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Man of the trees: a memoir of Barney White



It is surprising how few people you meet over the course of the years who are universally liked.


Even the most popular men and women seem to have attracted enmity, jealousy or rancor at some time or other, or are burdened with the sort of personality flaw which leads to a falling out with friends or family. At the other extreme are those people who are universally disliked; I have certainly known one or two who fell into this category. On the other hand, I have been lucky enough to know several universally-liked people, the most notable of whom was my great friend and mentor Barney White.



Like the rest of us, Barney was not perfect, and nor did he pretend to be. I well knew that he was capable of losing his temper (I saw him do so once, and another instance was related to me by Jack Bradshaw), and his wife and children remember times when fatigue, frustration or misunderstandings got the better of him. He was also subject to occasional bouts of depression, “visits from the black dog” as Winston Churchill described it, during which he could be hard to get along with. Everyone accepted these occasional lapses, and in any case, it only made the man more human. Imperfections are so much more easily forgiven and forgotten in someone whose other qualities are so attractive. In Barney’s case it was his zest for life, his outgoing warmth and interest in people, his humility and good humour and his generous friendship. He also conspicuously lacked those traits which most of us find so difficult to forgive in others, such as ruthlessness, intolerance and calculated deviousness. He was an endearing man, the sort of person anyone would nominate as an ideal travelling companion, not just on a road trip from Manjimup to Perth (good though that might be), but through life itself.


I was lucky in this respect, as I travelled with Barney on many road trips, and right through my career in forestry. I was even luckier in that I felt I could count him as my friend, although this by no means distinguished me from nearly all who knew him. There were many others who felt like this, and they came from the widest possible spectrum of life.


We met in 1963, at the end of my first year in forestry. I had been transferred south to Pemberton from Dwellingup in the company of a gaggle of trainee Forest Guards, whom I was shepherding through their two-year training course. The man to whom I reported at Pemberton was the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Barney White. I can still remember knocking on the door of his room at the back of the old forestry office and shyly entering (it was the same room in which I later sat for many years when I became DFO at Pemberton) and the beaming figure rising from his desk to greet and welcome me. I recall a strange feeling of déjà vu, thinking perhaps I almost knew him. This was soon explained, because Barney was very like his younger brother Michael, with whom I had played football at University. They had the same twinkle in their eye, the same smile and laugh, and the same way of walking, a rather plodding gait which belied excellent coordination and athleticism.


Although 13 years older than me (Barney was 34 when I met him in 1963), we hit it off from the start, and over the next 12 months while I was stationed at Pemberton I got to know him well. There was both an on- and an off-the-job aspect to this. Off the job I was frequently a guest for dinner in the old DFO house next to the office with Barney and his charming and sophisticated wife Jenny, and their two full-on toddlers Mary and Joe. They were evenings of gargantuan meals, laughter and chaos, the latter intensifying after the arrival in 1964 of the even more full-on twins Ann and Ellen.


On the job, Barney recognised my inexperience and professional immaturity, and took it upon himself to train me, just as I was trying to train the young Forest Guards. We spent a lot of time together in the bush and the days would be full of interest, discussion and professional debate. Like me, Barney was not a man to accept that the forestry dicta of the times were cast in stone – he was a thinking man, with his own ideas, based on his own judgement, experiences, and wide reading. We had other things in common. Barney and I were both good eaters, and our cribs would always be burning a hole in the back of the vehicle, almost calling to us, by eleven in the morning. By an unstated agreement we would sit down to an early lunch. The essential thing was to get it out of the way in case an emergency arose that might cause us to have to skip the eagerly awaited crib - a bushfire for example, or an unexpected visit from a senior officer. Barney often passed on little snippets of wisdom to me about life in general over our cheese and pickled onion sandwiches. He was not all that long married at the time, and was on the steep learning curve from rough and carefree bachelor to husband and father of four. I’ll never forget his wry smile one day as he advised me “Just remember one thing, son. When you get married, never take home an uneaten crib.”


There was nothing I aspired to more than to become a DFO, preferably in a district like Pemberton, and I used to observe Barney closely as he went about his work, storing away memories and messages against the time when I might be in the chair myself. There were two things in particular that I noticed.


