Building the foundations of our parks system
Trevor Elsbury Arthur, who died on 15 November 2009, played a pivotal role in the development of Victoria’s parks system and in the founding of the two parks organisations that merged in 1996 to form Parks Victoria.
Born in 1925, Trevor was a bright student and won a scholarship to Melbourne High School. World War Two began and as soon as he was old enough he joined the RAAF and trained as a fighter pilot. After qualification, he was scheduled to go to Canada for further training when the war ended. He accepted a place at Creswick Forestry School and after graduating with an Associate Diploma Forestry in 1948 second top of his class, he was offered a scholarship to Melbourne University. His first posting after attaining his degree of B.Sc.For. in 1952 was with the Forests Commission Victoria at the Wimmera Forest Nursery at Wail close to Dimboola. He was appointed Officer in Charge of the nursery and Dimboola Forest District. In 1960 he completed units of further study in landscape design, park planning practice and architecture.
After a stint as Aboriculturalist in the Commonwealth Department of Works, charged with giving advice to various government organisations on design and management of vegetated areas, he was appointed in 1962 as Technical Officer in the fledgling National Parks Authority, successor to John Landy (a scientist and athlete, later Governor of Victoria). By the end of the 1960s the head office staff, including Trevor as Chief Technical Officer (2IC) and Technical Officers Bob Yorston, Colin Hutchinson and Don Saunders (later Director), numbered around 10 – about at the same as the number of park rangers across the state. In 1976 he completed a postgraduate course ‘Introduction to Park Operations’ conducted by the USA National Park Service at Grand Canyon.
The principles for managing Victoria’s national parks were established in those years. The twin objectives of nature conservation and recreation were crystallised through such functions as training the Rangers inherited from the Crown Lands committees of management, publishing interpretative guides and site-sensitive design of infrastructure and facilities. Proposals for non-sensitive road standards by the Country Roads Board were stared down, and pressures to open parks for commercial development were resisted. A policy of destroying non-native pests was embedded and fire management regimes endeavoured to reconcile property protection with ecological principles.
They were also years without remotely adequate budgets and without any previous professional parks corps from which to draw expertise. If a sign had to be erected at Cape Everard or a pit toilet dug at Glenaladale, as often as not it was head office staff who had to do it. Trevor was always prepared to roll up the sleeves and do what had to be done to support the frontline outdoor work.
He took conservation very seriously. In 1971 a journalist from The Age newspaper approached him with an idea of featuring the Arthur family for a week to raise awareness in the community about conservation. The series of articles was called ‘The Earth and Trevor Arthur’ and featured concerns Trevor was already advising would be problematic to future generations such resource consumption, pollution, population growth and the need to recycle materials. Into the 2000s he was greatly distressed that the nation’s leadership still did not take many of these issues seriously enough. In many of these issues he was 30 years or more ahead of official thinking.
In 1974 he was recruited by Chairman Alan Croxford as the inaugural Manager of Metropolitan Parks with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. The metropolitan parks included Jells Park on Dandenong Creek, Westerfolds Park and Petty’s Orchard on the Yarra River and Brimbank Park on the Maribyrnong River. Public buyback of parklands designated in the planning scheme and the 1971 Interim Development Order as Proposed Public Open Space made it easier to control incompatible private development, and allowed the construction of public access venues such as a children’s farm and a model grazing property, as well as bush regeneration. Again, Trevor was instrumental in setting the policies by which these parks are managed to this day.
He retired from the Board’s service in 1986 and for a short period was Senior Planning Consultant, Hassell Planning Consultants, then from 1987 managed his own consultancy firm.
Trevor was an inveterate international traveller. In May 1999 he calculated that since 1967 he had made eighteen overseas visits to countries in Asia, North America, Europe and Africa visiting hundreds of parks and recreation facilities.
Before and after retirement he was immensely active in the voluntary environmental sector. His roles and awards include:
National Trust of Australia (Victoria) – from 1966 a member of the Landscape Committee, including Chairman for a period; inaugural Chairman of the Significant Trees Committee; granted Life Membership in 2009, in recognition of more than 40 years’ voluntary service.
Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation – invested as a Fellow in 1960; member, past Treasurer and past President of Victorian Regional Council of RAIPR, 1970 -1997; invested with the Australian Award in Park and Recreation Administration in 1986; Trustee of the Trust Fund-Education that gave rise to the PaRC websites from 1987 and chairman for a period until his death in 2009; in 1991 invested as an Honorary Life Fellow.
International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration – member from 1975; appointed by RAIPR as Australia’s Commissioner to the Asia-Pacific region chapter, 1986-1992; Chairman, IFPRA Statutes Committee, 1989 – 1998; Secretary, IFPRA Asia Pacific Region, 1989–1992; Chairman, IFPRA Asia Pacific Region, 1992-1993; Immediate Past Chairman, 1993-1996; in 1995 invested with Honorary Life Membership.
Ornamental Plant Conservation Association of Australia – Treasurer from 1986 and in 1999 invested as an Honorary Life Member.
Burnley Horticultural College – Education Fund; member of Advisory Committee, 1980-1983.
He was a member of the Panel of Judges for Royal Park Master Plan (Melbourne City Council) 1985 and Chairman of Outdoor Access for All Working Party (disabled persons access) 1981-1989. In 2004 his work in landscape management was acknowledged at the International Park Management Congress in Japan, where he received a Distinguished Contribution Award.
In 1974 Trevor lost his beloved wife Pat to cancer (they married in 1952), and in 1989 his elder son Graeme to a freak car accident. These setbacks, coupled with progressive loss of hearing and anguish at the anti-progressive policies of Victoria’s and the nation’s leaders, cast a shadow over his final years.
Trevor Arthur was a visionary conservationist, compassionate supporter of a number of charities both in Australia and overseas, a Friend of the ABC, a letter writer to and aficionado of The Age and a keen political observer. His family and associates will always remember him with admiration for all that he achieved, his integrity, resilience, compassion, work ethic and dedication to the public interest.
Trevor was a practical person who did not leave a large body of written work such as magazine articles, so his contribution to building the foundations of the state’s park system is not as obvious as it might otherwise have been. If you wish to enjoy his legacy, just visit the facilities at one of the Victorian parks and look around you.
Adapted from the eulogy delivered at his funeral in November 2009 by his daughter Gillian and an article in the Victoria National Parks Association Journal Park Watch, 1 March 2010 by his former colleague Geoff Edwards.