Jamie Kirkpatrick (Distinguished Fellowship)

Citation for Distinguished Fellowship of the IAG
Jamie Kirkpatrick
Conferred Cairns, September 2009

James Barrie Kirkpatrick was born on 12 October 1946, just after the cessation of the hostilities of World War 2. By 1968, a year of particularly intense geopolitical activism across the globe, Jamie was completing his Bachelor of Arts with Honours at the University of Melbourne; by 1971, he was a Tutor in Geography. In 1972 he took up a lectureship in the Geography Department at the University of Tasmania, receiving his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1973 – ahead of the standard length of time for a candidature. A series of rapid promotions followed and, in 1987, Jamie became Professor in that department, serving as its Head until 1999, with forays back into that role until 2005.

During those decades, Jamie steered the process of three highly successful (and sometimes colourful) amalgamations – first with Environmental Studies, then Surveying – both in the capital city of Hobart, and then with Applied Science in Launceston in the State’s north. The product of these associations is the current School of Geography and Environmental Studies, which is among the most successful organisational units in the University of Tasmania across all elements of core tasks in higher education, and which is known as one of the most collegial. Among his significant innovations, a mark of Jamie’s capacity and esteem for interdisciplinarity, was the creation of the Bachelor of Natural Environment and Wilderness Studies.

It is also worth noting that Jamie’s servant-leadership approach has extended beyond the borders of the School to encompass substantial service to the Faculty, University Academic Senate, University Council, and various committees whose work is substantive in nature. This service has been rendered without demur – but not without a constructively critical eye – despite a general (and one suspects well placed) suspicion about the efficacy of large bureaucratic structures.

Also during those years, Jamie was engaged in significant research consultancy work in Tasmania, Fiji and the Northern Territory. He made substantive and highly significant contributions to environmental impact assessments and environmental plans commissioned by mining companies, roads departments at state and Commonwealth levels, and the Hydro-Electric Commission. Jamie also produced numerous reports on various ecological and environmental challenges and problems for the Tasmanian Department of the Environment, the Australian Heritage Commission, the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests Commission, the Queensland Premier’s Department, the Commowealth’s Resource Assessment Commission, Environment Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation, among others.

Jamie has served the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, the Environmental Protection Advisory Council of Tasmania, various other state and national heritage, national estate and environmental bodies; been Chair of the Australian Heads of Geography Departments Committee, the Worldwide Fund for Nature Scientific Advisory Council; and been President of both the Ecological Society of Australia and our own Institute of Australian Geographers.

Jamie’s work has gained national and international recognition in various ways, among them requests to take up numerous Commonwealth appointments related to endangered species, ecological sustainable development, biological diversity and forest conservation. He has been a longstanding member of the South West Tasmania World Heritage Consultative Committee. Other recognition includes three outstanding awards: in 1987 the Australian Heritage Award – Individual Category; in 1997 the POL Eureka Prize for Environmental Research; in 2006 a Doctor of Science, awarded in recognition of a substantial and sustained contribution to scientific knowledge over a long career. The thesis for that award was composed of many of the more than 200 refereed papers that Jamie has written, alone and with others, over the course of his career. The first sole authored paper Jamie published in 1971, a crisp two and half pages, was entitled ‘A probably hybrid swarm’ and, not surprisingly, it is redolent of the geographical – of morphological relations, patterns and their dance with processes, and distributions. Taking as a reasonable definition of swarm the idea that it comprises a large number of animate or inanimate things massed together and sometimes in motion, Jamie’s most recent works focus on other sorts of swarms – among them Midlands sheep, and tree-loving or tree-felling suburbanites prominent among them.

Well over three hundred publications fall between these first and more recent outputs – papers, reports, chapters, verse, maps, and scholarly and coffee table books. These contributions to scholarship – for both academic and lay communities of place and interest- have often been done pro bono, sometimes without funding (even when much needed), and sometimes with significant grants. Available records show Jamie to be in receipt of $2,905,715 in funds since 1989, and among those are seven Australian Research Council Large or Discovery grants.
When Jamie is not writing – something that is daily practice, and to which he has strong commitment and passion – he is often to be seen in the company of students who range in age from 17 to 70, and in experience from raw undergraduate to seasoned PhD. In conversation, he will suggest that it is his experience as an advisor to over 50 research higher degree candidates and over 100 honours and masters coursework students, that has perhaps been the most rewarding for him.

Many of Jamie’s former students are now professorial staff in other universities here and around the world; work for very prestigious international environmental governance organisations, across the Commowealth and several state and local governments, in private sector organisations – often as the resident voice for the more-than-human, for non-government organisations, and sometimes for themselves in successful consulting operations.

As colleague, erstwhile Graduate Programs Coordinator, and Head of School, over 13 years of valued association my own observation is that students simply revere Jamie. With him, they have made real, sustained and substantive contributions to biogeography, nature conservation, and natural resource management practice and policy over several decades. Much laughter seems to attend the ‘getting to’ those contributions. Together, they have surveyed, mapped, cut, collected, burned, fenced, grazed, quantified, measured, described, analysed, categorised, drawn, photographed, and compared diverse floristic and fauna communities in various settings in order to understand what they have witnessed, in order to be advocates for the wise use, conservation and integrative management of astonishing elements of Earth.

Early in my tenure at the University, I asked Jamie about his work. I recall the spirit of his response very clearly: “I came to Tasmania, saw this amazing place, knew it was worth fighting for, and decided to dedicate the rest of my life to doing just that”. It was recounted without hubris, matter-of-factly, and in a way that made the decision seem completely compelling. I am confident that this short and powerful autobiographical statement of scholarly passion best summarises the central theme of Jamie’s outstanding academic career in the discipline of Geography, the breadth and depth of which makes him such a worthy recipient of the distinguished fellowship award of the Institute.

Elaine Stratford