Firstly, Barney was a wonderful forester, a “man of the trees” well before the term became hackneyed by popular usage. In the bush he was in his element, truly a fish in water. I can see him now, in my mind’s eye, standing by a lovely karri tree, patting its flank affectionately and running an admiring glance up the bole. His stocky figure would be clad in a faintly military style jacket, and he was always shod in heavy boots, as if ready to set out on an Antarctic expedition. He would wear his oversize white safety helmet at a jaunty angle, so that it was more a fashion accessory than an object of utility, and the whole outfit would be set off by his ruddy and beaming countenance. The imaginary scene is completed by the obligatory dog sniffing about nearby, ears pricked and tail wagging. Dogs loved Barney and he loved dogs, and there always seemed to be one somewhere around him, whether he was in the office or in the bush. Over the years these animals varied in size, shape and colour, and at least once the dog I remember was mine (a present from Barney), but they always seemed to me nevertheless to be the same dog – at home amongst the karri wattle, intelligent, lively and friendly, reflecting the personality of their master.





Barney not only knew the bush, he understood it. He was not a fair-weather forester. He welcomed its moods, being undaunted by heatwave, rain, storm or fire. He never grumbled when it turned out wet – “Good weather for the regen” he used to say, or perhaps, “this’ll sort of dampen the fire hazard” as we peered through a windscreen down which a waterfall of winter rain cascaded. And he loved to pass on his understanding. How well I remember his lessons on karri flowering and seed cycles, and his confidence (and unfailing mastery) in predicting regeneration success or failure. Karri has mysterious seeding cycles; and regeneration projects have to sometimes be planned three years in advance to coincide with a time when ripe seed is available. Barney was the first to work out an infallible method of predicting this, based on the pioneering research by Owen Loneregan and his own field surveys of bud initiation and flowering. He published guidelines on the subject which became our bible. Often in later years when I was responsible for all the regeneration work in the southern forests, I used to say a silent prayer of thanks to Barney for the way he had initiated me into these mysteries. And many times over the years I quoted him: “Any fool can plant a tree; but it takes a forester to grow a forest.” This was not meant arrogantly, but as a knowing reflection on the complexities and nuances of silviculture, ecology, fire and disease management and the challenge of meeting diverse community demands decades into the future.


As well as loving the bush, Barney loved bush people and took a genuine interest in them. It didn’t matter who you were – a forest workman, a bulldozer driver, the Shire President, the local Member of Parliament or the bloke who hooked up the logs on the mill landing – if you worked in or around the forest, he would treat you with the same unfailing courtesy and respect. And if you had a story to tell, Barney wanted to hear it and enjoy it. He got on particularly well with the local farmers, especially the settlers around Northcliffe who at that time were still in many cases the pioneering Group Settlers or their sons and daughters. On several occasions I accompanied him on visits to see a farmer/forest neighbour about some across-the-fence issue, and we would always end up in the kitchen of the old weatherboard Groupie cottage, drinking tea, eating fruitcake and having a good laugh about something.


In his bachelor days, his other great friends were the young parish priests in the little timber towns and forestry settlements where he lived over the years. These men were often Irish, newly migrated, and hungry for passionate political discussion, the sharing of good books, or an ecumenical debate over a dram or two on a winter night. Both Barney and the priesthood benefited from these easy friendships, many of which lasted a lifetime.


Having said all that, there was another thing I noticed immediately about Barney in his role as DFO Pemberton. He didn’t like administration. Furthermore, he was uncomfortable with those aspects of the job which required tough discipline, such as sacking recalcitrant forest workmen, recommending a prosecution for some minor law-breaker or giving a young ADFO (like me) a good boot up the pants when he deserved it. The administrative side of forestry in a district office was not difficult, but it was extensive and important. It involved simple budgeting, paying the men, keeping track of expenditure, overseeing the office and workshops, setting out the works programs for staff and workers, looking after the settlement and vehicles, dealing with correspondence and keeping the career public servants in Head Office happy. It was basically desk work and although you had an Admin Officer and an Office Girl to do most of the routine work, the DFO had end-of-line responsibility. In my day I could usually get it done in one or two days a week, although I admit I used often to go back to the office at night to get the routine stuff done and give myself more time to be in the bush during the day. Barney found administrative work deadly boring and would allow it to pile up, necessitating a mammoth in-basket clean-up every few weeks, usually just in time to keep a Head Office wolf from his door.


