History of the IAG

Keith Thomson

Keith Thomson
First Secretary/Treasurer

A meeting to establish a national body for geography in Australia was held in Adelaide on 25th August 1958. The minutes of that meeting (August 25, 1958) record that several attempts had been made to create such an organisation since 1952, but without success. The reasons stated at the Adelaide meeting for a national geographical organisation were:

  • Geographers had been meeting annually as Section P of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS). Other disciplines were now starting to have separate and more specialised meetings, and it was thought that Geography should follow.
  • A national organisation was needed for Australian geography to affiliate with the International Geographical Union. At this time the Australian geographical societies were state-based, and only covered Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.
  • There was a need for a substantial national journal. The Australian Geographer had been produced by the New South Wales Geographical Society since 1928, but there was a feeling that there was room for a more national journal.

This was a time of rapid growth in Australian university geography departments and staff, and in enrolments in geography, fuelled by the postwar economic and demographic growth of the nation and the demand for teachers.

The leaders of the move to establish an Institute included Oskar Spate, Peter Scott, Harold Brookfield, Dick Greenwood, Keith Thomson, Alan Tweedie and Jim Rose. Keith Thomson was elected the first Secretary/Treasurer.


Griffith Taylor
First President

The Adelaide meeting resolved to invite Professor Griffith Taylor to be the first President. Griffith Taylor had been the first Head of a geography department at an Australian university, being appointed as Associate Professor of Geography at Sydney University in 1921. He moved to Chicago in 1929, discouraged by the criticism he received for his pessimistic (but accurate) views on the population that the Australian environment could support, and then to Toronto. He returned to Australia on retirement in 1951 and became the ‘undisputed Dean of the geographical community in Australia’. He is one of the few Australian scientists to be commemorated on an Australian postage stamp (1976), and contributed a paper to the first issue of the Institute’s new journal, Australian Geographical Studies, in 1963.

Griffith Taylor accepted the invitation two days later (by telegram on 27th August 1958), and chaired the inaugural meeting of the interim Council of the IAG held in Canberra in February 1959. The minutes of that meeting 9-11 Feb 1959 record that 42 persons had accepted an invitation to become Foundation Members. The Council made plans for the first meeting of the IAG to be held at the University of Melbourne in January 1960. 


Harold Brookfield
Editor of the Geographical Record and a later President

Council also decided to produce a service periodical, Australian Geographical Record, with news from university departments and other research centres and a review of Australian geography. This first appeared in 1959, edited by Harold Brookfield. It contained a list of founder members, reproduced here, and a Presidential Introduction by Griffith Taylor.

The first General Meeting of the IAG was held in Melbourne during the 1960 Conference. The minutes record that 30 members and 24 other geographers attended, and that 54 persons had accepted the invitation to become members. The Constitution drafted by the Interim Council was adopted, with amendments, and a new Council elected. Griffith Taylor continued as President and Keith Thomson as Secretary/Treasurer, Oskar Spate was elected as Vice-President (President Elect), and John Andrews, Harold Brookfield, Dick Greenwood and Alan Tweedie were elected as Councillors.

The first Conference was a more leisurely affair than those of today, with two papers presented each half-day, and only nine papers in all. There were no parallel sessions, and most people went to listen to every paper, regardless of the topic. The papers presented were:

  • Griffith Taylor, Presidential Address: Geography and world peace
  • H.C. Brookfield, The Highland population concentrations of New Guinea
  • J.L.Davies, Aim and method in zoogeography
  • R.S. Dick, Variations in the occupational structure of central places of the Darling Downs, Queensland
  • W.F. Geyl, A new view of the geomorphology of New South Wales
  • R.H. Greenwood, Evolution in Queensland’s economy
  • K.W. Robinson, Sixty years of Federation—a geographical appraisal
  • O.H.K. Spate, Geographical re-assessments: regional science and quantification
  • M.G.A. Wilson, Some population characteristics of Australian mining settlements

The second conference was held at the University of Queensland in 1961, when 65 members and observers attended, including four overseas visitors and over half the membership of the Institute. The papers presented were:

  • O.H.K. Spate, Presidential Address: Impressions of geography in America
  • G.R. Cochrane, Vegetation studies in forest-fire areas of the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia: an essay in biogeography
  • R.B. Dakeyne, The African population of Central Nyanza, Kenya
  • R.W. Galloway, Some aspects of the Pleistocene history of South Eastern Australia
  • J.H. Holmes, The changing distribution of dairying in coastal New South Wales
  • G.J.R. Linge, The “normal requirements” method for analysing future employment structures of Australian towns
  • J.A. Mabbutt, The deeply weathered land surface in Central Australia
  • R.H.T. Smith, Commodity flow studies and the delimitation of city market areas
  • R.J. Solomon, Relative concentration of the Australian work force
  • R.L. Wright, A deeply weathered land surface in north-western Australia

 Group photo of participants at the Queensland Conference


The photo shows participants at the Queensland Conference. People in this photo who are recorded in the minutes of the inaugural meeting include Dick Greenwood (at the right-hand end of the front row), Oskar Spate (second President, with characteristic pipe in hand, third from the right), Peter Scott (next to him in the centre of the front row), Alan Tweedie (at the right-hand end of the second row), Ann Marshall (at the left-hand end of the second row, Craig Duncan (at the right-hand end of the second last row), and Jim Rose (with glasses, third from the right in the second last row). Tom Perry (the first Editor of Australian Geographical Studies) is next to Jim Rose and fourth from the right, and Godfrey Linge (with glasses, the first Journal Business Manager) is on the left-hand end of the second last row. Keith Thomson, the first Secretary/Treasurer, is third from the left in the last row, behind and slightly to the left of Tom Perry.


Cover of the first issue of Australian Geographical Studies

Cover of the first issue of Australian Geographical Studies

There was considerable Council discussion in the first three years about whether and how to publish a journal, which had been one of the original objectives of the IAG. For a small organisation this represented a major, and risky, financial undertaking, with little prospect of any funding support. In 1961 a Publications Committee was appointed, with Tom Perry as Editor-Designate, Godfrey Linge as Publications Manager (later called Business Manager), and the Secretary/Treasurer as the third member. Later in 1961 a General Meeting decided to proceed with the publication of a journal, and in 1962 Council conducted a ballot to decide the name, with members asked to choose between Australian Geographical Studies, Australian Prospect and Terra Australis. In 1963 the first issue of Australian Geographical Studies, the name chosen by the members, was published, strongly supported by subscriptions from schools in New South Wales and Victoria.

So by 1963 the three objectives of the establishment of the IAG had been fulfilled. There was now a specialist conference for geographers separate from ANZAAS, Australia had been accepted as a member of the International Geographical Union (in 1960), and there was a national geographical journal. Early in 1963 the third Conference of the Institute was held at the University of New England, where 12 papers were presented, and a symposium held on the training of geographers, and by June 1963 membership had reached 119.


©Copyright 2024 Institute of Australian Geographers Incorporated. ABN: 97471418446.