The Late Emeritus Professor Geoff Hope in Namadgi National Park, ACT

The Late Emeritus Professor Geoff Hope in Namadgi National Park, ACT

Remembering Geoff: Obituary

24th May 2022

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The show must go on, is what's often said after the passing of a loved one. And it has, but late last year, during the December 2021 Christmas break, the CHL community was shaken by one tragedy after another, losing many among its loved and respected family. Among those was Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Hope. Many months have passed since he left us, but here's presenting this tribute to a friend and mentor, in the words of CHL Director Professor Simon Haberle...

The news that our friend, colleague, and Australasian Quaternary Association Life Member Emeritus Professor Geoff Hope, passed away over the Christmas break in 2021, after a long battle with cancer, was met with great sadness. Geoff was a close friend and mentor to many of us and contributed enormously to the disciplines of palynology, botany, palaeoecology and biogeography.

Geoff began his career in Quaternary research and palaeoecology at the Botany Department, University of Melbourne, where he investigated the modern pollen-vegetation relationships and Holocene vegetation history of Wilson’s Promontory, for which he was awarded a B.Sc (Honours) and M.Sc in 1966 and 1968, respectively. In 1969, he moved to Canberra at the invitation of Professor Donald Walker, who was then the Head of the Department of Biogeography and Geomorphology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS), Australian National University, to begin a PhD on the vegetation history of Mt Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea.

Geoff completed his PhD in 1973 after pioneering a remarkable study on the influence of climate and human interaction with the alpine zone and montane forests in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Thus began a life-long devotion to research, always conducted in consultation with local communities, on the human history and landscape evolution of New Guinea.

In 1974, Geoff was awarded a prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship at ANU by the Australian Research Council to continue his work on the palaeo-environments of New Guinea. He was able to complete a range of remarkable surveys of the botany, palaeoecology, glaciology, palaeontology and archaeology of the highland landscapes of both West Papua (then Irian Jaya) and Papua New Guinea, as well as extend this work across SE Australia (e.g., Hunter Island in Bass Strait, Tasmania), northern Australia and the Pacific (e.g., Fiji and Vanuatu).

His early surveys of the botany and glacier/tree-line elevation in the Mt Jaya region of West Papua remain crucial benchmarks and glimpses into an environment that is rapidly transforming, and in some cases disappearing, under global warming and ever greater human exploitation. His multi-faceted interests represented a truly ground-breaking conceptualisation of research—an approach that we now recognise as transdisciplinary scholarship.

In 1978, Geoff was appointed as a lecturer in the Geography Department at ANU, where he enthralled many undergraduate and graduate students (including myself) with his distinctive and often laconic lecturing style, and where he is responsible for training generations of Quaternary researchers and igniting the curiosity of many in the field of natural history. His sense of adventure combined with a jovial and calm demeanour inspired many as they accompanied him into the field—often bringing his partner Bren and son Julian along for the ride. He led many undergraduate fieldtrips to iconic locations such as Lake Mungo, Mt Kosciuszko and the highlands of NSW and Victoria, where he demonstrated the importance and effectiveness of doing field-based research with a minimum of technology and an abundance of enthusiasm.

He became Head of the Geography Department between 1987 and 1989, before moving back to the Department of Biogeography and Geomorphology (later to become the Department of Archaeology and Natural History at the School of Culture, History & Language), where he was also Head from 1999–2003.

Over his academic career, Geoff published around 200 journal articles, reports and book chapters and supervised 32 PhD students, conducting fieldwork in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Myanmar, New Guinea and a number of Pacific islands. In 2000, he was awarded a D.Sc for his research on “Environmental and anthropogenic change in the late Quaternary of the Southwest Pacific region” (University of Melbourne). Geoff also played an active role over many years in the Australasian Quaternary Association. He served as its President from 1991–1994, organising the Nerriga meeting in 1994, and was a regular attendee at the other meetings. His recent award of Life Membership in the Australasian Quaternary Association is but a small reflection of the enormous contribution that Geoff made over the years to the Quaternary research in our region.

After more than 40 years of academic life at ANU, Geoff retired in 2009, but he continued to contribute to ANU as Emeritus Professor through generously teaching, researching and mentoring staff and students. He devoted much of his time over the last decade to the conservation of peatlands in montane ACT, NSW and Victoria, where he wrote a number of significant reports on the state of peatlands in SE Australia and continued to monitor peatland recovery after recent bushfire events across the region.

A Festschrift published in Geoff’s honour in 2010 details the legacy of Geoff’s enduring contribution as an inspirational research leader, collaborator and mentor.

Geoff was always keen for fieldwork opportunities and continued to accompany many of his friends and students at ANU and in Canberra into the field when he could, even up until a month before he passed away. His yearning and love for fieldwork as well as for home lasted throughout his life and is beautifully reflected in the acknowledgements section of his 1973 PhD Thesis (p.12) where he writes:

“After a few months in the field in New Guinea one tends to think back to dry, rolling plains with scattered trees and clear blue afternoon skies, with the luxuries of the straight smooth roads, hot water on tap, shops and libraries. One may vow never to walk again along muddy tracks, dreaming of a day without wet feet. But within a short time of returning to the laboratory bench, a reversal of attitudes takes place. One thinks instead of the unbelievable tangle of ridges rising up to mountain peaks, of grasslands and the gleam of ice, with clouds swirling down over sombre still lakes clinging to sheer rock walls and deep green forests. The pleasure of being so fit that a 1500 m climb is of no more concern than a walk over level ground is remembered when all the discomforts of any walking in New Guinea are forgotten. Although the contrasting pulls of New Guinea and Canberra will always remain with me, I am very grateful to the people who have introduced me to both worlds.”

As are we very grateful to Geoff for generously sharing his knowledge, insights and friendship throughout his life. His keen wit, wisdom and gentle encouragement for everyone with a curiosity for the natural world will be sorely missed.

Vale Geoff.

By Professor Simon Haberle, Director, ANU School of Culture, History & Language, College of Asia & and the Pacific

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster