Emeritus Professor Jack Davies (Griffith Taylor Medal) Citation
Conferred Brisbane, July 2017
Jack Davies retired from Macquarie University some 30 years ago following an academic career in physical geography and especially coastal studies. He was a foundation member of the IAG and was President in 1973. Jack was born in 1922, and grew up in South Wales where he visited the coast as a child. His father was one of the few people in the town to own a car and they travelled to the beach on many weekends. Jack went on to study a Bachelor of Arts with Honours prior to World War II in which he examined aspects of microclimate in the region of Pembrokeshire with the help of school students who assisted in monitoring temperature and other climatic factors.
During World War II Jack worked as a navigator with the RAF and put into practice many geographical skills he had acquired during his undergraduate study. Following the War, he returned to study and completed his master’s degree in which he studied the grey seals on Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire. His first publication was in 1947, in the journal Nature, and concerned the Influence of climatic conditions on autumn calvings. He then worked as a town planner with the County Planning Department, Winchester which he greatly enjoyed before moving to Hobart, Tasmania, in 1954 to take up a lecturing position in Physical Geography at the University of Tasmania.
Jack produced a body of work of catholic proportions. His first papers were on the influence of climatic conditions on calf’s and milk sales, followed by research on seals, starlings, and hedgehogs. Following his employment at the University of Tasmania he continued his interests in birds, whales, seals and zoogeography, but he turned his prodigious talents to coastal processes. He began to write highly insightful, and foundational, papers on beach ridges, sea levels, shoreline development, beach alignments, and wave dynamics. It was during his time in Tasmania that Jack wrote a seminal study on ‘The importance of cut and fill in the development of sand beach ridges’ published in 1957 in the now extinct Australian Journal of Science. In 1964 he published a truly inspirational and world leading paper on a morphogenetic approach to world shorelines (Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie 8: 127-142) which informed the future research directions of a whole cadre of coastal scholars. In addition, he produced a fine body of work on landforms and vegetation of Tasmania, and on the geomorphology and glaciation of Tasmania, with significant contributions to volumes on Landform Studies from Australia and New Guinea and the Atlas of Tasmania (1965) which he edited. In 1969, Jack published an elegant treatise on Landforms of Cold Climates (ANU Press).
In the 2004 Griffith Taylor Medal citation, Bruce Thom acknowledged his debt to past presidents of the IAG, including Jack Davies of whom he said “demonstrated to the world the contribution a geographic perspective could bring to understanding coastal systems”. Jack’s book Geographical Variation in Coastal Development, first published in 1972 (second Edition, 1980), was a seminal work that was stunningly ahead of its time, taught at least one, if not two, generations of scholars how large scale coastal systems functioned and operated, and provided the first analyses of the major driving factors operating around the world that create the diverse range of coastal landforms and surfzones that exist. His ability to synthesize a vast amount of complex information and present it in a simple accessible style was one of the hallmarks of all he did. Not only was this an outstanding and inspirational work but it was produced by absolutely painstaking and long research in a time when Google Earth did not exist, and when it was extraordinarily difficult to find good data (and sometimes any data) on global drivers such as wave energy, currents, winds, etc.
Jack took up a Professorship at Macquarie University, Sydney in 1971. Jack’s book Geographical Variation in Coastal Development published in 1972, and his presidential address to the ‘Institute of Australian Geographers’ conference at Hobart in 1974 ‘The coastal sediment compartment’, have become two especially important contributions and these works are highly cited to this day.
He was an exceptional leader, teacher and mentor to staff and students at Macquarie. His teaching skills are legendary and he stimulated and educated a generation of students in geomorphology and coastal studies until his retirement.