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Wood, Andrew (Andy) (1900–1988)

by L. T. Carron

The following is the text of a speech given by Dr Les Carron on the occasion of the presentation of Honorary Membership of the IFA to Andy Wood. The event took place at the ACT Division’s World Forestry Day Dinner, 21 March 1985.

In 1969, the Spanish delegation to the 21st General Assembly of the European Confederation of Agriculture suggested the establishment of a World Forestry Day — a fixed date each year in which countries could draw attention to the importance of forests and forestry to Man; something more extensive than Arbor Day and the like held at various times in various countries to varying purpose and effect. A meeting of FAO in Rome in 1971 supported this proposal and suggested 21 March (the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the southern hemisphere) as an appropriate day for this commemoration. Support for it began in Australia in 1973. The ACT branch of the Institute became formally involved the following year and, in 1977, began the practice of holding a dinner to mark the occasion.

Tonight, then, we gather to commemorate the importance of forests and forestry to Man. At the same time we are taking the opportunity to commemorate the importance of Man to forests and forestry — in particular one man who has, in a range of ways, given selfless and dedicated service to the forests, forestry and especially the foresters of this country over most of his life. I should admit at the outset that the theme I want to develop is open to several interpretations. I’m sure Al Grassby, for instance, would see it as a natural expectation of the virtues of multiculturalism; the cultural injection by a young migrant from an ethnic minority of the old world into the new society of the antipodes! For my own part, influenced in early and formative years, like our hero, by the doctrines of Scottish Presbyterianism, I could well see it as a happy consequence of man, time and place aided by a touch of The Divine.!

Andrew Wood was born in Leith, Scotland (on the south shore of the Firth of Forth) on 23 July 1900. The good burghers of Leith decided to celebrate this event by incorporating with Edinburgh, something they had continued to resist doing since 1329 when Robert ‘The Bruce’ (the author of Scottish independence) granted the harbour to the jurisdiction of the magistrates of Edinburgh who thereupon forebade the building of streets wide enough to admit a cart — an act which event the citizens of Leith thought was carrying traditional Scottish frugality just a little far.

Unlike another Scot, Ednie Brown, who made an indelible mark on Australian forestry by inaugurating no fewer than three forest services from a strong family background in arboriculture, the entry of the young Andrew Wood into forestry here was largely fortuitous; though again, if you consider that Scotsman are either doctors, dominies, lawyers, ship’s engineers, hammerthrowers or arboriculturists, there was a more than 1 in 6 chance that someone with a name like his would eventually turn to the latter persuasion. But certainly the start was far from auspicious. From secondary education in the Leith academy, Andy went up to London and joined the Post Office. Then, World War I caught him in its dreadful net and he was badly gassed in France. After a touch-and-go survival (already indicative of his tremendous zest and capacity for living) and convalescence in England, he returned to France to help educate members of the forces for post-war rehabilitation (as I said, scratch a Scotsman and you'll find a dominie). From thence back to Britain, he rejoined the civil service in Scotland where he became involved through the Ministry of Housing in Edinburgh with slum clearance and new development — including, no doubt, widening some streets to cart-width.

I suspect this is where Scotland lost him. People leave Scotland for all sorts of quite understandable reasons — cold porridge, kilts that tickle, allergy to bag-pipe music. In Andy’s case, I think it was frustration with unimaginatively conservative civil service superiors and the pettiness of entrenched bureaucracy. By this time, Alec Scott, whom Andy had got to know through his visits as a scout-master to estates where Scott was working, had come to Canberra as head gardener at Government House — a gentle man with a wonderful touch for flower gardens, who impressed me enormously on the several visits we paid there twenty years later on forest botany visits under Charlie Carter. Under Scott’s persuasion, Andy came to Canberra in 1928 as he says ‘for a visit’. It’s been a long visit! Raw though the developing city must have been, it somehow captured his fancy and he decided to stay.

