Ian Douglas (Australia-International Medal)

Citation for the Australia-International Medal
Ian Douglas
Conferred Brisbane, July 2006

Ian Douglas has had a major and ongoing influence on physical, environmental and applied geography in the Australian region and internationally, commencing with his pioneering ANU PhD thesis on rates of denudation in eastern Australia. This research explicitly recognised the magnitude of human impacts on erosion rates and soon extended to consider the impacts of urban environments on river systems. Perhaps the two books which most closely identified his interests in his earlier career were his texts on Humid Landforms (ANU Press 1977) and The Urban Environment (Edward Arnold 1983).

His research soon extended into Australia’s region, where it continues to the present day. It has included work on erosion in urban areas in the tropics, effects of rural land-use practices on erosion and river systems in Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Thailand, and long-term monitoring (still ongoing) of the impact of rainforest logging in Sabah (which includes training a succession of local graduate students: more than 12 of his PhD and Masters graduates hold or have held key positions in universities, government agencies and the private sector in Malaysia). Ian was one of the first geomorphologists to recognise and measure the effects of human constructions (including excavations) in shifting earth materials, often at a scale that considerably exceeds that moved by normal or accelerated geomorphic processes. One such contribution is in an edited volume intriguingly titled Handbook of Industrial Ecology (Edward Elgar, 2002). In a further illustration of his international influence, in 2002 Ian Douglas edited volume 3 of Wiley’s Encyclopaedia of Global Environmental Change (which included thirteen of his own articles).

In Australia, Ian Douglas was Professor of Geography at the University of New England from 1971 to 1978, a time of considerable activity and contributions to Australian society and geography. These included important roles in ANZAAS, the Australian Water Resources Council, the NSW State Pollution Control Commission, the NSW Land Conservation Study Group, New England Regional Advisory Council, Armidale District Development Committee, the Geography Syllabus Committee of the NSW Board of Senior School Studies; and as Vice-President and President of the Institute of Australian Geographers.

Since his return to the UK as Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Manchester in 1979, Ian has made significant international contributions in ways other than through his numerous publications. For example, he is currently Chairman of the UK Royal Society SCOPE Working Party and Treasurer of SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment of the International, Council for Science (ICSU)); Co-Chairman Earth Surface Processes, Mining and Urban Development Project Scientific Advisory Committee; and Chairman Peri-Urban Environmental Change Project Scientific Advisory Committee.

Ian has continued his association with Australian Geography. He has been a member of various Review and Assessment Panels in the Australian region, including: the former Department of Biogeography and Geomorphology, ANU; Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU; Department of Geography, University of Papua New Guinea; Division of Geography, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and Department of Geography, Universiti Brunei Darusalaam. Other valuable contributions have been made as external examiner at the following universities: ANU, UNE, UNSW, Tasmania, Wollongong, Griffith, Macquarie, Sydney, James Cook and UWA. In relation to the Institute, Ian has long been an active member of the International Advisory Panel of the Institute’s journal, Australian Geographical Studies, now Geographical Research. He has responded uncomplainingly to numerous requests by the editors for his assistance in reviewing manuscripts and books, and has contributed major invited articles reviewing aspects of the discipline: including one in the recent special issue for the Brisbane IGU regional congress.

Ian Douglas admirably fulfils the Institute’s criteria for the International Award, by his contributions first as an Australia-based geographer to the advancement of geography world-wide and, later, by his contributions to geography in Australia and its region by a geographer permanently residing outside Australia.

Arthur Conacher

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