To an unusual extent, Barney was an independent thinker. He would never implement a policy he thought was wrong just to keep in sweet with his senior officers; nor would he toe the party line in a situation where this conflicted with his moral judgement on an issue. There are two good stories which illustrate this. The first occurred during the time Barney was the DFO at Shannon River. There was an outbreak of industrial trouble down the road at the Hawker Siddeley sawmill. Hawker Siddeley was an English firm which had just acquired the State Sawmills in WA, and was instituting a major economy drive. This led to some serious injustices, especially involving the fallers, who felt they were being exploited when their piecework rates were suddenly and massively reduced. One of the ringleaders in the dispute was Ron Kitson, who later became a good friend and colleague of mine, but was then a faller. Ron was recently married and with a baby and paying rent for a mill house. The sudden reduction in his take-home pay, even though he was working just as hard to fell trees and produce logs, was seen by him as an injustice – and he fought it. But support was lacking, so Ron walked. He immediately applied to the forestry at Shannon for a job. But in an unusually vengeful act, Hawker Siddeley asked the Forests Department to not employ him. For some reason, possibly nervousness about getting involved in someone else’s industrial problems, the Forests Department hesitated. They reckoned without Barney White. Barney offered Ron a job on the spot and put him on. He knew Ron was a good man and would be an asset to forestry, and he was proven right. Later Ron became one of the finest field staff officers in the karri country, rising to Senior Forester status, the most senior rank in the field staff.


The second story took place at Pemberton a few years later. There had been a punch up between the Overseer Ted Loud and two of his gang members. There was nothing unusual about this, Ted being renown for sorting out differences in policy this way. But on this occasion, he was deliberately set-up. The gang members reported Ted to Barney, gave chapter and verse and insisted that Ted be dismissed, citing the appropriate clause of the Industrial Award. Hearing about this Ted immediately came in to see Barney and resigned, hoping in this way to minimise any problems for Barney. “Rubbish!” said Barney. “You did your bit for the country during the War, and now I’m making a repayment.” He rejected the resignation, told the two gang members to get on with their lives or find another job, and closed the issue, the rules be damned. Barney was a student of military history, and was well aware of what Ted had done when he was a commando operating behind enemy lines in Timor in 1944. He got away with it, but might not have in the sort of industrial climate which prevails today.


The explanation for these observations on Barney’s approach to his work, I came to realise later, was that he was completely satisfied with his life and work as a forester, working in the forest. He did not see the DFO’s job as a stepping stone to promotion and high rank, but as something which was wholly satisfying in itself. His later promotions (to Inspector rank, running the Research group at Manjimup and then to the Conservator’s professional assistant in Head Office) seemed almost to come despite himself, not through any driving ambition.


My story really should have begun with Barney’s background and childhood, as no doubt this was where the seeds of his personality were sown. He was born in 1928, in the wheatbelt town of Narrogin, Western Australia. His father was the Manager of the local Agricultural Bank, an Irishman who had migrated to Australia at the age of 18 to escape “the troubles” and who had also later been a distinguished soldier, a Major in the 10th Light Horse, a cavalryman in the famous charge on Beersheeba, and commander of a machine gun company at Gallipoli during World War 1. Barney (christened Bernard John) was named after one of his father’s most admired young officers, killed at the Dardarnelles. Barney’s mother was a gentle, friendly woman, the daughter of a railwayman who had grown up in Narrogin. From what I understand, it was from his Irish father that Barney inherited his scholarly outlook, independent views and flashes of temper, and from his mother his sense of humour, gentleness and love of the bush.


For most of his youth, Barney lived the itinerant life of a bank manager’s son. There were years spent in Narrogin, Lake Grace and Bunbury, and Barney’s early schooling was in the little country town State schools. At the age of 12 he was sent to Perth to attend St Louis, one of the minor Catholic boys schools of Perth at that time (now integrated into the large college known as “John XXIII”), and he spent the next 5 years there, as a boarder, coming home only on holidays.


