Ian Rutherfurd (Distinguished Fellowship) Citation

Conferred 26 November 2020

Professor Ian D Rutherfurd has made outstanding contributions to Australian Geography through his research, leadership of the discipline, and deep commitment to changing policy and practices to improve the management of Australian waterways. His career is a long and exemplary lesson in how to effect change, guided by a clear philosophy and passion to make a difference in the world through teaching, research, and engagement.

Ian’s two academic passions are rivers and the discipline of geography, and his work has made immensely important contributions to both. His contributions to knowledge and practice in river management stem from his philosophy of making fundamental advances in understanding geomorphic processes in rivers, then using education and training to apply this knowledge to river management, and to influence standards and policies to improve river rehabilitation and restoration.

Ian is an extraordinary researcher who investigates the geomorphology of rivers. His research his most noted for advancing knowledge about the relationship between vegetation and river geomorphology, and the dynamics of sediment pulses in streams. More recently his research has shown how river systems adjust following human disturbance, with a special focus on the role of vegetation in those adjustments.

In his career Ian has published 60 journal articles (45 of these in top international journals), 19 book chapters, 50 refereed papers in conference proceedings, and over 50 consulting reports. His work has been cited over 4,000 times, and he has an h-index of 27. His research has been supported by $A3.7M in grants – including 12 category 1 grants, and he has supervised 24 PhD students to completion (with a further 6 ongoing). His work is highly collaborative, having published with over 40 colleagues (including 17 PhD students), spanning both physical and human geography, and with scholars in fields that are cognate to his research (such as archaeology and engineering). Ian Rutherfurd is a passionate and positive colleague who makes academic collaboration rewarding enjoyable, and easy.

Beyond his excellence as a researcher producing knowledge of the geomorphology of rivers is Ian’s impact on their management. His commitment to and effectiveness in translating knowledge into practice has no equal. Beyond his teaching and graduate supervision (both are excellent, but beyond the scope of this nomination), he works to translate his research into practice in three ways: training of practitioners, consulting reports and ARC Linkage grants with industry partners,  and through extensive engagement with policy making bodies.

Ian specifically targets education to the people in the waterway industry who implement decisions (rather than hoping that they might read his research). It is likely he has delivered some form of training to most river managers in SE Australia and Queensland. This includes through designing and delivering: the Graduate Certificate in Catchment and Waterway Management (GC) – which has now graduated over 120 students; the Wisewaterways training program (over 600 graduates); and the Floodplain Management Field Course (30 professionals from all over Australia each year). He established the first Australian Stream Management Conference in 1996 and has been co-editor of all but one of the nine proceedings; this is the most important institution advancing the quality of science and knowledge in the river management sector in Australia.

Ian is also heavily engaged in knowledge co-production with water industry agencies. He has worked with a vast array of industry partners, including numerous catchment management authorities, NSW, Queensland, Tasmanian, and Victorian planning and environmental management departments, and BHP Billiton. His research and advocacy has led to changed practices across Australia, including, for example, a complete change in the management of riparian vegetation to enhance biodiversity and minimise bank erosion and flood hazards, and the implementation of controls on sand extraction from streams.

Ian is also deeply engaged with policy making on the management of rivers. This led him to accepta five-year secondment as Director of River Health in the Victorian Office of Water (2008-2013), where he championed the importance of geomorphology in water management, including through the Victorian Waterway Management Strategy in 2013. He continues to engage to influence water management, including through his co-authorship of the Rehabilitation Manual for Australian Streams, and the Australian Handbook of Stream Roughness, both of which set the standards of practice across Australia and, increasingly, in other countries. He also serves on several expert panels advising on water management in Victoria and Eastern Australia and was a founding member of the River Basin Management Society in 1986.

Ian has also consistently applied himself to advancing knowledge and practice of rivers and their management in Asia, including through projects in China, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. A characteristic of this work is its careful engagement with the management and politics of rivers in these countries, and in this Ian shows that he is a truly well-rounded geographer who excels at working at the boundary of physical and human geography.

In addition to his numerous leadership roles within Melbourne University, Ian has played leading roles in Australian Geomorphology and Geography. He was the President of the Australia NZ Geomorphology Group from 2017 to 2019, which is the peak geomorphology body in Australia. In this capacity he represented Australian geomorphologists on the International body, the International Association of Geomorphologists. He is also the immediate past-President of the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG), when he was heavily involved in writing the decadal strategic plan for Geographical Science that was launched by the Australian Academy of Science in November 2018. Ian has also worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between school geography and the IAG, including as a member of the GTAV (the largest geography association in Australasia) since 2014, and his leading role on the committee that rewrote the VCE geography curriculum – which was the first substantial review of the curriculum in forty years. The result of this new curriculum has been a rise in the popularity of Geography in Victorian high schools, and a renaissance of VCE geography.

Ian Rutherfurd’s work has had a huge impact on Australian geography, geomorphology, and landscape. He has achieved so much because he is above all else an enormously passionate, positive, cheerful, constructive and energetic colleague. We can think of no-one more deserving of a Fellowship of the IAG.

Nominators: Jon Barnett and Lesley Head

Seconders: Jennifer Carter and Kirstie Fryirs