President of CFA, passed away on 11th August 2020, aged 91. Michael Bleby OAM, CFA Regional Co-ordinator SE Asia & Pacific, has written a short obituary for Bob, who will have worked with and alongside many of our readers over the years.

Regarded as a leader in the development of private forestry in Australia, Bob Newman’s 60-year career as a forester was characterised by work in many facets of forest management and by taking on significant roles in professional and industrial associations.

In 1955 he gained a Diploma from the Australian Forestry School Canberra, and a B.Sc. (For) from Melbourne University in 1958. He later obtained qualifications in Business Management. In his retirement he wrote a thesis on the way government can encourage timber plantations by using long term incentives and in 2018 was awarded a Master of Science by Research from Southern Cross University.

Born in the UK at Barton on Sea in Surrey on 20th July 1929, Bob travelled as a teenager to Australia in 1946. His first work in forestry in 1951 was as a student with for the Forests Commission of Victoria, followed by a period with the CSIRO Division of Forest Products. His first appointment as a forester at the end of 1955 was in Tasmania with Australian Newsprint Mills (ANM) at Maydena. This involved resource assessment and silvicultural research with Dr Max Gilbert. He then joined The State Electricity Commission of Victoria in 1959 as the Works Forestry officer for the Kiewa Hydro-electric scheme at Bogong in North-east Victoria.

During the 1960’s Bob’s career then took him to managing sawmills in Myrtleford and in the Otways, including timber treatment plants, a veneer mill, and new timber drying facilities. He became involved in timber distribution in the ACT and Southern NSW, followed in 1970 by the establishment of a successful timber supply business based in Canberra.

In 1976 he was one of the first foresters to start a consulting business, with work in Tasmania and he took on a founding role in the organisation formed for private (non-Government) forest owners, the Australian Forest Development Institute (AFDI) which became Australian Forest Growers (AFG). He became a champion for private and farm forestry encouraging investment in plantations and he successfully lobbied politicians for taxation deductions to remain in place.

In 1987 he based his office in Albury and was instrumental in organising the 1988 Bicentenary Forestry Conference and subsequently the National Foresters Grove, which is a reserve of trees planted in recognition of individuals who have made significant contributions to Forestry.

He moved his consulting practice to Yarralumla in Canberra in 1993 and in 2002, merged his practice with G.H.D. Consultants and continued in private practice until 2011. His clients included many major forest companies, Governments, and work overseas in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, China and the U.K.

Bob’s involvement in various Professional Associations was significant. Apart from AFG, he was a founding member of the Association of Consulting Foresters of Australia, involved with the Hoo Hoo club and with the Timber Preservers’ Association. He held office and was a keen supporter of many gatherings and conferences.

As a Forester, he initially joined the Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA) in 1951 as a student member becoming a full member in 1961. He was one of the founders of the Murray Catchment branch of the IFA. He became a Fellow in 2005, and was awarded the Institute’s highest Award, the NW Jolly Medal in 2011. In his response, Bob acknowledged those foresters who had supported him through his career right from his early days. “My tertiary education was helped by John Chinner of Melbourne University, Sibley Elliot of CSIRO Forest Products, Sir Edward Weary Dunlop of Japanese War Fame and a Wallaby, and Dr M.R. Jacobs the iconic Principal of the Australian Forestry School”.

Bob was a great encourager and understood the value of recognition. He was instrumental in instituting various awards. In addition to the National Forester’s Grove, he was responsible for the suggestion to establish the M.R. Jacobs Oration which is presented at IFA conferences. He organised awards for the ACT Forester of the year and raised funds for student prizes in silviculture.

He became a great supporter of the Commonwealth Forestry Association and joined the CFA in 1977. He attended many Commonwealth Forestry Conferences (Vancouver 1985, Rotorua 1989, Kuala Lumpur 1993, Perth 2001, and Colombo 2005) In 1988 he was elected Vice Chairman of the Governing Council and served as Chairman from 1990 -1993, subsequently continuing on the Governing Council as a Vice President.

In 1996 on the 75th Anniversary of CFA Bob had the honour of presenting H.M The Queen with an Australian parquetry piece depicting a Eucalypt. Bob was involved in the instigation of the Queen’s Award for Forestry and arranged its first presentation to John Turnbull in 1998 in Melbourne. The CFA Regional Medal awarded for excellence in the S.E Asia and Pacific Region was proposed by Bob and has been implemented regularly since 1998. Recognition of his service to forestry and the community culminated in his being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the January 2006 Australia Day Honours.

Outside of forestry, rugby football was his sport. He excelled in this during his youth, was an ardent follower of rugby throughout his life and was a keen member of the Canberra male voice Rugby Choir. He also enjoyed blues music and folk songs. He is survived by his wife Janet, a son, a daughter, step children and grandchildren.

Bob was a cheerful supportive colleague and an encourager and mentor to many. He was inclusive and gave employment to many forestry students and new graduates. He understood all facets of forestry, utilisation and marketing, and had an appreciation of the value of networks and influence. Movers and shakers like Bob are sometimes not without their critics, but he leaves many enduring legacies which pay tribute to his efforts and as a result, the profession and the forest industry is clearly the better for them.

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