Incidentally it was while he was at St Louis that he met his future wife Jenny, a boarder at the nearby Lorreto Convent. The families knew each other, as so often happened in WA in those days, and Barney spent some of his school holidays at Bamboo Springs, Jenny’s parents’ sheep station in the Pilbara. All through his high school days, there was a suggestion that Barney might go into the Army (as did his elder brother) or become a doctor, these being professions in the family tradition back in Ireland. But leafing through the University Handbook one day as he approached his final days at school, Barney noticed “forestry”, decided that it sounded interesting and applied for a State government scholarship. He was quickly recognised as a natural and awarded a scholarship, and like so many of us, found that by chance he had fallen into a profession and a lifestyle that he loved.


As recounted elsewhere, Barney was one of a famous foursome of forestry students attending the University of WA and Forestry School in the years 1947-1950, the others being Phil Shedley, Don Stanley and Bevan Campbell.



Phil Shedley, Don Stanley, Barney White and Bevan Campbell - on Barney's wedding day


Their lifelong friendship was cemented during their university days when they worked and camped together in the bush, working for the department during vacations. Phil Shedley remembers an incident from those days:


During the summer of 1946/7 we were sent south to work on survey and assessment work in the upper catchment of the Weld River, miles from anywhere. We left Manjimup just after Christmas on the back of an open truck driven by Forester Jack Thomson. When we reached the Weld River we branched off east and bumped along a freshly bulldozed track until we reached Granite Peak. The D4 bulldozer had arrived only just before us and was clearing a small campsite for us at the base of Granite Peak. This done, the dozer turned and headed south, making another access track in the direction of Mt Frankland. The campsite was alongside a very small creek that only ran for an hour or so in the early morning before it dried up for the rest of the day, but it was our only water supply, so washing of clothes and bodies was very low on our priority list.


Jack Thomson was a hard man and an even harder taskmaster. We worked long hours on the surveying and assessment. But he agreed to take us to Walpole on Saturdays for a swim and to get provisions for the following week. Sundays were free time and most of us did our washing and rested up, but not Barney. He and Bernie Coverly decided to take a Sunday walk through the bush to Mt Roe some 10 kilometres as the crow flies to the east. On the way they found an emu egg which Barney souvenired and shoved under his shirt to carry home.


Mt Roe has two granite outcrops and you have to squeeze between them to ascend to the very summit. The inevitable happened. As he squeezed through, the emu egg burst while still inside Barney's shirt. It was only then that they realised why the egg had been abandoned - it was rotten. They also realised that an emu egg contains a lot of egg! These days few people get to experience the truly disgusting aroma of rotten egg, let alone that of a rotten emu egg weighing in at about a kilogram. With no chance of a thorough washing of body and only one set of clothes, Barney was shunned by the boys until the next Saturday's visit to Walpole – the only time I ever saw his popularity diminished.


Barney was an intelligent and studious young man, getting through his degree with distinction, but also enjoying himself, especially at sport. He was particularly busy in the winter months, playing both rugby and Australian Rules football on the same weekend. As an aside, Barney was always passionately interested in sport, and in later years was a loyal follower and supporter of his twins Ann and Ellen, both sporting champions. To anyone who had known the twins as toddlers, when they were built like pocket battleships, and would rampage around the house, bursting through packs and leaving a trail of wreckage behind them, it was astonishing how they grew into such tall, beautiful and athletic young women.


After graduation, Barney’s career began to follow the path familiar to all foresters of the time. This included the years of assessment work in wilderness areas far from civilisation, living rough and getting to know the bush at close quarters. These days “assessment” is known as “forest inventory”, but little is now done, or needed, the basic data collection and mapping having being long completed. But in the 1950s and 1960s foresters were still making detailed surveys and measurement of the native forest, systematically criss-crossing the bush on foot, field book in hand, collecting data and building our understanding of what sort of trees were growing where, their condition and value and so on. Like so much of the pioneering work of the forester, all of this work is now taken for granted. Modern day bushwalkers or environmentalists just pick up a beautifully coloured map, showing where the karri or tingle trees are growing or interesting sites and features are located, and do not stop to think for a moment about the footslogging that went into gathering all that information all those years ago.


