Category Archives: Sadness

Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.

Doha_delegation

Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.


Keith Scott

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Vale Margaret Thorsborne AO

margaret_1997Passionate and devoted conservationist, Margaret Thorsborne AO, died last October. Margaret joined ARCS in 1985 and remained a loyal supporter until her recent ill health.

Born in 1927, Margaret grew up in Brisbane and later, after training as a nurse, moved to Southport on the Gold Coast. Margaret has recorded her great admiration for, and inspiration from, her parents who both served in World War I, her mother as a nurse on the Western Front and her father at Gallipoli.

In 1963, Margaret married Arthur Thorsborne and together they became involved in the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ) which had been formed in 1962 by poet Judith Wright, wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur, naturalist David Fleay and founder of Jacaranda Press, Brian Clouston. They were instrumental in forming the Gold Coast branch of WPSQ.

In 1964, the Thorsbornes made their first visit to North Queensland, camping on Hinchinbrook Island. That sparked their devotion to protection of the island and the associated coastal environment. They moved to live permanently at Meunga Creek north of Cardwell and built a cottage in the rainforest called ‘Galmara’, Aboriginal for poet, singer of songs.

In 1965, Judith Wright, artist John Busst and rainforest ecologist Len Webb began a campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef, initially from fertiliser mining on Ellison Reef and later from oil drilling supported by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Margaret became involved in the campaign as well as other campaigns to conserve wildlife habitat in the region.

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Margaret holding a self-portait by John Busst beside a plaque placed in his memory by Judith Wright at Ninney Rise, the Busst’s home near Bingil Bay

The Thorsbornes became interested in the fate of the Pied Imperial-Pigeon. These birds nest on offshore islands and fly to the mainland to feed. In 1965, the Thorsbornes began counts of the Pied Imperial-Pigeon on North Brook Island, an exercise that became an annual event and which continues to this day.

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Margaret and Arthur Thorsborne counting pigeons at North Brook Island

The count of the pigeons was 4692 in 1965-66 but declined to 1451 in 1968-69 largely as a result of shooting. It is recorded that up to 1100 birds were shot at a time but large-scale shooting stopped in 1968. Populations have since recovered with current counts greater than 40,000 but their presence at various sites is affected by cyclone damage. Dr John Winter is currently working to ensure that the counts are established on a permanent and sound scientific basis so that they will continue to provide invaluable data on these birds long into the future.

Margaret&John

Margaret and Dr John Winter counting pigeons at North Brook Island
Photo: Bryony Barnett

Margaret has been involved in a wide range of conservation activities including efforts to educate people in the significance of the local environment and the importance of protecting it. She was particularly involved in cassowary conservation, collecting seeds of their food plants to replant seedlings, one of her many habitat restoration activities. She was also involved in conservation efforts to protect the endangered Mahogany Glider.

The Thorsbornes were devoted to the protection of Hinchinbrook Island and documented the island’s values in their book, Hinchinbrook Island: The Land Time Forgot, which was published in 1988. Arthur died in 1991 and in recognition of his contribution to conservation, the Thorsborne Trust was established. The Trust provides support for a wide range of conservation activities.

The Thorsbornes are commemorated by the Thorsborne Trail, a 32-km walking track along the eastern side of Hinchinbrook Island. Sadly, the Thorsborne Trail is one of the sites chosen by the Queensland Government to establish privately owned commercial accommodation in national parks.

In the early 1990s, Margaret faced one of the most challenging times of her life when developer Keith Williams took over a failed resort development and marina, Port Hinchinbrook, at Oyster Point on the shores of Hinchinbrook Channel. The development involved destruction of mangroves and dredging of the channel with a likely impact on the dugong population within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Margaret ‘blockaded’ the mangrove site facing the bulldozers in a daily vigil.

In 2011, Margaret was awarded the honour of Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment through advocacy roles for the protection and preservation of wildlife and significant natural heritage sites in Australia, as a supporter of scientific research, and to the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland”.

