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Robert Henry (Harry) Luke (1909–2000)

citation for N.W. Jolly medal

Robert Henry (Harty) Luke was born in Melbourne on 2 November 1909 and commenced his forestry education at the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick. He then entered into professional service by way of a cadetship with the Forestry Commission of New South Wales at Taree in 1929, followed by attendance at the Australian Forestry School in 1930-31 and the award of the Diploma of Forestry (Canberra).

During 1932 to 1934 Harry worked as a Forester on a variety of work at Glen Innes, Dungog, Bulahdelah, Taree and Kendall. In 1935, after three months training in Queensland, he led a mill scale study team in many locations in New South Wales. In 1938 he was chosen by Commissioner L. S. Hudson to specialise in fire control. This appointment proved to be an extremely significant one as far as Australian forestry was concerned. Harry Luke built on that initial appointment and is now a world recognised authority in matters of rural and forest fire protection, suppression and behaviour.

The war interrupted this work and Harry enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces in October 1941 with service as 21.C. of I Forest Survey Company, New Guinea Forests, Royal Australian Engineers.

Harry returned to general duties as a District Forester at Head Office in 1946 and was appointed Fire Control Officer – a position he held for nineteen years. In that period Harry developed the expertise in fire control matters for which he is now universally recognised.

Additionally, in that time he was a guest lecturer at the Australian Forestry School in fire control from 1948 to 1952. In 1951 he undertook a fire study tour of U.S.A. under the guidance of F.A.O. For the periods 1938-41 and 1947-70 Harry represented the N.S.W. Forestry Commission on the N.S.W. Bush Fire Committee – a prestigious body set up by the Government to be concerned with all rural fire protection matters in that State.

In 1950 he was a member of the interdepartmental organisation which gave birth to the Hume/Snowy Bush Fire Prevention Scheme. This Scheme which was to become a model for regional fire prevention organisations elsewhere was a Luke initiative. In 1958 he succeeded in persuading the N.S.W. Bush Fire Committee to set up Bush Fire Prevention Schemes along the coast of New South Wales and six came into being. In 1960 Harry attended the 5th World Forestry Congress in Seattle and in 1962 Hodder & Stoughton published his book Bush Fire Control in Australia.

In 1967 Harry was promoted to more senior positions in the Division of Forest Management and later the Division of Marketing and Economics, and was able to further spread his message of fire control generally and his fuel reduction gospel in particular. Before his retirement from Government service in January 1972 Harry was to undertake a special secondment with the Chief Secretary's Department – a task which culminated in the setting up of a special Bush Fire Co-ordinator – an office which still functions but now under the mantle of the State Emergency Service.

In retirement Harry teamed up with Alan McArthur and after six years of effort the Forestry and Timber Bureau published Bush Fires in Australia in 1978 under the co-authorship of R. H. Luke and A. G. McArthur.

The advances made in bush and rural fire matters in the last few decades have been tremendous, but in particular the contribution and influence of Harry Luke has been outstanding.

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'Luke, Robert Henry (Harry) (1909–2000)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012