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Victor (Peter) Grenning (1899–1984)

by Peter Holzworth

This article was published:

Victor (Peter) Grenning (1899-1984), forester, was born on 17 January 1899 at Zillmere, Brisbane, elder child of Jens Peter Grenning, a Queensland-born labourer, and his wife Emma Christine, née Alfredson, from Denmark. Like his father and grandfather, Victor was generally called Peter. At Zillmere and Brisbane Normal state schools, and at Brisbane Grammar School, he excelled both in the classroom and on the sporting field. He gained first place in the state school scholarship examination (receiving the Lilley medal) in 1912, and in the junior public (1915) and senior public (1917) examinations. Dux of Brisbane Grammar in 1917, he won numerous prizes and awards. He represented the school in cricket, Rugby Union football, athletics and rifle-shooting. Winner of an open scholarship to the University of Queensland, he enrolled in 1918 in an applied science course. In 1918-19 he played Rugby Union for Queensland against New South Wales.

Awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1919, Grenning left university without sitting the end-of-year examinations, to earn money as a tutor to pay for the trip to England. In October 1920 he entered Balliol College, Oxford. He studied forestry for three years, spending several months in the forests of Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland, and also visited Denmark. Grenning was a Rugby Union forward for his college and for the university. Too ill to sit the finals, he did not take his degree. On the way home he visited Burma (Myanmar), India, Federated Malay States (Malaysia) and the Philippines.

Back in Brisbane in 1924, Grenning took up a post in the Queensland Forest Service, Department of Public Lands, as research officer and instructor in silviculture and working plans. In 1925 he played hockey for Queensland against New South Wales. On 12 October 1926 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Helen McMillan Gaffney, a commercial artist. He served on the Provisional Forestry (1929-32) and Land Administration (1932-57) boards, and on the Rural Fires Board for some years from 1930. On 18 May 1933 he succeeded Edward Swain as director of forests. For six months in 1936-37 he studied forestry practices in the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand.

Under Grenning’s direction the area of reserved forested land and of softwood plantations in Queensland increased significantly and research was undertaken in timber use and seasoning, plantation tending, fire detection and control, and other forestry matters. During World War II, despite manpower shortages, the forest service assisted the timber industry in supplying vast quantities of timber for the war effort. In the postwar period it concentrated on forestry reconstruction, relying on migrants for labour and aided by increased mechanisation. Grenning’s technical papers included Production of Quality Wood in Coniferous Plantations in Queensland (1957). His organisation also administered national parks; in his 1958-59 report he asserted that the parks `must be preserved as far as possible in that simplicity and unspoiled beauty which makes them unique’. During his tenure, many of the islands within the Great Barrier Reef were added to the national park estate.

In 1952 the University of Queensland had conferred on Grenning an honorary M.Sc. degree. The Institute of Foresters of Australia awarded him the inaugural N. W. Jolly memorial medal in 1959. In December 1957 the Department of Forestry had come into being, and in 1960 he was given the title conservator of forests. That year Grenning reported on national park policy and administration in North America. Described as kindly, genial, firm, trustworthy, quiet and modest, he retired in 1964, having steered the organisation through the turbulent times of war and reconstruction into the relatively stable 1960s.

Grenning was a champion bowls player; he was president (1940-41) and later patron of the Graceville Bowling Club. A trustee (1942-68) of Brisbane Grammar School, he was chairman in 1948-52. He was also a member of Brisbane Rotary Club. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 1 September 1984 at Sinnamon Retirement Village, Oxley, and was cremated. In March 2001 the Brisbane City Council named a park at Zillmere after him. Grenning’s grand-daughter Kate Carnell was chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory in 1995-2000.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Taylor, Growing Up (1994)
  • Department of Forestry (Queensland), Annual Report, 1958-59, p 33, 1963-64, p 20
  • Australian Forestry, vol 47, no 3, 1984, p 137
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 1 May 1933, p 1
  • Bayside and Northern Suburbs Star, 28 Mar 2001, p 14
  • V. Greening personal file, Public Service Board (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Peter Holzworth, 'Grenning, Victor (Peter) (1899–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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