Bang in the middle of the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, jobs were scarce (particularly in this infant political city) and Andy, in his own words ‘found himself digging tree holes for the Forestry Branch’. There had been several reports on the potential of the Territory for Forestry, from 1917 onwards — some favourable, some not. After a persuasive one by Lane Poole, as Commonwealth Forestry Advisor, in 1925, the then Federal Capital Commission decided to create a Forestry Branch and G J Rodger was appointed as Chief Forester of the Commission in 1926 to formulate and implement a plantation program. Max Jacobs succeeded Rodger in 1927 and, having proved himself at digging holes and letting his previous clerical experience be known, Andy was promoted to a temporary job in research with M R J. Thus was the first link forged in a forestry association that was to extend for 30 years — and a strong personal one, I know, until Jake’s death in 1979. But the first link was a tenuous one. The job soon closed down in the tightness of the economic depression and, after a stint of unemployed relief work at Ginninderra Ck, Andy became a cleaner and waiter in the members’ dining room of Parliament House. Out of this experience came a knowledge of catering (which was to be useful later) and an aversion to politicians.

But proximity to the National Library (long since covered over by the great concrete silos of the Department of Industry and Commerce on King’s Avenue) gave him access to a stimulated interest in trees and their ways and he was shortly back with the Forestry Branch and permanent employment at 5 pounds 3 shillings a week by the end of 1929. Since I can't believe any right-minded man would have had any other reason for the delay, I presume that it was this that signalled the time was now right to ask Miss Euphemia Hogg of Edinburgh if she would travel to this far end of the earth and marry him — she would and did in mid-1930. Such was his understandable euphoria that, two months later, he ran into Mt McDonald on a motorbike and broke his leg. By that time, he and Mrs Wood had set up house at the corner of Banks and Bentham Sts in Westridge as it was known then, with H R (Hec) Gray just down the road and Max Jacobs alongside them later — the southernmost row of a couple of blocks of houses whose nearest neighbours were the PM in his lodge to the east and the GG at Yarralumla to the west. There the Woods started to raise a family two of whom (Helen and young Andy) are, happily, with us tonight. The third member, Nancy, is temporarily on a United Nations assignment in Bangkok.

In 1937, Andy was transferred to take charge of the outdoor staff of what had become the Research Section of the Forestry and Timber Bureau. So he became closely associated with Max Jacobs in his work on growth stresses of eucalypts, on the effects of wind sway, on experiments with cuttings of radiata pine and the beginnings of work on the physiology, ecology and silviculture of eucalypts that was to culminate in 1955 in ‘The Growth Habits of the Eucalypts‘. With people like Pat Fisher, Joe Riddle and Stan Yandell, the outdoor staff of the Bureau was a formidable team with a tradition for hard and painstaking work which Gib Hogg continued when he took over from Andy.

When what was to become World War II broke out, despite the lessons of twenty years before, Andy offered himself for active service. A sensible medical board knocked him back so, in the fashion of ‘old diggers’ at that time, he joined the Volunteer Defence Corp — the VDC’s, or ‘Dad’s Army’ of English TV fame. As Staff Sergeant Wood, his Platoon included Private Lane Poole and would have included Private Jacobs too had the latter not mistakenly enlisted in a militia unit instead. Andy finished the training course at Cowra a week before the famous Japanese POW break-out; I gather there was no connection these two events.

In December 1944, Jacobs came out of the Army, where he had served in the Royal Australian Engineers for the previous three years (two of them as my boss), to be Principal of the Australian Forestry School, taking over in January 1945 on the retirement of Lane Poole who had, as Inspector General of the Bureau, acted as Principal since the opening of the School in Canberra in 1927. Jacobs very sensibly had Andy appointed ‘Assistant to the Principal’ — even, I think, ‘Liaison Officer, Forestry and Timber Bureau‘ later. But in truth he was, for the next twenty years, ‘major-domo‘ of the AFS — at least I can‘t find a more appropriate title for, with all the dignity, diplomacy and authority with which he is so well and naturally endowed, he was indeed (as the OED defines the term) ‘the Chief Official of a princely household, often taking on the bearing and functions of a Minister of State’!

