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Lawrence, Alfred Oscar (Alf) (1904–1986)

by John Dargavel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Alfred Oscar Platt Lawrence (1904-1986), forester, was born on 20 July 1904 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, son of Robert Platt Lawrence, a London-born commercial traveller, and his Victorian-born wife Elizabeth Malvina, née Davis.  Divorced in 1908, on 30 December that year his mother married Herbert William Baptist Noel, a clerk.  Alf won a senior scholarship to University High School and in 1920 became a trainee with the Forests Commission of Victoria at the School of Forestry, Creswick, gaining its diploma in 1922.  He then became a cadet forester (1923) and assistant forester (1924), working in the Bright, Myrtleford and Beaufort localities.  One of three Victorians nominated for entry to the Australian Forestry School, Canberra, in 1926, he studied at the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1928) as well as completing a diploma of forestry (1929) in Canberra under C. E. Lane-Poole.  At St John’s Church of England, Creswick, Victoria, on 25 August 1928, he married Florence Eliza Mann, a clerk.

Appointed a forester in 1928, Lawrence worked at Echuca and Ballarat before winning (1933) a Russell Grimwade travelling scholarship to England and completing a diploma in forestry (1934) at the Imperial Forestry Institute, University of Oxford.  Returning as the most highly qualified Australian-born forester in Victoria, he resumed responsibilities as divisional working plans officer at Ballarat, charged with placing the forests of the goldfields region on a sustainable basis.  In 1939 he appeared on behalf of the Forests Commission with Judge Leonard Stretton’s royal commission into the devastating bushfires of January that year.  He similarly appeared with Stretton’s royal commissions into the Yallourn fire (1944) and forest grazing (1946).  In 1940 Lawrence became the commission’s second fire protection officer.  He also served (1946-49) as a member of the Country Fire Authority.

Appointed one of the Forest Commission of Victoria’s three commissioners in 1949, he was its chairman (1956-59) during a period of plantation expansion, industrial relocation and increasing interest in conservation.  His leadership was noted for raising the calibre of the commission through staff and professional education, for developing public recreation, for reserving scenic areas in State forests, and for seeking a scientifically informed basis for the allocation of public land.  He was an active member of the Land Utilization Advisory Council (1957-69), the National Parks Authority (1957-68) and the Alpine Resorts Development Advisory Committee.

Shortly after Lawrence’s retirement in 1969, his personal integrity and interest in conservation led to his election as the first president of the Conservation Council of Victoria.  Given his view of conservation as based on human utility, he saw no conflict with his chairmanship (1969-78) of Victoria’s Timber Promotion Committee (Council).  Lawrence’s lack of sympathy for the emerging radical environmentalism of many of the CCV’s member bodies led to his resignation in 1975.  A member of the Hartwell Masonic Lodge, Melbourne Rotary and the Institute of Foresters of Australia, he also fostered the Boy Scouts movement in non-metropolitan Victoria from 1955 and occupied various positions in the association, including deputy chief commissioner (1968).  He was appointed OBE in 1969.  Survived by his wife, three sons and daughter, Alfred Lawrence died on 15 March 1986 at Surrey Hills and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. T. Carron, A History of Forestry in Australia, 1985
  • L. T. Carron, A Brief History of the Australian Forestry School, 2000
  • F. R. Moulds, The Dynamic Forest, 1991
  • Australian Forestry, vol 49, no 2, 1986, p 128
  • private information

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Citation details

John Dargavel, 'Lawrence, Alfred Oscar (Alf) (1904–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lawrence-alfred-oscar-alf-14849/text26034, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 May 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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