Obituaries: Yi-Fu Tuan, Virginia Spate, and Colin Sale


30th August 2022

Three very different “geographers” with Australian credentials died last week.

Yi-Fu Tuan was internationally recognised as the doyen of humanistic geography. He died on August 10, 2022, at the age of ninety-one. His long association with the University of Wisconsin at Madison is well known, and his obituaries will extol the depth and influence of his thought. What is less well known is his high school education at Cranbrook School in Sydney, while his father was serving as the last pre-communist Chinese ambassador to Australia. His brother was the late Tai-Fu Tuan, Professor of Physics at the University of Cincinnati. The two boys earned pocket money by playing their violins outside public houses in the slums of inner Sydney. When Yi-Fu visited his brother in Cincinnati, Tai-Fu invited the local geographers to a social evening with “Confucius,” but were told to bring “no children, and no pets.” Yi-Fu could hold an audience in the palm of his hand, without recourse to lecture notes.

Yi-Fu Tuan

Yi-Fu Tuan: “Space, Place, and Nature: The Farewell Lecture,”  4 April 2014.

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Virginia Spate was not strictly a “geographer,” but the very distinguished daughter of one. She died on August 12, 2022, at the age of eighty-four. Her father was the late Oskar Spate, Professor of Geography in the Research School of Pacific Studies at ANU. Virginia was Professor of Fine Art at the University of Sydney, and Director of the Power Institute. Her monographs on the painters Tom Roberts and John Olsen aligned her with such humanistic geographers and landscape scholars as Yi-Fu Tuan, David Lowenthal, and O. H. K. Spate. At her father’s memorial service, she related how his unalloyed paternal love of her seemed out of kilter with the hard-headed decision-making he sometimes inflicted on his colleagues and students.  Like her father, Virginia disdained modernistic jargon. She had what her obituarist called a “beautiful, precise and poetic writing style.” Perhaps there’s something in heredity. Donald Meinig once said that Oskar Spate “couldn’t write a dull sentence.”

Virginia Spate

Virginia Spate

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Colin Sale was the President of the Geographical Society of New South Wales, and so much more. He died on August 14, 2022. His incredible and unmatched legacy will be the fifty-eight study tours that he led for the Society, to every corner of the Earth. He was our latter-day Griffith Taylor, who had claimed to be the first geographer to visit all seven continents, including the Antarctic. Aligned with Colin’s tours were meetings of the Travellers Club, which lured an enthusiastic lay audience into geography. Few academic geographers attract such a devoted following. Colin’s lectures to the Travellers Club were blockbusters, illustrated with his own artistic photography. For many of his tours he made digitized videos. Colin’s Middle Eastern tour group held reunions in the Blue Mountains for many years, at the Little Pightle property of Doug and Patricia Raupach.  Colin moved into travel management when Sydney Teachers College was obliged to reduce its faculty numbers, and he volunteered to surrender his lectureship in geography. His text books were widely used in the high schools of New South Wales. Like his mentor, Don Biddle, Colin had both the common touch and a commanding presence. He was the ideal study tour leader. It is the Society’s good fortune that he inspired and trained his successors.

Colin Sale

Colin Sale

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Obituaries complied by Bruce Ryan. August 18, 2022.

Bruce Ryan, Ph.D., FIAG
Emeritus Professor of Geography
University of Cincinnati, USA.

 

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