People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Alan Robert Trist (1903–1983)

by Peter Holzworth

Alan Trist, n.d.

Alan Trist, n.d.

Education and Early Years
Alan Robert Trist was born in Deniliquin, New South Wales in 1903. He attended Deniliquin State School and then Hay State High School. When Alan’s older brother, Clarry, moved to Queensland to take up a job in Forestry Alan followed him there hoping to join Forestry as well. Alan then completed Senior and the first year at University contemporaneously; such was his scholastic ability.

On 13 June 1919 he began his professional career as a cadet on probation in the Queensland Forest Service, which was then a branch of the Department of Public Lands in Brisbane. In 1923, he was appointed Forest Assistant in the organisation and served in the field until 1924. Trist then attended Queensland University and later took a B.Sc. from Adelaide University, which had more appropriate subjects suited to forestry.

Trist entered the Australian Forestry School, Canberra in 1926 along with four other Queenslanders: Alexander (Alex) Crane, Arthur Owens, William (Bill) Pohlmann and Mervyn Rankin. He was one of sixteen Australian students to undertake studies in the Australian Forestry School in that inaugural intake year. The School was founded by the Commonwealth Government in 1925 as a result of an agreement between that government and the State Governments. The School commenced operation in 1926 at Adelaide University but moved to Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT in 1927.

Alan Trist was the first graduate of the Australian Forestry School (A.F.S.) to become the permanent head of Queensland Forestry. He was one of eight A.F.S. diplomates (and graduates) to lead Forestry in Queensland:


A.F.S. entry year


Term of Conservatorship *

Alan Robert Trist



Cecil Haley



Walter Bryan



James Alfred John Smart



John James Kelly



Thomas Ryan



Norm StClair Clough



Terence Norman Johnston



* Term includes Directorship and Executive Directorship

From Taylor: Growing Up, Carron: Australian Forestry School, Dept. Ann. Reports

Trist then married Ivy Priebe and he and his young wife moved to Yale University at the request of the Forest Service, such was his potential in the eyes of the organisation. In essence, the visit to the United States was a honeymoon. During their stay in the United States Alan and Ivy had a baby boy whom they called Alan Robert. In later years, the Trists had a daughter, Lesley, who now lives in Weir, Canada. Lesley is married with two children. Alan Junior became a doctor and is understood to be living at Freshwater Beach in Manly, New South Wales.

The Trists’ time in the States was difficult financially. They were a young couple when they arrived and the salaries of young Queensland Public Service officers was minimal. Loans were necessary for travel and accommodation and the Trists had no option but to put themselves into debt. It was years later that the expenses were paid. According to one friend and colleague who remembered their difficulties: ‘I met Alan one day in town catching a tram to Ascot – we used to go to the races together – and he said, “Oh well, today I’ve got a big weight off my mind,” and I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I’ve just paid off the loan. All that money after all those years.”

Trist was awarded the ‘William Egbert Wheeler’ Prize in July 1928 from Yale University School of Forestry. He had been sent to Yale University School by the Queensland Government to do post-graduate work in silviculture and ecology and his efforts while there were so good that he attained nearly 100% in all his subjects. In fact he beat the entire class of American students. It was an outstanding achievement.

During his two and a half years overseas he sent back numerous progress reports to Forestry as per his contractual arrangements. During 1929, he visited Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, gathering information on the Southern Pines of Central America and their silviculture and ecology. Prior to his return to Australia, he studied forestry in Europe and South Africa. He returned to Queensland at the end of 1929.

Trist’s Forestry Career
Alan Robert Trist: B.Sc.(Adel.), Dip. For. (Australia), M.F. (Yale) had a meritorious scholastic career, as the above ‘letters’ attest. His Master of Forestry was magna cum laude, a high award indeed. A summary of his forestry career follows.

13.6.1919            Commenced as a cadet on probation
23.11.1923          Appointed Forest Assistant
9.6.1930             Appointed Acting Silviculturist
1.1.1932               Appointed Deputy Forester Grade
29.7.1935            Appointed Silviculturist
25.5.1942            Appointed Acting Senior Forester
30.1.1947             Appointed Senior Forester
12.4.1947             Appointed Acting Deputy Director of Forests
28.8.1947            Appointed Deputy Director of Forests
1.8.1960               Appointed Deputy Conservator of Forests
18.1.1964             Appointed Conservator of Forests
31.12.1969           Retired from the Queensland Public Service

Alan Trist had been Conservator for nearly six years.

When Trist’s career began that morning in June 1919, what must have gone through his mind? Probably just ‘day one’ nerves. The Great War was now over, 59,000 Australians having been killed. Australia had become a founding member of the League of Nations. The country had just retained the Davis Cup in the first competition since the beginning of the War. And an influenza epidemic in Australia had left 10,000 dead.

He might have read in the newspapers that Jack Dempsey had beaten Jess Willard in the world heavyweight boxing championship. If of a literary bent he may have enjoyed the premiere of C.J. Dennis’s Sentimental Bloke on the screen. He wouldn’t have had a chance to hear short-wave radio but he might have been impressed to know of its invention. The fact that the first U.K. flight to Australia had been made in that year may have registered in his subconscious on that day though it is extremely doubtful. His mind would have been bent on creating a favourable impression on the old hierarchy of Forestry.

