John Holmes (Griffith Taylor Medal) Citation

Conferred Brisbane, July 2006

John Holmes was born in the same decade in which Geography became established as a university discipline in Australia. As he was schooled, in the latter years of the Great Depression and during World War 2, Griffith Taylor, the first Professor of Geography in an Australian university, was making himself unpopular with the development boosters by suggesting that their continent was a bit too dry and infertile to become another United States of America.

In the postwar years, John attended Sydney University. He gained first class honours in both his honours and masters degrees within the foundation Department of Geography. First class honours were much more of a rarity then than now, the normal path after receiving such a distinction being the attaining of the blessing of the northern hemisphere, by taking a PhD in the United Kingdom or the United States. John is not one to culturally cringe. His PhD was taken at the University of New England. He graduated only a year before he took up the position of Professor of Geography at the University of Queensland, a position he held with distinction between 1971 and 1995.

The central theme of his research career has been the economic, social and environmental dynamics of Australian rural land use change. His work made a substantial contribution to the quantitative revolution of the nineteen-sixties (e.g. Holmes, 1961, 1967, 1970; Holmes and Haggett, 1977) and the environmental revolution of the nineteen-seventies and eighties (e.g. Holmes, 1976, 1986a, 1986b), while being always strongly grounded in the parched world of Australian rural reality, with an intent to both inform and do good.

After his faux retirement in 1995, he continued his research on changing resource values in Australia’s rangelands, in particular, their implications for the reallocation of property rights attached to pastoral leases and for co-existing native title (Holmes, 1995a, 1995b; 1996a, 1996b, 1996c; 1997a, 1997b; 2000a, 2000b, 2000c). This work has had a major influence on government policy, and even action. He produced invited policy papers on tenure reform for land administration for the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia as well as the New South Wales Western Division. His unrivalled knowledge of the leasehold issues in the Australian rangelands enabled him to make a substantial contribution to the public debate on the legislation proposed by the Australian Government in relation to the Wik decision of the High Court. This decision enabled the co-existence of elements of native title on pastoral leases. The informed opinion of Professor Holmes on the probable outcomes of Prime Minister Howard’s ten-point plan was widely reported in the media. Consequently, he was invited to discuss the proposed legislation with the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Native Title. Professor Holmes reported that he: ‘… was surprised at the extent of geographical ignorance displayed by senior public servants in leading government departments, and their resultant inability to appraise real-world outcomes resulting from proposed legislation’ (John Holmes, personal communication, 2006).

More recently, he has made a major conceptual contribution to our understanding of the ways in which non-productive values are driving changes in land use in the western countryside. He has observed that there now exists a variable mixture of consumption and protection values, which, in high-amenity and readily accessible locations, create an amenity premium on land values, thereby threatening the economic viability of full-time farming (Holmes, 2002a, 2000b, 2006; Holmes et al., 2005; Holmes and Hartig, in press). His research on the forces driving this ‘multifunctional transition’ is widely cited in leading international publications on rural change (e.g. Lockie et al., in press).

John has also made an outstanding contribution to the development of his discipline, and to the discipline in the community. He has been a Corresponding Member, Commission on Quantitative Methods, International Geographical Union, (1969–77); Member, Commission on Geographical Data Sensing and Processing, International Geographical Union (Representing Asia and Pacific Region) (1977–80); Member, National Committee for Geography, Australia Academy of Science (1971–79, 1989–); Member, Committee on Mathematics in the Social Sciences, Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (1973–79); President, Australia-New Zealand Section, Regional Science Association (1973–77); Australian Co-ordinator, Joint United States-Australia Seminar on Present and Future Settlement Systems in Sparsely Populated Areas, Co-operative Science Exchange Program (1978); and President, Institute of Australian Geographers (1983–84). Since his faux retirement he has been Chair, National Committee for Geography, Australian Academy of Sciences; Australian delegate at the General Assembly of the International Geographical Union; Chair, Vegetation Management Advisory Committee advising the Queensland government on its tree-clearing legislation and Chair of the Organizing Committee for the International Geographical Union Regional Conference in Brisbane, 2006. He has also served terms as President of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland and the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

It is the combination of breadth and depth of his contribution to the discipline of Geography that makes him such a worthy recipient of the Griffith Taylor medal.

Jamie Kirkpatrick