Margaret was well known for her hand-painted envelopes carrying a conservation message and we appreciated receiving her annual subscription in one of her envelopes, at times including a paper cut-out of a white pigeon.

Conservationist and close friend of Margaret, Liz Downes, concluded her obituary for Margaret with the following:

Margaret lived her life simply, with grace and humility, in absolute accord with her conservation principles – yet her influence was felt far beyond local boundaries and indeed, where her work advanced the cause of threatened species, migratory birds or World Heritage areas it was of national and international importance. Margaret represented the epitome of what it is to be passionate, inspiring and committed and her life will long remain as an outstanding example of service to country and community.

Keith Scott

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Vale John Sinclair AO

John SinclairLeading conservationist, John Sinclair AO, died on 3 February 2019.

John Sinclair was born in Maryborough in 1939 and educated at Maryborough Boys State High School. He left school at age 15 but obtained a Diploma of Agriculture at Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland Gatton Campus) in 1959. His first job was with the Department of Education and in 1967 he took a job in the Adult Education office in Maryborough.

John was introduced to Fraser Island when his parents, who had honeymooned on the island, took him on visits to the island in his youth. He fell in love with the island and in the late 1960s he was organising safaris to the island for members of the Maryborough and Bundaberg branches of Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). John was Honorary Secretary of the Maryborough Branch from its formation in 1967 until 1978. During the 1980s, he served as President and Senior Vice-President of WPSQ.

In 1969, John became aware of the campaign to save Cooloola, the mainland sandmass immediately to the south of Fraser Island, from sandmining. That campaign was led by Dr Arthur Harrold and Bill and Mavis Huxley who headed The Cooloola Committee though it was really instigated by wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur who, with her friend poet Judith Wright, had conceived the idea of a Cooloola National Park back in 1953. Judith and Kathleen had, with David Fleay and Brian Clouston, formed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in 1962.

As part of the Cooloola campaign, Kathleen devised the first significant conservation campaign postcard distribution with 100,000 postcards being widely distributed.

Cooloola postcard

At this time, Queensland was governed by the National Party led by Joh Blelke-Petersen. In December 1969, Bjelke-Petersen announced that areas of Cooloola would be declared national park but before that happened applications were made for sandmining leases. This led to an intense campaign to stop sandmining. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s support, sandmining was eventually rejected by the Government essentially as a result of opposition from a “Ginger Group” of more progressive Liberal Party members.

The Cooloola campaign had given John Sinclair an insight into campaigning and focused his attention on sandmining on Fraser Island. The Queensland Government had granted Dillingham-Murphyores mining leases in the 1960s and mining was occurring on the southern end of the island. Murphyores applied for additional leases in 1971 and the Mining Warden granted the leases.

That year the Fraser Island Defence Organisation, FIDO, was formed with John as President. Arthur Harrold, barrister Lew Wyvill QC and solicitor Stephen Comino, both of whom had also played a major part in the Cooloola campaign, were influential in the early days of FIDO. John and FIDO successfully appealed the Mining Warden’s decision in the High Court which ruled that mining was not in the public interest, a matter that the Mining Warden was required to consider.

As a Queensland public servant, John was vulnerable to harassment by the government and Bjelke-Petersen publicly questioned John’s ability to do his job in adult education while campaigning against sandmining. John sued him for defamation. As a result his position in Maryborough was abolished. After successfully appealing, he was transferred to Ipswich College of TAFE. John initially won $500 damages and costs for the defamation case but Bjelke-Petersen won an appeal and John was ordered to pay costs.

In May 1975, the Federal Government, which would have been required to approve export of minerals from sandmining on Fraser Island, intervened. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who was also Minister for Environment at the time, commissioned the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, one of the first ever environmental impact inquiries in Australia. John was a principal witness to the Inquiry. In October 1976, the Inquiry published its findings recommending prohibiting export of minerals from Fraser Island. In the interim between May 1975 and October 1976, Gough Whitlam had been controversially dismissed by the Governor-General. Consequently, it was Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, whose government banned mineral exports from the island.