On the day Trist began work the Queensland Forest Service employed a total of 76 people; six administration staff including the Director, E.H.F. Swain, 31 field officers (District Foresters, foresters, rangers and overseers) and 39 wages staff including returned soldiers. A library had been formed and the Service had sent out 26 information circulars to the districts that year. The Annual Report of 1919-20 began with the message:

The Queensland Forest Service, with limited stocks of timber in hand and strong demands in sight, has upon it the burden of the responsibility, not only of supplying the wood requirements of the community of today, but of making immediate provision for the needs of three generations ahead.

By now the Forestry Branch of the Department of Public Lands had been in existence for 19 years. An Inspector of Forests, George Leonard Board, had been appointed to the position in 1901, along with two forest rangers in supporting field roles. For years it remained a tiny organisation with just a handful of people to manage the immense forests of Queensland. Energies were spent on surveying and reporting on the timbered lands and reserving the best of them for posterity. Strictures were placed on timber getters to stem the blatant overcutting of the Crown forests.

Philip MacMahon was then appointed Director of Forests on 2 November 1905. The heavy logging of the State’s forests for hoop pine and other timbers was still in progress and MacMahon found this lamentable:

In fifty years hence probably there will be no pine in Queensland save in pleasure grounds; cedar will be a memory, and hardwood of the present quality and dimensions will be unobtainable.[1]

But his administration by 1908 was not committed to a large plantation program – though it had been considered. It was felt that money was better spent on natural forest improvement. The next head of Forestry, Director Philip MacMahon, died of dengue fever on an inspection of Fraser Island on 14 April 1911. He had worked hard to further the aims of the organisation. He foresaw the ‘new’ plantation forestry; he began surveying the limit and quality of his forest assets and he furthered the acquisition of forested lands. The national importance of forestry was continually stressed and he saw forestry in an international context.

MacMahon’s successor was the scholarly N.W. Jolly who saw a need for a ‘determination of annual cut permissible’. With the information collected from forest surveys, and some idea of the growth rates of the trees, an estimate of annual cut was possible. This notion is at the core of modern forestry. In financial terms you can log the interest but not the capital. It was called ‘sustained yield’. During the second decade of the 20th century trials of potential plantation species took place in order to offset the continuing exploitation of the natural forests. The most promising of the species was the native conifer, hoop pine.

So, it was at this stage that Alan Trist began his forestry career under the tutelage of the dynamic E. H. F. Swain who had replaced Jolly in 1918. Alan, like his brother Clarry, was, in a sense brought up by the old master, until Swain was sacked by a new Labor government in 1932 and replaced by Victor Grenning.

After appointment as cadet on probation Alan was appointed to the position of Forest Assistant then Acting Silviculturist in 1930, following his highly successful sojourn at Yale and post-graduate work in the United States. Some five years later in 1935 his position in the organisation had risen to Silviculturist, seemingly his natural forté in view of his previous academic and forestry field experience.

The years passed and during the early phase of World War II, in 1942, he took up the position of Acting Senior Forester. In 1947, the war had been over for two years and he began to travel interstate in his three new roles in that year as successively: Senior Forester, Acting Deputy Director of Forests and Deputy Director of Forests in his own right.

In September 1947, as Deputy Director, Trist attended the Eastern States Industry Stabilisation conference. Two years later he was appointed to the Commission of Inquiry into Sawmilling, Plywood and Joinery Manufacturing Industries of Queensland.

As second in command to Victor Grenning it was part of the job to represent the Department of Forestry in matters of scientific, industrial and forestry policy and application. The following is a precis of the more important representations during his career as both Deputy Director and Director (later named Conservator). These duties of course were in addition to his normal tasks as one of the Department’s senior officers. The more important of the representations were:

  • 1954    The 4th World Forest Congress at Dehra Dun, India
  • 1955    Official representative of the Queensland Sub-Department of Forestry at the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science – Melbourne
  • 1957    Council meeting of Eastern States Timber Industry Stabilisation Board – Sydney
  • 1963    Became first President of Hoo Hoo Club 218
  • 1965    Standing Committee of the Australian Forest Council at Bulolo
  • 1966    Sixth World Congress at Madrid
  • 1967    ‘Certificate of Vicegerent Snark received by Trist from the Queensland Vice-president of the International Fraternal Order of Timbermen, Mr Don Brandon in appreciation of his services to the Order and the Timber Industry. Saturday Courier Mail 22.4.1967. (Note: Vicegerent is an officer appointed by a ruler or supreme head to exercise the powers of the ruler or head. A snark is a mysterious and imaginary animal, a cross between a snake and a shark. The term was coined by English writer and mathematician, Lewis Carroll; 1832-1898).
  • 1969    Wellington Conference
  • 1969    The 9th Commonwealth Forestry Conference plus tours to USA, Canada, England and South Africa
  • 1969    Chairman of the Marine National Parks Committee

The Courier Mail of 18 October 1969 had this to say about him: ‘He won the N. W. Jolly Medal for 1969. The award commemorated one of the pioneers of Forestry. Trist made an outstanding contribution to Forestry in Australia. He made the first introduction of Southern Pines into Australia from Florida. He directed and formulated important forest research, the result of which has received worldwide acclaim.’

