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Graham William Saunders (1933–1988)

by Patrick Buckridge

This article was published:

Graham William Saunders (1933-1988), entomologist and conservationist, was born on 24 January 1933 at Quirindi, New South Wales, eldest of three children of Queensland-born parents Leslie Newell Saunders, accountant, and his wife Violet Myrtle, née Clarry. He moved with his family, first to Sydney, where he attended Drummoyne Junior High School, and then to Brisbane, completing his schooling in 1949 at Brisbane State High School. His interests included rowing and tennis. He studied agriculture at the University of Queensland (B.Agr.Sc., 1954), graduating with first-class honours in entomology (1957); he later gained a D.Agr.Sc. (1969). In 1954 he joined the State Department of Agriculture and Stock (from 1963 Department of Primary Industries) and was almost immediately appointed assistant-entomologist at Ayr, where he worked on pests of tobacco, bananas, citrus, tomatoes and pastures. On 13 August 1957 at All Saints Church of England, Ayr, he married Esme Marshall Tait, a stenographer.

In 1958 Saunders moved to Atherton and assumed responsibility for entomological investigations in North Queensland. He began his major study of the funnel ant Aphaenogaster spp., a significant pasture pest in this region. His findings—that ant populations could be more effectively controlled by decreasing grazing pressure on the land than by the use of insecticides—led to improved pasture management practices. A lay reader in the Church of England, in 1964-65 he was president of the Rotary Club of Atherton.

Transferred to Brisbane as DPI personnel officer in 1967, Saunders was president (1969-70) of the Entomological Society of Queensland; in his presidential address he canvassed issues relating to science, the environment and fauna conservation. In 1971 he was appointed the inaugural director of the fauna conservation branch. Two years later he was elected president of the Royal Society of Queensland. In 1975 Saunders became director of the new National Parks and Wildlife Service, in the Department of Lands. He needed to build an effective organisation from elements of two very different departments, Forestry and Primary Industries, and to explain and justify—to mining and logging interests on the one hand, and to conservation groups on the other—the criteria and processes involved in declaring a national park. Such decisions also had to be steered through parliament, and Saunders dealt successfully with six ministers during his term as director.

The Queensland government representative to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1977, Saunders was a member of its Commission on National Parks and Other Protected Areas, and a frequent presenter at major conservation conferences in Europe and North America in the 1970s and 1980s. From 1978 he served as a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (Australia) and as a member of the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee. In 1987 he was elected a foundation fellow of the Australian Institute of Biology.

Saunders was a strong advocate for the conservation of biological diversity, giving many talks to community groups, schools and youth groups, and helping to develop degree courses in nature conservation at Gatton Agricultural College and the Queensland Institute of Technology. He played a significant role in the establishment of the national parks system in Queensland. Survived by his wife and their two sons and two daughters, he died of cancer on 29 February 1988 in Brisbane and was cremated. The University of Queensland, Gatton, presents each year the Graham Saunders memorial award to a student completing the natural systems and wildlife protection course. In 2000 a reef in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, vol 99, 1988, p 111
  • G. W. Saunders, personal file, item ID 935427, Department of Arts, National Parks and Sport (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Patrick Buckridge, 'Saunders, Graham William (1933–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 May 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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