Fraser Island IMG_5179

Photo: Mark Ash

So, sandmining had been stopped on Fraser Island but logging was still continuing. In the late 1980s, with the Bjelke-Petersen Government still in power, conservation groups began campaigning to stop logging on the island. The critical event was the election of the Labor Government led by Wayne Goss in 1989. In 1990, Goss appointed Tony Fitzgerald QC to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. ARCS led the submission process for the Joint Conservation Groups and produced a major submission “The Ecological Impact of Logging Fraser Island Forests”. John Sinclair, of course, also made a number of submissions. Tony Fitzgerald was apparently convinced and recommended that logging cease and the island be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

The Goss Government implemented Fitzgerald’s recommendations and logging on Fraser Island ceased in 1991 after more than 120 years. The government also proceeded with World Heritage nomination and ARCS was commissioned to prepare the nomination as a result of the successful nomination prepared by ARCS for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Prior to the election of the Goss Government in 1989, a national campaign was running to protect the tropical rainforests of North Queensland from logging. ARCS led the campaign. The Federal Environment Minister in the Hawke Government, Barry Cohen, set up a Working Group on Rainforest Conservation. John and Aila Keto were the environment NGO representatives. The Working Group reported to Cohen in 1995 and that led to an allocation of $22.24 million which was applied to a range of rainforest-related projects (Queensland Forestry Department applied for funds to build a road with picnic areas through rainforest in the Conondale Range.).

John-Sinclair-RESIZED4In 1992 John was appointed to a special committee to advise the Queensland Government on the management of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Bay Region. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious $60,000 Goldman Environmental Foundation prize in recognition of 20 years work to save Fraser Island.


In 2014, John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment, through advocacy and leadership roles with a range of organisations, and to natural resource management and protection”.

John Sinclair Hon DocJohn received a number of other awards including “The Australian” newspaper’s Australian of the Year in 1976, the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990, and in September 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Sunshine Coast.

John Sinclair’s conservation interests went well beyond Fraser Island. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1975 to 1989 and served as Vice-President from 1977 to 1985. John was a member of the IUCN’s Commission for Environmental Planning from 1978 and attended the 15th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Christchurch, NZ in 1981 and the World Parks Conference in Bali in 1982. He was President of the Australian Committee of the IUCN in 1982-1983.

In 1993, John was engaged as a consultant to the South African ‘Campaign for St Lucia’ group to advise on measures to protect the St Lucia region of northern Natal and the most biologically important estuary on the African continent.

In 1998, John instituted “Go Bush Safaris” taking people to numerous places of conservation interest especially World Heritage Areas in Australia and in other countries.

I first met John around 1971 when FIDO was being formed. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, John encouraged Aila Keto and myself to form the Rainforest Conservation Society and made the newly acquired premises of WPSQ at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane available to us for meetings.

John Sinclair at climate march IMG_0683

John & the author at the Climate March in Brisbane in November 2015. Photo: Aila Keto

John will be remembered for his absolute and often selfless dedication to conservation. Some mistook his fierce determination and emphatic expression as arrogant and dogmatic. We knew him as passionate about wanting a better world for nature, as caring and considerate and actually quite humble, prepared to listen and adjust his thinking. John was stoical and to his last days, suffering pain caused by his cancer, he never complained.

Up to his death, John was working on his autobiography which will be published in the future.

Few people have lived a life so devoted to protecting nature and working tirelessly to try to ensure its future. We have fond and lasting memories of John in action. And who could forget his booming voice? We miss you John.

Keith Scott

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Vale Shirley Miller

ShirleyMillerOne of the very few people on whom ARCS has bestowed the honour of ARCAngel, Shirley Miller, died on 15 December 2016.

Shirley and her late husband Geoffrey donated their 210-hectare Springbrook property, Ankida, to ARCS in 2009.

