Farewell to Doug Phillips – a dynamic, passionate and effective advocate for the environment

Tributes to Doug Phillips (07 Sep 1957 – 07 Mar 2019)

Nature Glenelg Trust Tribute

It has been an extremely sad and challenging time for many of us who knew, respected and worked with Doug Phillips, as we come to terms with the recent loss of a friend, and an incredibly important advocate for our region’s environment.

I first met Doug almost 20 years ago when he arranged some funding support to help us fence off a bush block I had personally purchased near Rennick, just inside the Victorian border east of Mt Gambier. Before I knew it, Doug has organised a field visit for the Portland Field Naturalists Club to our place. That day, we heard and spotted endangered Red-tailed Black-cockatoos on the property for the first time. All these years later I still remember the thrill of this experience, as a relative newcomer to the forests of SW Victoria, as I was getting to know the region and our patch of bush. Needless to say, a friendship was cemented back then, and I’ve enjoyed catching up with Doug and the rest of the Portland Field Nats ever since.

Despite never working closely day-to-day with Doug, he was someone I would often bump into at meetings or other random times. We could always have a good chat – picking up where we left off – and compare notes about what we’d both been up to. We shared a habit of biting off a bit more than we probably should at times, and I could absolutely relate to Doug’s burning passion to make a difference and – importantly – make the most of every day. Despite the fact that we tackled different environmental issues, and often in different ways, I considered Doug a kindred spirit.

Doug was that rare type of person who could see something that needed addressing, size up the problem, come up with a plan and, most importantly, turn that plan into action. He was sharp, articulate and driven. As a result, and best of all, Doug’s determination would see those issues through. The beautiful tributes below from the Portland and Hamilton Field Naturalists give us a brief insight into just how much the environmental sector owes him for his tireless efforts.

Doug proved that one person really can make a positive difference in this world, and he’ll be sorely missed.

To Doug’s family, especially his wife Helen and children Lachlan and Brianna, we are truly sorry for your loss.

Mark Bachmann, on behalf of Nature Glenelg Trust

Hamilton Field Naturalists Club Tribute

Doug Phillips

Some Hamilton Field Naturalist Club members have known Doug and his parents, Lois and Max, over many years. The Phillips family have been great advocates for conservation in SW Victoria.

I had some 25 years acquaintance with Doug. We met regularly at many workshops and meetings and, over the years, had many phone conversations (mostly at night) concerning conservation issues. I reflected today that we talked mostly of matters other than of particular flora and fauna, which we were both vitally interested in. Other members of HFNC, including John & Glenys Cayley and Dave & Lyn Munro had similar contact with Doug.

Doug had useful contacts in many places. In discussing with Doug actions that he planned I was impressed by his persistence in trying to influence politicians and managers of our natural resources. Doug was always able to meet with politicians and government officials and conduct cordial correspondence with those who did not share his views. That is an ability that most of us do not possess!

Doug was a passionate advocate for the environment and he, along with his fellow naturalists, achieved a great deal. For example, without his persistence is there anyone who imagines that the Cobboboonee National Park would have that protective status now? For that alone, present and future Victorians owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Doug Phillips.

We remember Doug as a fine individual and a dedicated environmentalist who had a long-term concern for the health of the natural world and devoted much of his life to that end. We will miss him greatly.

Rod Bird, on behalf of the Hamilton Field Naturalists Club

Portland Field Naturalists Club Tribute

My first encounter with Doug & Helen Phillips in the naturalists’ field was when they gave a presentation on the native orchids of S.W. Western Australia in January 1993. Their knowledge and love of their subject was inspiring, as was their photography. I decided that Portland Field Naturalists Club would benefit greatly from their knowledge and love of our natural environment.

How right I was, but it took another three years to persuade them to arrange their priorities to include the PFNC. No sooner had Doug joined the Club in May 1996 than he volunteered his computer skills in editing the Club’s monthly newsletter, giving it a new lease of life.

For many years our members had been expressing their concern to the managers of our State forests about the practice of ring-barking and poisoning large, old “non-commercial” trees. The impact of these destructive practices and our concerns were ignored.

Doug Phillips

It was Doug who took the initiative to have this issue brought before the public, politicians, and media. So began the Campaign to Protect the Cobobboonee and other forests in the Portland Forest Management Area. Although Doug already had an extensive knowledge of the natural history of the area, he enlarged upon this by organising field studies with expertise from outside the Club, that could be used in convincing the necessary officials of the value of the area.

He also developed an extensive network of contacts within government channels, media outlets as well as within other conservation groups. Doug was never one to rest on his laurels and all of these relationships were nurtured by many phone calls, faxes, emails and correspondence, usually late into the night.

Much of this work occurred between our monthly meetings, and the campaign was moving faster than the meeting schedule could accommodate. To provide Doug with the necessary authority to speak on behalf of the Club, the position of Conservation Officer was declared in July 1998 and Doug duly elected as the Club’s first Conservation Officer. A role he excelled in for 21 years.

The Regional Forest Agreement process was in progress. Federal and State Governments were to sign an agreement as to the sustainable yields of forest products that could be taken from the regions’ forests for the next 20 years. This process included community input and through the expertise of Doug, the Club was a voice to be heard by politicians of both persuasions as well as RFA officials at both state & federal level.

