Forestry was always dear to his heart, his main commitment in life. He once said to me that a District Forester’s job was the best job in the world. It involved a perfect balance of office work - accounting, budget, personnel management and outdoor work – surveying, engineering, road and bridge construction, forest stand management and silviculture, managing sawmilling and other contractors and, of course, fire.
He was not one to avoid confrontations and troublesome issues.
On completion of his BSc in 1946-47 he briefly returned to Bruthen district, living in the married quarters at Mt Taylor with Joan and first son, yours truly, David.
Following this he was posted to Tallangatta as DFO. In those days DFOs and Assistants had to provide their own transport. Dad had a Norton 500 outfit. I can just remember coming to Melbourne in it. Other equipment was almost non-existent. If a dozer was needed local sawmillers were imposed upon to provide in the off season. The Tallangatta District received its first Ford ute and Land Rover around 1949-50.
The Land Rover acquisition is an interesting story he recounted to me some time ago. A local farmer visited him in the Tallangatta office and, coming out of the office to see him off, he spotted a strange vehicle in the drive. The cocky gave him a rundown on it and Norm was captivated. He pestered Head Office for one but was told no chance, very few coming into the country and they was no chance of FCV acquiring one. A little later he was down at the local garage getting the ute serviced and there was a new Series 1 Land Rover sitting there, for sale. Dad organised a 24 hour hold on it and pestered the hell out of Head Office. He was finally given the authority to raise a local works order for it. He claimed that it was the first time that had occurred and also it was the first FCV Land Rover. I have a recollection that Gerry Griffin pranged it and maybe wrote it off? Norm definitely pranged a Land Rover during the 1952 fires. Pulling up at the Granya pub about midnight to use their phone to ring home he forgot to yank the handbrake on and it rolled over a bank.
He got into hot water with Head Office over fuel reduction burning in the high country. HO wanted it done but wouldn’t resource it, so Norm organised the Mountain Cattlemen, whom he always respected and got on well with, to drop a few matches. He said he was on the carpet at HO and, walking past an open office door he heard someone say “get Endacott out of the North-East”. This probably triggered his transfer to Daylesford, and contributed to his eventual disillusionment with the FCV and subsequent resignation in the 1960s. On Land Rovers, I recall as a kid at Daylesford in about 1955, so it would have been a Series 2, being in the back coming home with Darby Patterson and Jack Opie in the front, can’t recall who was driving, and coming along the straight at Leonards Hill they decided to see what it would do. I think 75mph was mentioned and I was admonished not to tell my old man.
A transfer to Daylesford occurred in 1953, about a year before Tallangatta was moved to its present location and the old town flooded. Much has been written about his time at Daylesford. He told me that one year in the 1950s he achieved a record revenue for the Wombat. Fell short of the £100,000 budget by about a 100 quid. He was tempted to make it up out of his own pocket, but didn’t.
We left Daylesford in 1959 for a one year stop in Ballarat before Norm left the Forests Commission to take a position with the SEC managing the forest areas under its control. This occasioned a move to Melbourne where we bought a house in Mitcham. After a couple years with the SEC he took a position with the PNG Forests Department and for some years was based in Lae.
His last employment was out of Rome with the FAO in the Philippines. A position that proved less than fulfilling. In his usual manner he filed reports telling of the true state of reforestation projects and endemic corruption, the tone of which were not appreciated in Rome. He told me subsequently that he eventually gave up and made non-provocative reports which went down better. I think he found it a relief to head into retirement, though he took on some consultancies from time to time.
His eventual return to Australia and Victoria brought a major effort to catch up with old colleagues and the years of Victorian forestry he had missed. This period in the late 1980s was also a time of major environmental activity and change. He threw himself into that fray with gusto. On his fact finding missions to support his arguments he relished visiting his old district offices to check through files and interrogate the current staff.
The events of the last 30 years threw up many forest issues which occupied him with countless letters to the editor, emails to colleagues around the world and contact with numerous members of Parliament.
The alpine fires of 2003 left him thunderstruck. The duration, the area and the seeming difficulty the agencies had in producing an effective and timely attack were perplexing to him.
This caused him the revisit his fire – the 1952 Upper Murray fire. He produced a narrative and timeline of the fire and with assistance from staff in the Tallangatta office, mapped it - 133000 ha. There was little machinery available. The CFA was in the process of being established and had little equipment and the farmers had maybe a tractor with a water tank or a blade. Unlike 2003 the weather did not provide any periods of relief and the fire was controlled in 22 days. Norm said he was concerned about young Tom? Crosbie Morrison (Philip Crosbie Morison’s son) who was manning the Mt George tower (I think burnt in the fire?) and was missing. He wandered out of the bush a couple of days later.
In those days if the fire was in a DFO’s district it was his fire. Maybe he could hope for some assistance from neighbouring districts or head office. In 2003 it seemed the fire was being fought by the Premier’s 11am press conference!
As the new century loomed the fate of the Wombat Forest became both his main focus and despair. The Wombat as Victoria’s most managed forest was his pride, and he hoped that it would be a “working forest” in perpetuity. I think between he and Roger Underwood in the West was the term working forest originated. The eventual loss of the Wombat as a productive forest was a great blow to him and indeed to his profession, and it hurt.
The continuing assaults on the forestry profession upset and angered him. The eventual curtailment of forestry as a degree subject was inexplicable and we have probably not yet reaped all the consequences of that.