Shirley and Geoffrey purchased the Springbrook property in 1971 but it was a few years later that they settled at Springbrook. They chose the name Ankida, derived from the Sumerian language — AN KI DA meaning Heaven Earth Meet. Shirley had an exceedingly deep love of nature and was committed to its protection and conservation. She gave a lot of thought to ensuring the long-term protection of Ankida and had the property declared a Nature Refuge under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

Shirley was particularly concerned about the future ownership of Ankida and considered a number of options before entrusting it to ARCS, a decision for which we will be forever grateful.

Shirley was a gentle soul and lived her life guided by her self-determined principle, ‘do no harm’. Though gentle, Shirley could be very firm and she made it clear to Aila and myself that we must follow the ‘do no harm’ principle in our guardianship of Ankida.

Shirley and Geoffrey spent the last few years of their lives in an aged care facility at Mudgeeraba after they both had falls breaking their hips and being unable to continue living at Ankida. Geoffrey died in January 2016 and towards the end Shirley looked forward to joining him.

Rest in peace, Shirley.

Keith Scott

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Vale Taffy Thomas

TaffyThomasOur long-standing member and devoted supporter, Dr Mansell (Taffy) Thomas, died on 20 December last year at age 89.

Taffy and his wife Fran were among our earliest members, having joined ARCS in1983. They have remained active and supportive members ever since.

Until quite recently, Taffy (with Fran) volunteered for our Springbrook Rescue project. For several years, Taffy came up to Springbrook four times a year when we were carrying out plant growth measurements and recording other data on our 16 growth plots. And while at Springbrook, Taffy applied one of his many skills in taking responsibility for cleaning and sharpening all our cutting tools.

I first met Taffy when he headed the Chemical Pathology laboratory at Royal Brisbane Hospital and I was conducting parties of medical biochemistry students. Taffy was highly regarded in his profession and was responsible for setting up the drug testing procedures for the Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane in 1982.

Taffy was a very keen cricket fan, a member of the Queensland Cricket Association and regularly attended matches at The Gabba.

Taffy, as his name indicates, was Welsh and despite decades in Australia he never lost his accent.

Taffy was a devoted supporter and a dear friend. We miss him greatly.

Keith Scott

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Vale Geoffrey Miller

GeoffreyMiller2ARCS Member and major donor, Dr Geoffrey Miller, died on 8 January 2016.

Geoffrey and his wife, Shirley, owned Ankida, the largest private property on Springbrook. In 2009, in an act of great generosity, the Millers donated the 210-hectare property to ARCS to ensure its protection in perpetuity.

Geoffrey was born in Sydney in 1926. He initially qualified as an electrical engineer, but after a trip to England exploring natural therapies, he began studies in medicine in Sydney and graduated in 1959. During his studies, he met and married Shirley Chatfield in 1957.

In 1969, Geoffrey and Shirley moved to Brisbane. They were looking around for land to purchase and from Beechmont they were able to see the Ankida property looking up along the Waterfall Creek valley to Horseshoe Falls and Springbrook Plateau above. Their decision was made and they purchased the property in 1971, naming it Ankida which in Sumerian means “where heaven and earth meet”.

Geoffrey established the Raphael Healing Centre at Ankida but also worked in cardiac rehabilitation at Tweed Heads Community Centre. He and Shirley later set up a practice called Health Options at Burleigh.

The Millers had taken up residence at Ankida in 1975 and Geoffrey continued his medical practice there with a strong focus on natural therapies.

Geoffrey was a central figure in the Theosophical Society and the Millers transferred part of their property to the Society leading to the establishment of the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre at Springbrook.

Both Geoffrey and Shirley suffered falls and broken hips at Springbrook and in March 2015 they moved into an aged care facility in Mudgeeraba.

A wonderful memorial service was held at the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre and the Chapel was filled to overflowing. Geoffrey was greatly respected and dearly remembered by many, many people around the country. The service was attended by ARCS President, Aila Keto, ARCS Secretary, Denise Elias and ARCS Director, Keith Scott.