Barney has written a charming story about those early days (published in Leaves from the Forest, 1987). Recalling his time as a young forester assigned to an assessment project in the largely unmapped forest north of Denmark in the mid-1950s, he wrote:


Each of us had our own assessment team and was allocated a tract of forest. Into this [we were] dispatched for the entire summer, with orders not to return until the task was finished. For dedicated young foresters in their early twenties, the prospects for that summer were magnificent: no administration and no fire duties. Simply unlimited forest in which to spend time.


And then:


We would locate our campsite by a compass traverse, and then run systematically located assessment lines with the camp as a base point. Generally the assessment lines would go north and south for about 15 kilometres, turn east or west for about a kilometre and then return on a parallel course. A wealth of information was recorded: forest type, tree height, scrub species, soil type, topography, fire damage. Thus a picture of [the forest] was built up.


The work was hard but interesting. Each day we would complete an average of three or so kilometres of assessment, but our output depended on the density of the scrub, the forest type and how far we had to walk out before starting work. At the extremities of the lines we walked over 30 kms every day. The only sensible thing to do was to work long hours and take time off in lieu later.


I also recall a comment by an old friend John Morris, formerly manager of Foy and Gibson’s store in Manjimup:


“I first met Barney in the 1950s when he was running an assessment team way out in the eastern jarrah country somewhere. Barney would come in to Manjimup once a month for stores. He always wore a great sheepskin jacket and heavy boots, and his standard order for the month ahead was a sack of flour and a couple of boxes of cartridges. He and his team mostly lived off kangaroo, duck, possums and goanna, but they liked to make damper and also use the flour to thicken a stew.


It was Barney, incidentally, who had invented the Forester’s Seven Day Stew, which later became famous. Well, if he didn’t invent it, he perfected it. The stew would be made and cooked in camp on Sunday in a huge cast-iron dixie. On the sides of the dixie the days of the week would be marked off. Over the following week the stew would be reheated every night and Barney and his crew would then eat down to the next mark, straight from the pot.


There were also stints of general forestry work in the Sunklands, at tiny forestry stations like Willow Springs and at Busselton. He was (memorably) involved in the construction of the Beard Tree fire lookout, being the officer who climbed up after the initial pegging to design the lookout and oversee the lopping of the crown. Part of this story is included in a book entitled Tall Trees and Tall Tales:


Barney White was one of the foresters who helped build the tree lookouts. He recalls his first ascent of the Beard Tree. It was at an early stage of construction when the ladder had been partially installed, consisting only of widely spaced wooden pegs. It was Barney’s job to measure up the forks at the top of the tree so the cabin could be designed and a decision made about which branches would be lopped. “I had just scrambled into the upper branches, about 180 feet from the ground when it started to rain. As you know, karri bark becomes very greasy when wet, and as the top of the tree was swaying and bucking about in the wind, I was hanging on with everything I had, including my teeth. Also up the tree with me was the axeman George Reynolds, who was utterly fearless and perfectly balanced. At one stage I ungripped my teeth long enough to glance at George to see what he was doing. He was standing on a branch about 12 feet out from the tree trunk rolling a cigarette and complaining about it being a Saturday, and not being able to get in to the bookmaker’s at Manjimup and get a bet on.”


Eventually came his first big appointment: DFO Shannon River, in 1958, taking over from Phil Shedley. Today the Shannon is a National Park, and the old Shannon River townsite a picnic and camping area, but in the 1950s it was the State’s remotest forest district, and the little town the most isolated in the southwest. There was a sawmill, a forestry office, some houses in a tiny clearing in the forest, and one store. There was a palpable “frontier town” feeling to the place. Barney took his new bride there in 1959. Jenny had previously been living, socialising and working as a nurse in Melbourne and it is a tribute to both of them that the marriage survived the depth of this cultural divide. But the great thing about living at Shannon River was that life could only get better from there, and after three years they moved to Pemberton, where their paths and mine first crossed.


