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Alexander Herbert (Alec) Crane (1906–1997)

At a function organised by the Tasmanian Division to celebrate World Forestry Day [1990], the opportunity was taken to recognise the contribution to forestry and the Institute of another prominent member achieving 50 years membership of the IFA.

Alexander Herbert (Alec) Crane

Alec Crane joined the Queensland Forest Service in the early 1920s. He went to the University in Brisbane and then Adelaide, from where he graduated in 1926. N. W. Jolly was in charge of the School of Forestry. This would have meant an added pleasure to Alec when, in 1972, he was awarded the N. W. Jolly Medal.

Three years after leaving Adelaide, Alec was awarded a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship under the Harkness Foundation. Time was getting on—Alec was now 23 years old. He went to Yale and gained an M.F. with notation “magnum cum laude”.

Then followed fifteen years with the QFS, with a break during the war years as State Timber Controller. Alec rose rapidly in the Service with a stint as acting Conservator at the advanced age of 30 years. This was in a Forest Service which many (other than Queenslanders) regarded as the best in Australia.

In 1947 he was appointed as Chief of the newly created Forestry Commission in Tasmania; a position he held until his retirement in 1971. Alec brought to Tasmania his skills in forest management. Just two facets will be mentioned.

The first is about research. Alec put forward ideas and debated them with his staff. The debates often became strong arguments—on both sides. Alec did not pull rank. This worked, with so much and needed research stemming from the team approach.

Another important contribution Alec made to forest research was in the encouragement he gave to people to apply for research fellowships, and the like, even though this often meant the absence of a staff member for up to three years. When Alec retired he left behind a very good research group.

The second facet is about the relationship of what goes on in the forest and the use of the wood produced. In 1990 this may be obvious to most people but nearly half a century ago, at least in Tasmania, forestry was seen by most as starting and ending in the forest. Certainly it would have brought frowns to describe forestry as the growing and use of wood. Alec changed that. Wood comes out of the forest—ideas about wood use, and hence needed wood qualities, flow back.

Alec once said he got 99 out of 100 for an exam in Adelaide. He asked the examiner why he lost the mark, to be told “to keep you humble”. Many would say it had no effect; but anyone with the ability and achievements of Alexander Herbert Crane would have no reason to be humble. Alec, we salute you.

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'Crane, Alexander Herbert (Alec) (1906–1997)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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