Trist was especially talented in the fields of Silviculture and Silvicultural Research and was noted for his interest in conservation and National Park acquisition and management.

Milestones as Conservator/Director
Victor Grenning, Conservator of Forests since 1932 retired in 1964 at the age of 65. He retired to allow his assistant, Alan Trist, a term at the helm. The first six months of Trist’s term as Conservator saw continuing work done towards the formation of the Australian Forestry Council, whereby Ministers in charge of Forestry in all States and the Commonwealth were to meet on matters of national importance. It was felt that this move would give forestry the kudos, nationally, that it deserved in terms of both commercial and non-commercial values.

A wonderful milestone occurred during the financial year; reservation of over 404,600 hectares of National Parks under the care of the Department of Forestry. More reservation was considered necessary to preserve the diverse forest biotypes, and expert advice was being sought.

In the year the cut of hoop pine plantation timber exceeded the cut of natural grown hoop pine for the first time in the Department’s history. Nevertheless there was still a substantial deficit between the future needs of Queensland and the local supply of forest products. Therefore, the production of softwood plantings in Queensland should be doubled, it was thought, or at the very least increased by fifty percent. Complementary to this aim was the desire to avoid incorrect grading of plantation products and incorrect usage of the resource. Correct education and co-operative discussions with the timber industry and other government bodies was seen as one of the answers. Increased reservation, particularly of the rainforests of north Queensland was also recommended.

The Australian Forestry Council reinforced the notion that current forestry activities in Australia were inadequate to meet the needs of the nation. Accordingly, Queensland needed to increase its plantation rate to 4,047 hectares annually and to increase the productivity of its native forests. To achieve this would require commensurate increases in funding especially on forests growing as ‘close to the point of consumption as is permitted by the economic conditions and the suitability of the site for the growth of trees’. One bright note for the year was the fact that there was a net increase in the area of State Forests of 272 820 hectares. Another means of increasing the area of State Forests was the acquisition of Crown leasehold land via the freeholding process. Additional quality forested Crown land became dedicated State Forest under this system.

This year brought changes to The Sawmills Licensing Act 1936. The original Act had not been amended since inception and changes now included adjustments in maximum productive capacity from a daily to a quarterly basis. This removed much of the existing excess licensed capacity and more closely aligned the remainder to available supply.

The Forestry Department noted with a measure of pride that the entire plantings of 1,214 hectares of slash pine (Pinus elliottii) for the following year would be from stock produced from seed orchard material. Genetic research was now beginning to produce commercial results.

The year recorded the second highest volume of mill timber, including pulpwood, ever cut from Crown lands. The volume was 72,265 cubic metres.

Traditionally, snigging of logs in plantations had been done by horses; it being thought that mechanical snigging with tractors would inflict damage, such as bark tear, to standing trees. To test this theory, trials were undertaken with a small crawler tractor with a specially designed logging winch and ancillary equipment. It proved to be successful. The days of horse snigging were declining.

External training of members of the Timber Industry was given by Forestry officers in Brisbane. The course, a Diploma in Wood Technology, began in March 1966 at the Eagle Farm Technical College. It was hoped that the course could be extended to carpenters and other wood workers.

Every effort was made to increase the annual plantation production to meet the Australian Forestry Council’s target of 4,047 hectares per annum.

A zoologist was appointed to study the fauna on National Parks, (which were in those days under the control of the Department of Forestry) and a hydrologist appointed to study stream flow, water absorption and soil erosion on State Forests.

‘The year 1966-67 will have historic significance in Queensland Forestry. It was during the year that the Commonwealth passed the enabling Act for subsidisation of increased softwood planting by the States. Furthermore the first actual advance ($201,000) was made to Queensland as an offset against the cost of the expanded programme for softwood planting. For the first time in the history of forestry in Queensland, officers can feel optimistic about the prospects of achieving the objective of growing, within Queensland, the bulk of the State’s requirements in forest products.’ The Department was jubilant. Previous deliberations with the Australian Forestry Council now bore fruit in terms of external financial assistance.

The increased planting of the previous two years, funded from curtailing other works programs, could now be justified. This year was a record planting year, one that would be broken each year for at least the next four years.

Considerable work was reported on the establishment of seed orchards, which were essential to the tree-breeding programme. Seed orchard stock provided seedlings for future high quality plantations with desirable genotypic and morphological characteristics. During the year 687 kilograms of seed were obtained from two orchards of slash pine. This amply satisfied the need for the sowing of future generations of this species.

Ongoing freeholding of Crown lands was a major task for forestry surveyors and evaluators. Considerable land suitable for acquisition as State Forest was continually being identified and added to the Forestry estate. In the following year aircraft reconnaissance was used to eliminate areas which would be unprofitable and costly to assess on the ground and it allowed ‘nil’ values to be determined on 132 parcels of Crown land. Aircraft were also used for fire outbreak surveillance.

The Department of Forestry still had control, management and administration of National Parks in Queensland. During the year came the proclamation of about 505,066 hectares of the Simpson Desert, in the far southwest of the State adjoining the borders of the Northern Territory and South Australia. This was the result of inspections from a Department of Primary Industries botanist and the Forestry (National Parks) zoologist. Reservation of National Parks was now 933,395 hectares.

The sawmilling industry went into a decline as supplies of private timber began to diminish. Crown supplies of sawlogs based on sustained yield were as predicted. It was considered that many years of silvicultural treatment (removal of unwanted non-commercial trees) of Crown forests would be needed to offset the decline from private forests. The situation was so serious that during the year 27 sawmills closed due to lack of supply. Nevertheless, over 200 sawmills were still in operation. Areas south of Gympie to the Queensland border were considered most likely to be disadvantaged in the future.

The Commonwealth Softwood Agreement Act with its provision of funds for increasing the softwood plantation area in Queensland on State Forests was responsible for a record planting area during the year. Commensurate with this was an increase in the volume of plantation timber cut and removed from state forests. This was due to the plantations increasing in age and area and so becoming more available.

Japanese interest in pulpwood from non-sawlogs in Queensland’s State Forests prompted investigation of suitable planting areas along the State’s coastline close to bulk shipping. Samples of eucalypts were sent to Japan for testing.

The Department designed a plough to drain and mound the low lying and swampy wallum sites that experimental evidence showed were suitable for slash pine. The broad scale site-preparation work would be cheaper per unit area as a result.

Cryptotermes brevis, the West Indies termite was found in nine houses in Maryborough, Queensland. With the assistance of the Queensland Housing Commission and the Works Department the houses were successfully fumigated. This method of fumigation was carried out to great effect in later years in large buildings in Brisbane e.g. Harris Court in George Street.

The difficulties faced by the timber industry and outlined the previous year remained unchanged. However, sawmills licensing policy was changed to permit amalgamation of sawmills under well-defined conditions with a view to maintain stability in the industry throughout the State. It was believed that the new system would give industry an opportunity to build into larger units designed to make the best use of the available resource throughout Queensland.

Many sawmills were expected to close but this was seen as an inevitable consequence of reinvigorating the industry leading to the preservation of the livelihood of those it sustains in the field, mill, factory and transport. A number of applications for amalgamation had already been received. To create an orderly transition of this scheme the Department sought a body of industry representatives to provide input into market research, product promotion and trade training.

Planting continued with the financial assistance of the Commonwealth Softwood Agreement Act and was concentrated in the southeast of the State. Large-scale production resulted in reduced costs, particularly in the case of overhead charges.

The removals of slash pine from the Beerwah-Beerburrum area increased during the year. According to this year’s Annual Report: ‘This species is well suited for use in framing of houses and will provide an excellent substitute for declining hardwood supplies for these and other building purposes. In this field the Department is co-operating with Industry in seasoning studies at high temperatures aimed at determining optimum schedules for production of stable members for supply to builders.’

Development made by grafted Caribbean pine stock in the north Queensland Kennedy seed orchard was excellent with some grafts more than 12 feet high (3.6 metres), 15 months from grafting.

The Forestry Act Amendment Act 1968 was expected to have an important influence on the management of National Parks in Queensland. It defined Primitive, Primitive and Recreation, Recreation, Scientific and Historic areas to be imbedded in future management plans for specialised management.

The most momentous development in Forestry for the year was the fact that the Queensland Government accepted a proposal by Woodlands Sawmills Pty. Ltd. for the establishment of an industrial complex to utilise pulpwood becoming available from the State’s major softwood plantation project in the Tuan-Toolara State Forests of the Gympie and Maryborough Districts. The complex entailed the early setting up of particleboard plants in Brisbane and Gympie and a Kraft pulp mill in the Gympie region by 1982. The proposal included the diversion of suitable sawlogs to sawmilling and others to the preservative treatment of round timber.

Another major event was the establishment of Timber Research and Development Advisory Committees after years of patient work by those who could see the benefits and who pushed through the concept to reality. The Chairman was to be A.R. Trist (who had recently retired) representing south and central Queensland and north of Townsville.

Following on from an earlier decision to allow the voluntary amalgamate of sawmills, some 30 mills amalgamated and 16 closed.

There were a number of changes in the timber industry during the year under the guidance of the State Committee of the Australian Timber Industry Stabilisation Committee. Changes included the adoption of the chainsaw in the assessment of tree felling tasks; tractors used instead of horses in the assessment of snigging plantation thinnings; and new truck and trailer equipment in the assessment of haulage.

There was increased interest in slash pine stimulated by the ‘promising results achieved by high temperature kiln drying experiments conducted at the Department’s Rocklea depot with the co-operation of C.S.I.R.O. and a section of Industry.

Further increases in National Park reservation were made during the year, but it was noted that there were gaps in the ecological reservation system in areas such as Cape York Peninsula, the Gulf Country and most of the inland sections of the State. This was a matter of concern and efforts to remedy the situation were being intensified, according to the Department of Forestry.

The Annual Report for 1969-1970 referred to ‘The retirement during the year of the Department’s two top officers who have between them more than 100 years of service was a severe loss and it is fitting that an appreciation of their contribution to Forestry over those years should be placed on record. Mr. A.R. Trist who retired as Conservator of Forests was highly regarded in State, Commonwealth and international spheres and played an important part in the development of the Department’s policies and practices in all fields of Forestry endeavour. In this he was ably assisted by his deputy Conservator, Mr. L.J. Rogers, and the State is the poorer by their loss’.

Increases in planting areas to softwood were made due to the Commonwealth Softwood Agreement Act. An historical summary of recent activities is provided below. The increase in the planting rate over the five-year extent of the initial subsidy can be seen in the following figures for softwood (native and exotic).


















The Act was renewed until 1975-76 and the self-sufficiency target of 80,940 hectares set in 1953 was increased to 161,880 hectares by 1974.

In the next thirty years technological advances and the availability and use of herbicides boosted the growth of the hoop pine plantations. The 1960s saw the introduction of herbicides that were effective and relatively cheap agents against the weed problem in young pine plantations and nurseries. Plantation tree espacement trials and work on optimal pre-commercial thinning and pruning levels increased the productive capacity of the forests. Better seed sources based on genetic research improved the quality of the pine and led to the development of better plantations.

Forestry at the start of the century was basically a matter of increased reservation and native forest enhancement. Now it meant growing good quality timber in large quantities, close to markets and growing it as never before, using scientific experiment with continual refinement. This was a major aspect of modern forestry and it started in the 1920s, in Trist’s early years with Forestry

Political and Social Climate of the Times
Alan Trist was appointed Conservator of Forests of the Queensland Department of Forestry on 18 January 1964 (gazetted 16 January 1964). His term of office took him to 13 December 1969. It was a period of political and social stability. Frank Nicklin was Premier of Queensland during the first four years of Trist’s regime followed in 1968 by Joh Bjelke-Petersen who led the government until 1987. Both Premiers were leaders of a Country-Liberal Party coalition.

It was not only a period of stability; it was a time of immense conservatism, politically as well as socially. This was nothing new. Both political parties in the 1900s had been, by and large, conservative in nature and Queensland was ‘ruled by powerful, self-made men, largely suspicious of new ideas and happy not to make changes’.[2]

Nicklin was a Methodist lay preacher and had won the Military Medal as a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front in World War I. He held high moral standards. Petersen was a gawky man with a difficult speaking style but blessed with high energy, which he displayed during his term in power.[3] Trist only served under Petersen’s regime for two years and there would have been little influence on the Forestry Department during that time. Nevertheless, the term of office under Trist would have been ‘steady as she goes’.

As it was for the government, so it was for the public service. There were periods of change in the Department of Forestry, of course. But reform was slow and carefully thought out. No risks. No embarrassments for the minister and his government. This was the case, not just during the Trist leadership, but for several years beforehand and a few afterwards. The Public Service Board, overseeing the workings of the governments, was a rigid organisation (no doubt reflecting the wishes of the political masters) and somewhat hidebound and reactionary. It had immense influence on the management and administration of its Departments. Major change was not to be undertaken without lengthy and carefully considered scrutiny and deliberation.

Perhaps a look at a typical public service office scene in those times; the late 1960s might be useful. It could have been a day in the life of a Forestry Department officer under the leadership of Alan Trist:


Dress standards were enforced. Men wore ties in the office, women wore dresses, not slacks. Slacks for women were taboo. Dress must be neat, clean and tidy. The author of this paper was told by the visiting Secretary of the Department that his sidelevers were too long and must be shaved. It did not happen!

Punctuality was also enforced. The typical office day consisted of 36 and a quarter hours and lasted from 9.00am until 5.00pm, with suitable breaks between. At precisely 9.00 am, the staff attendance book was ruled off by the senior clerk. In red ink, no less! Latecomers were ‘ticked off’.

You did as you were told in those days. No thought of innovation. ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ One senior ranger at a small forest station at Kalpowar, near Monto, experimented with seedling espacement in the hoop pine nursery. He thinned the tiny seedlings to perhaps eight to the foot, instead of 10 to the foot, to encourage growth. A visiting senior officer from Head Office in Brisbane chastised him in front of a number of other locals, because the senior ranger had contravened the rules laid down in a policy statement.

In those times men were mostly bosses and women were mostly typists or librarians. The work pace was steady. There were no computers. Memos and letters were hand-written before being sent to the typists. Fountain pens were in use but steel nibbed pens – one step above the qoose quill – were still in storage if not in use, for dipping into the bottles of Swan ink. Some drawers still held stubs of sealing wax, long since out of use. Gestetners (roneo machines) were in use and were messy and difficult to clean. Morning and afternoon smokos were leisurely and open-ended in time. Most men smoked cigarettes, most women didn’t. Stress was at a minimum.

The old Christian religions still held sway, at least on Sundays, and the exotic faiths such as Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism had no foothold across the country. Elements of Judaism had earlier found pockets of comfort and worship but their influence in government and the public service was not great. The occasional skirmish between the Catholics and the Masons took place at various levels.

The post war reconstruction years of Forestry were long over and the turbulent years of the Green Wars were yet to come. In Trist’s time Forestry had its own minister and the conservative governments had a tight rein on the management policies of Queensland. All was well!

Publications by A.R. Trist

  • ‘The Planning of Forest Research’. Presidential address at the Report of the Thirty-first Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. The Australian Journal of Science Vol. 18, May 1956. Fairway Publications on behalf of the A.N.Z.A.C. Publishing Committee. Melbourne. 10 pages.
    (Discussed empirical and fundamental research, plantations and free growth experiments)
  • ‘Activities of the Department of Forestry’. Department of Forestry. Brisbane. 1964. 32 pages.
    (Covered most activities of the Department)
  • ‘Forestry and Conservation in Queensland’. Conservation Around the World. Trist, A.R., and Curtis, H.S., 1970. 2 pages.
    (Brief account of State Forests and National Parks in Queensland)
  • ‘Forest Resources – Queensland’. Presented by Trist, A.R., Conservator of Forests and Reilly, J.J., Forest Economist, Department of Forestry. Queensland. New South Wales Timber Advisory Council – Company Management Conference 10-12 November, 1969. 12 pages.
    (Covered primary native species and groups, log availability, planned future resources, native forests versus plantations, silvicultural treatment of native forests, plantations species selection and best plantation location)
  • ‘National Parks in Queensland’. Queensland Department of Forestry. 1967. 28 pages.
    (Complete summary of control, administration, legislation, leasing, penalties, permits, staffing, visitors, fires, honorary rangers, regulations, literature and expenditure of National Parks in Queensland)
  • ‘Softwood or Hardwood?’ Presented to the Sawmill Managers’ Seminar, Maryborough, Queensland 17-19 March, 1969. Department of Forestry. 1969. Brisbane. 12 pages.
    (Economics in Queensland and Australia; world, national and state markets for softwoods and hardwoods, timber trade in Queensland, future requirements, hardwood and softwood forest productivity, other advantages of softwoods and present and future Forestry activity in Queensland)
  • ‘Some silvicultural research problems in Queensland – Introduction and Literature’. Lecture to the Royal Society of Queensland. 1936. Queensland Forest Service. Brisbane. 48 pages.
    (Establishment of research regions, methods of planning, forest formations, plantations etc.)

Alan Trist, the Man
Many are the stories of Forestry men, their idiosyncrasies, grand plans and signature foibles. As humans we have our moments of greatness, despair and glory – sometimes within the same day. I have collected pertinent stories of Alan Trist (and his brother Clarry) from extracts taken from a series of professional tape recordings. These recordings are taken from colleagues past and present. The stories tell of the people and times in Forestry of yesteryear. Perhaps, more importantly, they give us an insight into the structure and social fabric of life in those times; what values were important, what we held sacred, how conservative we were and how we fitted into this fabric on a day to day basis. The stories highlight the protagonists of this paper and their proclivities as well as those of the staff around them. The tales are mostly written from accounts of people who were witness to the incidents. Mostly they are benign insights of the day.

The rail strike of 1948
In 1948, Queensland suffered a crippling rail strike. This disadvantaged those public servants who relied on trains to get to work. Accordingly, the Government of the day allowed employees to band together in small groups and use departmental transport to drive to work.

Deputy Director, Alan Trist, was a keen driver and elected to collect and drive to Head Office a carload of Forestry employees within his suburban area. He drove a small sedan, possibly an Austin 8, and picked up his passengers and headed to the City one morning. One of the passengers insisted that he, and not Alan, should drive and he took over the reins from a reluctant Trist. The new driver was hopeless and dangerous, as it turned out, and the drive was harrowing.

Eventually the body of forestry workers arrived at Head Office, then located at Bible House in the City. All jumped out of the tiny, cramped car except the driver, of course. The driver then attempted to park the car. With no success! He backed and filled for twenty minutes, sometimes close to the mark, at other times feet away. The other passengers who stood watching the debacle were by then “beside themselves” with laughter. Trist’s face went redder by the second. He became apoplectic, pulled the driver from the seat and proceeded successfully to park the Austin himself.

Later that morning he wrote a memo to the permanent head, Grenning, recommending that the erstwhile driver be relieved of driving duties for an indefinite period. The driver was duly suspended!’

Ministerial regard
There appeared to be a certain amount of professional jealousy in Alan in that he wanted the Minister of the day to see him in the highest regard, as this anecdote points out: ‘Trist had a number of competitors for the Minister of the day’s (Richter) attention. One of these was a contemporary of Trist’s who lead Water Resources. This chap was well regarded and a decent sort of a man by all accounts. Alan thought the Minister regarded the Water Resources head more than he did Alan. He was very sensitive to the Minister’s attitude to others under his portfolio.’

Girder logs
His character was somewhat difficult to determine. On the one hand he has been described as a bombastic b…..d, yet the same person who described him thus also mentioned that he could be quite friendly on a personal basis. He could be reactionary at times, as well. One of the senior Forestry officers approached the Director Victor Grenning and suggested the Department put a clause into timber sales agreements that girder logs (as distinct from sawmill logs) found on sawlog sites be delivered to railway yards. It seemed a sensible thing to do. Grenning called in Alan Trist, his deputy, and put the case to him. Alan immediately said, ‘It’ll never work, never work’. Despite his protestations the proposal was adopted.

Firebreak burning
He could be daring, even impetuous. One day during the fire season, Alan visited Inglewood. He and the District Forester went into the field and discussed the burning of firebreaks around the cypress pine forests. Alan asked the District Forester why the firebreaks weren’t burnt, as was the usual practice. The reply came, ‘It’s too dangerous, this time of year.’ Trist replied, ‘Oh, no, no, rubbish, rubbish, light it up!’ ‘It’ll get away,’ replied the District Forester. Trist said, ‘No, it won’t, we’ll light it up now.’ The local man said, ‘I’ll bet you a dozen bottles of beer it’ll get away.’ ‘Righto, you’re on. We’ll light her up right now.’ They lit her up and sure enough it got away. The District Forester stood back and watched. Alan said, ‘Come on mate, help me put it out!’ The District Forester drawled, ‘Well, not until I get me dozen bottles of beer.’

The Hoop Pine Technique
One interesting aside was the introduction of the first hoop pine seed trees which were selected by a man called Jim McWilliam. The selected trees were to be used as seed sources for future seed collections, implying that they were of superior stock. Certainly they were phenotypically superior in that they showed great vigour, dominance and straightness. In later times trees were also selected for greater distances between whorls (allowing the production of longer log lengths with knot-free timber more suitable for plywood and sawn timber). In 1955, three senior Departmental men – Alan Trist, Lew Rogers and Cec Haley – visited Imbil, a small timber town southwest of Gympie to investigate. Peter Kanowski, a local forester, joined the team for a couple of days. Apart from the inspection of the seed trees the group spent the nights writing the draft of the Hoop Pine Technique which was put out as a booklet soon after.

For those unfamiliar with the Technique here is an extract from Monarchs of the Woods by Peter Holzworth explaining the contents of the booklet.

The Hoop Pine Technique was the Bible for those managing the plantation programme. It was Holy Writ and woe betides anyone deviating from its instructions.

The little grey booklet, first printed in 1955, was ‘based on the results of many years of research and experimental work followed by actual application in routine practice. It represents a summation of the knowledge gained up to and including the time of second thinning’.

It was very detailed in its instructions on the establishment and maintenance of Hoop Pine plantations and was in use for many years.

On a lighter note but not a frivolous one is this story from a relatively senior forestry officer:

‘I was called one day to the Director’s (Victor Grenning) office and he was talking with Alan Trist.’

“Ah,” said Grenning, “come in, we’ve got a job for you, we want you to give us an estimate of the approximate overhead cost of measuring 100 super feet of timber. And that’s an average all over Queensland.”

‘I said, “It’ll be different in each district.”’

‘He said, “Oh yeah, but get figures for the Districts and average them out.”’

‘So I thought, well, this is a bloody big job, and I said, “How long have I got?”’

“Til next Friday.”

‘So for the whole of the week, the entire Queensland Forestry Marketing Division and every District worked on the project. We thought it was a calculation that was going to result in something important. So, anyhow by lunchtime a week after the meeting we met the deadline. I went up to the Director’s office. Alan Trist was there once again. I said to the Director, “The average overhead cost of measuring 100 super feet of timber in Queensland is 2/- (two bob).”’

‘Grenning laughed and turned to Trist.’ “There you are, that’s a casket ticket you owe me.”’

‘It was all over a bet. All that work for a lousy casket ticket!’

While he was a formidable man in many respects there were some who stood up to him. The Forestry Department managed a Sawmill Licensing Committee on which stood three members, Alan Trist, Lew Rogers (Deputy Conservator) and a man called Arthur Owens. A tricky case involving a North Queensland sawmill licence came up for discussion at a committee meeting. The licence was up for a legitimate renewal but some people in the sawmilling industry lobbied for the mill licence to lapse, for reasons beneficial to themselves. Trist agreed that it should lapse because he was on the side of the big sawmillers. Rogers agreed but Owens just stood up and said to Trist, ‘Well mate, you can do that, but I’ll never sign it.’ He went on to say, ‘You sign if you like but my name will never go on a recommendation to do that.’ The meeting was adjourned. Four meetings later there was still no resolution. Finally Owens had his way and the licence was renewed. Trist did not get his own way all the time.

A ‘political animal’
When Trist was second in charge to Victor Grenning, the latter often left the handling of some of the more difficult jobs and battles to Trist to sort out particularly with members of the timber industry. Alan took to these jobs quite well, leaving Grenning to stand back. This at least was the case in Grenning’s later years. Trist was also described as a ‘political animal’, in the best sense of the term. That is, he had a way of getting to the heart of the matter and dealing with clients to best advantage. He wasn’t afraid to get into difficult situations with people or organisations and sort out the problems. In fact it has been said that Alan Trist ‘carried’ the Department for quite some time during Grenning’s later years. Trist was also a man who was not afraid to make decisions, an important characteristic in a member of the executive. People might not have always agreed with the decisions but Trist went ahead and backed himself. He could be talked around from time to time but he could only be persuaded with hard data.