Barney loved being a DFO at Shannon and Pemberton. He was popular with the forestry crews (with whom his nickname was “The Baron”, referring to his touch of class, and the courteous, almost aristocratic way in which he would always address them), and with the bushworkers and local community. He was the sort of forester who worked all week in the bush and then went out again on the weekend for the fun of it. He also loved the nearby coast, where he was an enthusiastic explorer and fisherman.


But as already recounted, forestry administration was not Barney’s goal in life, and he was not a man to jostle for promotion. On one or two occasions he fell foul of the heirachy. As he reached his late thirties, vague questions began to be asked about where he might eventually end up.


Just at that time, a very fortunate thing happened. During the mid-1960s the Forests Department began to expand its research interests, particularly in the native forests. Jarrah and karri silviculture research was given renewed impetus and new fields of research opened up, such as hydrology, wildlife management and fire ecology. A large new research station was built at Manjimup, and Barney White was appointed Officer in Charge. It was a masterly appointment. Not only did Barney know the southern forests, but he understood the management issues as well as anyone, and the key research questions better than most. He also had a clear grasp of how to go about their study. He soon collected an outstanding team of young scientists around him: These included George Peet, Rick Sneeuwjagt, Paul Jones, Per Christensen and others, and the group produced a stream of interesting and valuable work. By that time (1968) I had been appointed DFO at Pemberton, and so I was deeply involved, as a lot of the actual research was being done in my district, and often with the assistance of my staff.


As a research officer, Barney was not a man for small plots or laboratory trials – when he wanted to test an idea he did it on a grand scale. The day we burned the March Road Plots (where he was comparing alternative silvicultural treatments for mixed marri-karri stands) was one of the most hair-raising of my life. At one stage I thought we had lost the fire when there were a series of down-wind hopovers into heavy fuel, and I raced to the danger point. Well ahead of me, anticipating the trouble from his years of practical experience, was Barney with his team of technical assistants, working like madmen with shovels and rakehoes - and loving it, and winning!



A typical Barney White research plot: March Rd silviculture trial, 25 ha in size


Those were good and productive years, both for Barney and for the Department. He and I worked together on several wonderful projects, including the proposal for the d’Entrecasteaux National Park (which eventually came into being), the new Pemberton Arboretum, and with Per Christensen, on the new system of Management Priority Areas for the southern forests and the Perup Fauna Area (these days a major nature reserve). I remember once we took a group of politicians around to look at the proposed new conservation reserves, and Barney explained the concept to them as we stood on Mt Frankland, the great sweep of forest (proposed by Barney to become a national park) to the north, and the ocean at our back. A line of poetry came to my mind: “and he saw the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended…..” This area eventually became the Mt Frankland National Park and today is the heart of the Walpole Wilderness Area.


But the good years came to an end. In 1974, Barney was shifted to Perth, appointed as Professional Assistant to the Conservator. Forestry had entered a time of controversy and tension, and Conservator Beggs wanted someone at his side who knew the karri forest and had his finger on the pulse of the various issues down there. Barney was good in this job, but it was not fulfilling for him, and he became disillusioned, especially with the unethical tactics of some of the environmentalist activists with whom he had to deal. Barney was a completely honest person, almost innocently so, and he could not bear to see “the truth twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”, as he put it to me once, quoting Kipling. He also believed, as we all did, that forestry would go where the research took us, that our plans were truly science-based. He hated the way the some of the environmentalists would decide on the outcome they wanted and then go back and twist the research so that it appeared to support what they had already decided upon.


During his Head Office days, we would see Barney occasionally down in Manjimup, and I would love to spend a day in the bush with him, comparing notes, discussing everything from football to philosophy, sharing satisfactions over past projects coming to fruition and discussing the issues of the day. Foresters were still at that stage tying to get used to being in the cross-fire of the fierce political battle over the use and management of the native forests. Some of the people fighting this battle adopted the deliberate tactic of attacking our integrity and professional credibility. I found this hard to take and wanted to strike back, but was prevented from doing so by being a public servant as well as a forester. At these times, I used to find Barney’s measured and considered opinions reassuring, and I would take heart from his profound belief that in the end the truth eventually would triumph. I even came to believe this myself for about another ten years before I realised how politically naïve both Barney and I had been. In the end, truth played no part at all in the government's decisions about forest management. Science and experience were trumped by ideology every time.