There was a core group of members led by Doug who achieved a moratorium on the ring-culling of hollow-bearing trees during the RFA process. Doug had the ability to express himself eloquently and succinctly whether in writing or spoken word so his address which accompanied his Powerpoint presentation at the RFA public meeting in June 1999 was compelling. Not long after the first draft of the RFA was released for public comment, Doug was invited to attend a function at Mt Eccles (now Budj Bim) where the then Minister for Environment (The Hon. Sherryl Garbut) asked Doug to comment on the draft agreement in brief, to which he replied; “the Special Protection Zones were much too fragmented in the Cobobboonee”. Sure enough when the second draft was released much of the fragmentation had been redressed.

The magnificent forests of Cobboboonee National Park.

This was no mean feat and the success of this campaign is primarily attributable to Doug’s ability to engage with politicians, political advisors, media, Department of Environment personnel, and the general public in an informed and respectful manner. He earned everyone’s respect even if they did not necessarily agree with what he was saying, they listened to him. His passion and love for the environment were inspirational and difficult to ignore.

I have no idea how many hours he would have spent writing letters, making phone calls, conducting interviews, sending faxes and later emails, and trips to Melbourne, but I can assure you it went far beyond the call of duty. He also served as president from 2001-2004 while continuing to pursue the aim of better legislative protection for the Cobboboonee. For this sustained effort he was awarded Life Membership of PFNC in 2005. I remember posing the question during this presentation “…does this man ever sleep?”

Doug was the leading light and I stumbled along in his shadow, trying to keep up. I even dubbed him Dynamo Doug.

Doug would be the first to acknowledge assistance from others and I must say that Geraldine Ryan shared Doug’s vision for better protection for our forests. She played a significant role in the change in status of the Cobboboonee forest to National and Forest Parks. Geraldine was present at many of the political meetings in support of Doug, as well as motivating much of the general public to support the campaign through letters to politicians and face to face conversations at innumerable festivals and community events.

Doug always seemed to know what the next step should be, and while engaging in that he would follow up on any undertakings made, especially by politicians or their staff, to keep them on their toes. I believe it was this attention to detail and courteous reminders that persuaded the politicians and their advisors that here was a force to be reckoned with, who understood their situation, but was eloquent in expressing his expectations of them, for better protection of the environment.

He, along with Matthew Wood (of the Australian Ecological Research Services) developed a document titled, ‘A Zonal Reserve System for the Forests of the Portland Forest Management Area’. We in the Field Nats just called it ‘Doug’s Document’.

It was this document that outlined a vision for the forest which accommodated other users as well as protecting the environmental integrity of the forest through National Park legislation. He recognised the significance of the Cobboboonee to the Gunditjmara people and sought their support for a change in its legal status.

It may have been his tenacity that achieved the results. I can imagine political staffers muttering, ‘this Doug Phillips is not likely to go away any time soon, so we may as well give him what he is asking for’. In one of his communications with a Minister’s office he had provided a suggested media release outlining what he sought to achieve but which also played into the political arena as well. I remember his glee when he saw it published almost word for word. He laughed and said, ‘I just made it easy for them, job done!’

I was privileged to be asked to accompany him to the Surry Ridge Picnic ground for the launch of the Bracks Government’s Environment Policy, which included an election promise to establish a Cobbonoonee National Park. There was a substantial media contingent in attendance. Premier Steve Bracks and the then Environment Minister John Thwaites were treated to a sight of a mother koala with a joey on her back, while the Premier held a baby Lachlan Phillips. Doug said something like, ‘well, that just about sums it up, the future of the forests for future generations’. Parenthood had served to increase his resolve to secure the future of our environment.

In 2008, the new Environment Minister Gavin Jennings announced a park system which broadly reflected the suggestions put to him in The Zonal Reserve System. It was ‘Doug’s Document’! Doug’s vision, common-sense, and accommodating approach had won the day and the Cobboboonee National & Forest Parks will be a lasting testament to him.

It is now just over 10 years since the declaration of the Cobboboonee NP and he was keen to have a 10th Anniversary celebration. Sadly that is not likely to happen at this stage so I would like to take this opportunity to honour and recognise Doug’s incredible contribution to this achievement. I know Doug would deflect some of this recognition to others, but it was his driving force which made it happen.

He then turned his attention to the global crisis of climate change and again came up with a tangible mitigation process, that of utilising plantation forest waste to produce biochar. Anyone who knew Doug would know about biochar, he made certain of that, as it dominated his thoughts and many conversations. He along with others purchased a pyrolysis machine with which to demonstrate its potential benefits. He promoted this to politicians, industry leaders and anyone who would listen, even travelling as far as Japan to present research material on this technology. As is often the case, industry and government were slow to ‘get on board’ and this became a significant frustration for him. However the use of biochar in agriculture is beginning to be recognised as a legitimate carbon sequestration tool with the added bonus of soil enhancement. This is another achievement in which Doug had played a significant role.

As a member of the Portland Field Naturalists’ Club I believe the best way we can honour Doug is to continue a strong advocacy for the health of our environment and the planet.

In thinking about Doug I began to attribute words which described him. They were many, but included: Visionary, Dedicated, Inspirational, Vibrant, Enthusiastic, Dignified, Eloquent, Articulate, Respectful & Respected, Generous, Tireless, Focussed, Compassionate and Courageous.

He was indeed a most remarkable man, and we count ourselves incredibly fortunate to have known him, to be counted among his friends, and to have shared his path.

Ruth Graney, on behalf of the Portland Field Naturalists Club

Mark Bachmann