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Geoffrey James Rodger (1894–1982)

by Pauline Payne

This article was published:

Geoffrey James Rodger (1894-1982), forester, was born on 4 July 1894 at Kensington, South Australia, eldest child of James Rodger, accountant, and his wife Bridget (Bebe) Mary Agnes, née Murphy. Educated at Christian Brothers’ College, Adelaide, Geoffrey graduated from the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1915) with a degree in forestry.

On 20 December 1915 Rodger enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and in June 1916 embarked for England. Following officer training, he was commissioned and sent to the Western Front in March 1917. While serving with the 7th Light Trench Mortar Battery, he was promoted to lieutenant on 19 July and lightly wounded at Ypres, Belgium, on 20 September. He inspected French and Belgian forests in his free time. In April 1919 he took leave to attend the Interim Forestry Authority in London. He returned to Australia in October 1919 and, after his AIF appointment was terminated on 19 December, he joined the Reserve of Officers.

Back in South Australia, Rodger worked briefly for the Forestry Department before accepting an appointment with the New South Wales Forestry Commission, becoming assistant forester in 1921. In 1924 he moved to Western Australia to take up a position as divisional forest officer. Appointed chief forester in the Federal Capital Territory in 1926, Rodger helped to establish the Territory’s forest service. He was seconded (1927-28) by the Commonwealth government to report on forestry resources in Tasmania; his A Forest Survey of Tasmania was published in 1928. Rodger was chief working plans officer, later senior officer, in the New South Wales Forestry Commission from 1928 until 1935. During this time he achieved an annual rate of about 5000 acres (2024 ha) in the establishment of plantations of exotic species, mostly pines. He married Alice Valerie (Val) Armstrong on 9 November 1929 at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Randwick, Sydney.

In 1935 Rodger was appointed South Australia’s conservator of forests. South Australia was poorly endowed with native forest and its climate and soil limited potential for commercial growth. However, helped by progressive late nineteenth-century legislation and fine leadership from an early conservator, John Ednie Brown, it had developed a valuable forest resource based on plantations. At the time of Rodger’s appointment his department was the subject of a royal commission. He tightened financial control and promoted better silviculture of the exotic radiata pine forests, including improved thinning practices.

World War II brought new challenges. With a depleted workforce the department was dealing with heavy demand for the State’s plantation timber. In his additional role as deputy timber controller for the Commonwealth, Rodger had to implement controls on the general use and movement of wood products in South Australia. Under his leadership the State’s forest resources met wartime demands and emerged with excellent postwar prospects; high grade softwood lumber was now available from maturing pine plantations. Good relations had been developed with private forestry and timber industries in the south-east region of the State. A second State sawmill was opened at Nangwarry and the first pine pulping and rotary veneer-peeling factories began operations. In 1942-44 Rodger served in the Volunteer Defence Corps.

Rodger became director general of the Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau in Canberra in 1946. To encourage the States to make joint representation of forestry interests to the Commonwealth government, he revived meetings of heads of State forestry services that had been in abeyance for several decades.

In 1946 Rodger represented Australia at a conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation held at Copenhagen. The following year he led the Australian delegation to the Empire Forestry Conference in London. In 1951 the Western Australian government appointed him royal commissioner to inquire into various forestry practices. He chaired the fourth Australian Fire Control Conference—a landmark in Australian fire research—in 1954, and the Commonwealth Forestry Conference in Australia and New Zealand in 1957. Appointed royal commissioner for the Western Australian government in 1961, Rodger used his expertise in fire research to produce a report on the bushfires of 1960 and 1961 with recommendations for future practice in bushfire control.

A prime mover in the formation of the Australian Forestry Council (1965), Rodger had been a founding member (1935) of the Institute of Foresters of Australia. It was a challenging task. The foresters working in the various states had been trained to different levels in different institutions and the issue of membership qualifications was contentious. Rodger worked hard to reconcile the parties so that a practical working compromise could be reached. He represented South Australia on the institute’s first council and was made an honorary member (1966), one of only four to have this status in his lifetime.

Rodger’s interest in and contribution to the standing of professional forestry, especially in Australia but also internationally, were profound and far reaching. Down-to-earth, hard-working and reserved in his manner, he fought tirelessly for forestry in Australia. He was a long-standing member and local sub-branch president of the Returned Services League of Australia. His other interests included golf and horse racing. On his retirement in 1959 Rodger returned to South Australia with his wife and son, becoming a director and forestry consultant for a private forestry and timber company that became known as Softwood Holdings Ltd. Predeceased by his wife in 1969 and survived by their son, Rodger died on 27 November 1982 at North Plympton, Adelaide, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • N. B. Lewis, A Hundred Years of State Forestry (1975)
  • L. T. Carron, A History of Forestry in Australia (1985)
  • Australian Forestry, vol 46, no 1, 1983, p 4
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 Apr 1935, p 25, 15 Feb 1946, p 8
  • B2455, item Rodger Geoffrey James, B884, item S69586 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Pauline Payne, 'Rodger, Geoffrey James (1894–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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