Ankida is of outstanding conservation significance and ARCS regards it as a great privilege to have been made its custodian. The Society has received a bequest from the estate of long-time ARCS member and supporter, the late Jani Haenke, and has invested the funds in the Jani Haenke Ankida Preservation Fund to provide for conservation and management of the property into the future.

horseshoe falls

Horseshoe Falls on Ankida, the property donated to ARCS by Geoffrey and Shirley Miller

Keith Scott

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Vale Syd Curtis

Syd Curtis imageFormer Vice-President of ARCS, H. Sydney (Syd) Curtis died at Killarney on 27 December 2015.

Syd served as ARCS Vice-President for 10 years before his health deteriorated and he felt he could no longer fulfill the role.

Born in 1928 to Herbert Curtis and Hilda Geissman Curtis, Syd grew up on Tamborine Mountain in South East Queensland. Syd gained his interest in and love of nature from his mother. Hilda Geissmann was a well known and highly respected naturalist and photographer. The noted biologist Francis Ratcliffe, author of the classic Flying Fox and Drifting Sand and a founder and first Honorary Secretary of the Australian Conservation Foundation, visited Hilda in 1928. Ratcliffe wrote “She knew the habits of every bird and beast that lived there, and where the rare ferns and orchids could be found”.

Syd trained as a forester and began his career in the Queensland Forestry Department. In 1963, he moved to the new national park section and formed a dedicated team to manage the park estate and to consider proposals for expansion. He was responsible for the new approach of selecting new national parks on the basis of representative samples of the Queensland landscape including the less scenic.

When the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service was formed in 1975, he was appointed Director of Management and Operations. In 1982, he became Assistant Director (Policy and Legislation) and continued in that role until retiring in 1988.

After retiring, Syd lectured in environmental law at University of Queensland’s Gatton campus.

Syd was passionate about lyrebirds and spent decades studying Albert’s Lyrebird populations in South East Queensland and recording their complex song. Lyrebirds are famous for their mimicry, not only of other birds but also of human-made sounds such as tyres on gravel and chain saws. Syd published his findings showing differences in vocalisations between populations. In a paper by Norman Robinson and Syd Curtis (The Emu 96(4) 1996), the authors conclude that the territorial song of lyrebirds is learned and the mimicry is culturally transmitted from adults and not learned anew from sounds the young hear. But new sounds can be added and others deleted.

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Syd Curtis recording bird song in the rainforest.     Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd had a 25-year association with a lyrebird named ‘George’ in Lamington National Park. Over the years, George got to know Syd and continued to sing and perform his courtship display while Syd watched and recorded. Syd once got his son, Kimbal, to photograph George while he was in full display but when George saw a red flash as the camera took the picture, he stopped his display, raised his tail, stared straight at the camera, lashed his tail and stalked off, clearly displeased.

George Kimbal Curtis

Albert’s Lyrebird, “George”, in Lamington National Park          Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd was also an accomplished pianist and entertained our Management Committee on an occasion when we were visiting one of our rainforest restoration sites at Springbrook.

Syd was devoted to the protection of national parks and staunchly defended the “cardinal principle” of national park management as enshrined in State legislation. His grandfather, Sydney Curtis, had been partly responsible for the declaration in 1908 of the first national park in Queensland, Witches Falls National Park at Mt Tamborine.

We knew Syd as a kind, thoughtful, nurturing and  generous man who cared passionately for his family, friends and Nature. Such was his spirit of giving that he sacrificed studying his beloved lyrebirds for many years to help ARCS achieve the historic South-East Queensland Forests Agreement which lead to a huge increase in national parks in this bioregion. Syd, together with Ingrid Neilson, Gayle Johnson and David Hangar trekked over many distant forests collecting and pressing plant specimens to help document their biological value to conservation. He advised on legal matters, overall strategies, and the all important historical context for tangible examples of past mistakes and successes in the long history of national parks. And when the pressures of campaigning took their toll, Syd and Anne took care of us in many ways.

A private funeral was held on 8 January 2016 and attended by ARCS President Aila Keto and Director Keith Scott.

Syd is survived by his wife Anne, son Kimbal and daughter Patrice.

Syd was a dear friend and a devoted supporter of ARCS. He will always remain warmly in our memories.

Keith Scott

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