On the occasions of Barney’s visits to Manjimup I also used to like to get the young foresters together in the evening and let him loose on them. He would enthrall them with his stories of the early days, and have them rocking with laughter. I played the Straight Man on these occasions, keeping the ball rolling with innocent questions to which I knew the answer like “Did you ever set fire to a Forests Department Office, Barney?”


Barney also wrote well. Some of his letters to the environmentalists were masterpieces of subtlety and understatement, and while they were wasted on the recipients, they were treasured in the Department. And years after he retired, I would occasionally come across a file note of his, or a hand-written comment on the foot of some piece of inward mail on one of the old Head Office files, which would bring a delighted smile to my face. He wrote two lovely stories for Leaves from the Forest and Echoes from the Forest, but he had to be talked into this; he was a tremendous reader, but did not see himself as a literary man. Yet he used words beautifully, and often surprised me with them. I remember him once describing one of my trainee Forest Guards as “mercurial” and although I knew the word, I had to look it up, and then find Barney had used it with exactitude. And on another occasion, when he and I co-authored a publication on forest regeneration, Barney contributed the following sentence about the karri forests: Few forests of the world combine elegance with utility in such a propitious manner. I knew propitious” – it was one of my father’s favourite words - but it was not one I would have been game to use in a departmental paper. I regret now I did not put more pressure on Barney to write more stories, especially about his early life in the bush, but also on his general philosophies.



Jack Bradshaw, Roger Underwood, Steve Quain and Barney White - on the occasion of the creation of the d'Entrecasteaux National Park



There was a final and brief flowering of Barney’s career after the formation of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) in 1985, when he took on the job of Regional Manager of the department’s new Perth Metropolitan Region. He loved this work (“Its like being a DFO again,” he told me), and won over a whole new group of young staff, many of whom had come from the National Parks or Wildlife agencies and were suspicious of foresters. It came as no surprise to me when the region’s spanking new vessel was named The B J White. Not many foresters have a boat named after them.


After his retirement, Barney and Jenny moved back to the country, buying a block at Meelup near Cape Naturaliste, close enough to the sea for Barney to indulge in a daily swim, and with enough room for him to plant and nurture hundreds of trees. In his last few years (before succumbing to cancer in 2000) there were some hard times for the White family. Both Barney and their lovely daughter Ellen went through tough and protracted illnesses. During those times, and after, the family’s courage and faith was a lesson to us all.


One day near the end I visited Barney in St John of God’s Hospital, and found him in low spirits. I recounted a yarn or two, mentioned a name or two and a tree or two, and suddenly the old Barney revived before my eyes and we had a lovely chat, full of spirit and laughter. We both knew it was probably the last time we would see each other, and just before I left, I asked him how he was facing it all. “I’m not frightened of death,” he said, “but I don’t want to go.” I knew how he felt. He also said that, looking back, two things seemed to “sort of stand out”: his love for, and pride in his family, and his satisfaction with his work in the karri forest all those years ago.


To the generation of foresters who knew and worked with Barney, and who were befriended and mentored by him, it went a lot further than this. To us, he seemed in some organic way to almost be part of the bush, to be a natural element of the ecosystem of the karri forest. And to us, Barney White has not gone. His spirit will always be there, in a shaft of sunlight through tall regrowth, in a gust of spring rain, in the dark waters of a southern brook, in a splash of bottlebrush by a granite outcrop on a wind-swept coastal flat, in a stand of cedar reflected in a pool in the Warren River.


June 2004

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bill.thomas
29 apr 2022

As an activist in the Campaign to Save Native Forests (WA) in the seventies I knew Barney White when he was working in Perth as Bruce Beggs' offsider. This was an adversarial context but he was invariably regarded as a 'good bloke'. He was available to take a call and explain a point, or clear up a misunderstanding, as the foresters' saw it, without assuming an attitude of superiority - unlike many of his colleagues. Bill Thomas

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