I find it hard in retrospect, to talk of Andy’s roles at the AFS — he filled so many, unobtrusively, selflessly, cheerfully and efficiently. Max Jacobs attracted a great amount of well-deserved credit for his contributions to forestry over that period; but l can assure you neither his principalship of the School nor his research productivity would have been anything like as effective without Andy’s loyal and competent assistance — I know, for l was a close spectator for most of the period. But his main role was the administration of the non-academic affairs of the School where so many of his personal traits and skills acquired over the years were shown to such advantage — though he had a shaky start. He was eventually rescued by the Riddles and the Craegans — especially Dora Craegan for whom there is a very special place in the forestry pantheon.

Andy had a tough job in the early post-war period. There was a flood of students whose courses had been interrupted or deferred by the war. They were 3 to 5 years older than normal by age, and 23 to 25 years older in experience; more independent, many badly battle-scarred. Accommodation in the old huts and the ‘Waldorf’ was spartan and the completion of Forestry House in 1952 was a blessing. It was a continual puzzle to other hostel managers in Canberra as to how it could be run so well with so few staff. Despite the fact that, as well as running the place, he spent most nights and weekends here playing billiards with Max Jacobs, Andy still found time to organize field excursions, sporting events and social functions and time for the many problems of overseas students from markedly different cultures.

In Andy's reign there were about 450 graduates from the AFS. I cannot recall ever hearing of one who didn’t like him or respect him. Some tried hard not to — I (and no doubt a few others here tonight) recall one rebel turning up, with his backside showing from a pair of dirty shorts, to receive a tennis trophy from the Indian High Commissioner resplendent in the uniform of a Major-General of one of the most famous regiments in the world. It was as crude and in every sense as naked an affront to ‘The Establishment‘ as I’ve ever seen. But even he, I also recall, came into line eventually under Andy’s withering scorn but understanding hands. The welcome Andy got in New Zealand at the Institute Conference there in 1980 was indicative of the warmth the 40 Kiwi graduates felt for him — though l suspect the bond in this case was strengthened by his unrivalled knowledge of the dirty tricks of a Scots rugby union forward. Certainly his stentorian though unintelligible advice from the sidelines was a major factor in the School winning the Canberra Cup in 1951.

Not only students, of course, but a great many overseas foresters are in his debt for his managerial contribution to the success of the FAO Eucalypt Study Tour in 1952 and the Commonwealth Forestry Conference in 1957. There’s a fulsome tribute to his latter efforts on record — in good academic style, I can tell you the reference is Empire Forestry Review, Vol.36, No.4, 1957, p.361.

The transfer of the School to the ANU would never have been as smooth without him. Past the age when other folk retire, he was soon as familiar with the short-cuts through the bureaucratic tangle of the University as those he had trodden so well in the public service jungle. ‘I’ll fix it’ he’d say, to the most difficult requests — and he would. He stayed as Administration Officer of the Department's overseas aid program, where his fix-it skills were just as useful, until his 75th year. He still supervises examinations at the ANU: I strongly suspect he’d pass them better than most of the students.

Andy was elected an associate of the Institute in 1954. Assuming we have had about 4 meetings a year, I estimate he has asked ‘When are the Associates going to get a vote?‘ 120 times. This was getting rather tiresome and, since altering the Constitution has always been a bit of a bother, Council accepted the Division’s recommendation that he be elevated to the Institute’s peerage of Honorary Membership at which lofty eminence voting on the mundane matters of the Institute is not even a consideration. We hope this will shut him up, for a while anyhow!

l first met Andy and Mrs Wood in February 1946. Beset with malarial shakes and post-war confusion, I found their warm friendliness, their stability and generosity a tonic beyond measure or price. I am more than grateful to have an opportunity, nearly 40 years later, to play a small part in this tribute to the long and dedicated service both of them have given to forestry in their adopted country.

Original Publication

Citation details

L. T. Carron, 'Wood, Andrew (Andy) (1900–1988)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/wood-andrew-andy-19437/text30848, accessed 6 July 2022.

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