All in the family
Then there was the yellow doze incident. Yellow doze is a rot that forms in the centre of cypress pine trees and lowers the quality of the logs. At one stage of his career as Conservator Alan argued with the Cypress Pine Association of that industry. The argument was centred on whether yellow doze was as bad a defect as brown rot, another fungal defect. A mill study had been done on the matter and the Departmental findings were that yellow doze was, if anything, the cause of more loss of production than was brown rot. The unwelcome result (Trist had been arguing the other way; that brown rot was more of a problem) was taken up to Conservator Trist. The bearer of the bad tidings was given a blast by Trist who told him that his figures must be incorrect and should be rechecked. The figures were rechecked and taken back to Trist who hemmed and hawed and said, ‘Ah, that couldn’t have happened. The person in the log yard could have made a bad blue in, ah, determining what was brown rot and what was yellow doze.’ Then Trist turned to the officer who had done the mill study and had handed him the figures, and asked, ‘Who was in the log yard doing those mill studies?’ The officer looked at him and quietly said, not without some suppressed joy, ‘Alan Trist junior!’ Trist had employed his son in Forestry for a time, quite legitimately, but with obviously unpleasant but correct results. The Conservator accepted the data and the results.

Alan Trist was a member of the Labor party with the Nundah Branch, Brisbane. Eventually he was ‘kicked out’ because, it is believed, he tried to run the Branch. The other members finally refused to tell Trist when the meetings were on. The view is that he changed his politics about the time the National Party got into power because he got on well with some of the original Ministers.

Forestry interest
This tale is from an aspiring young scholarship holder in the mid-1960s who went for his interview with Alan Trist and most probably John Kelly, who would himself become Conservator of Forests in later years: ‘I was ushered into this great man’s presence (i.e. Trist) and feeling very much ill at ease. I knew the interview was one of several to determine which of us would be granted a Forestry Scholarship. I can recall Mr. Trist asking me why I wanted to do Forestry. After hearing that my father was a snigging contractor, he took a great deal of interest in wanting to know something about the use of travelling arches because he’d heard that my father was working with this travelling arch and he was very interested in it.’ This story more likely shows the real interest that Alan Trist had in Forestry matters rather than his indifference in the interview itself. Who knows?

He could be downright patronising. I was Assistant District Forester (author) in Gympie when Alan visited with some other Head Office people. We visited the ‘Doggie Tree’, an old Gympie Messmate, (Eucalyptus cloeziana) and afterwards had lunch near a running stream. I looked up and noticed that a few of the trees along the bank were covered with reddish berries. I ventured the remark that the Eugenia australis was in fruit. Trist looked up and said in his most pompous tone (he had several), ‘Son, that’s not australis, that’s Eugenia ventenatii!’ I checked it later and, annoyingly, he was correct. But that ‘Son’ really rankled. I will recognise the species until I die, nevertheless.

Some found Alan Trist very easy to get along with. Most thought he had a brilliant mind too. As one colleague said, ‘He had a really good mind and he won that scholarship to America. He never scared me at all, he was very friendly and he used to chat to me about all sorts of esoteric subjects not at all associated with Forestry.

To finish on a high note one of the senior forest rangers of the time said this about the forestry hierarchy: ‘The senior men that worked in the Forestry then were mighty fellows, you know, they were friends to all of us; it was a fraternity as far as I was concerned, and a very important one. They would talk to you, you know, there’s no doubt about it. Whether it was Alan or Mr. Grenning or even going back to Swain’s time, every forester that I struck … were, you know, great individuals.’ The ranger went on to say that one afternoon, he and his wife Cecily and Alan spent a lot of time within the Como forest and at dark the ranger invited them home for dinner, but all they had to eat was tinned bully beef! Which all enjoyed.

Family comments on Alan
Nephew John remembers Alan with great fondness: ‘He had a happy, outgoing personality, and a ready smile was never far from a cheerful face. I particularly recall visits at Christmas time to the Toombul Hows Road home, where he and his wife Ivy (née Priebe) and their children Lesley and Alan Junior lived. Games of cricket in the backyard were a highlight, in which Vic (Ivy’s brother) usually joined in.’ The youngsters also delighted in the several mangoes available in Alan and Ivy’s garden. John mentions that ‘Alan and Ivy possessed a certain glamour for us, having spent some years in the U.S.’ He also was indebted to Alan for his ‘tremendous help to us (Clarry’s family) during Dad’s long illness and hospitalisations. He and Dad had a very strong bond of friendship.’

My thanks to Clarry Trist’s family for personal details.

Annual Reports of the Forestry Administrations in the 20th century.

Carron, L.T., (2000): A Brief History of the Australian Forestry School. AFS Reunion 2000 Inc. ACT.

Charlton. P., (2002): ‘Power Players’. Our Queensland – Book 3. Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail. Brisbane.

Extracts of typescripts from tapes of various Forestry personnel.

Taylor, P., (1994) Growing Up – Forestry in Queensland. Allen and Unwin Pty. Ltd. St Leonards, NSW 2065. Australia.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Holzworth, 'Trist, Alan Robert (1903–1983)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012