Obituary: Emeritus Professor Harold Brookfield (9 March 1926–22 May 2022)

21st July 2022

Emeritus Professor Harold Brookfield passed away on 22 May 2022, bringing to a close a long and very distinguished academic career, closely associated with the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS) and CHL. He spent two long periods at the Geography (later Human Geography) Department in RSPAS – the first from 1957 to 1969, and then again from 1982 until his retirement in 1991.

Harold was, at various times, Head of the Human Geography Department and Acting Director of the School; a major figure in international geography and the recipient of numerous international honours and awards, many in the Coombs Building will remember him as a frequent resident of the Tea Room, or walking the corridors, reaching in his pockets for his pipe.

Harold’s work focused largely on the relationship between humans and their landscapes, particularly as this was understood through the lens of agricultural production. His work on agricultural intensification, land use and land degradation, and the impact of El Nino events was ground-breaking and innovative.

The regional (and later global) breadth of his field research would be almost impossible to replicate today, involving visits of varying lengths to most jurisdictions in the Pacific, in addition to intensive work in Malaysia and elsewhere. In one particularly productive and influential study, in a collaboration with anthropologist Paula Brown that spanned several decades, Harold mapped changes in population, land use and agricultural productivity in the Chimbu region of the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

Retirement did not slow Harold’s productivity. He set up the UN University-funded project on People, Land Management and Environmental Change (PLEC), assembling an international network of scholars. Some sense of the range of his interests and collaborations is given by this sample from his many published books: The Highland Peoples of New Guinea (1962), Melanesia: a Geographical Interpretation of an Island World (1971, with Doreen Hart), The Pacific in Transition (1973), Interdependent Development (1975), Land Degradation and Society (1987, with Piers Blaikie), South-east Asia’s Environmental Future: the Search for Sustainability (1993, with Yvonne Byron), In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Social Transformation in Borneo and the eastern Malay Peninsula (1995, with Lesley Potter and Yvonne Byron), Cultivating Biodiversity: Understanding, Analysing and Using Agricultural Diversity (2002, with Christine Padoch, Helen Parsons and Michael Stocking); Agrodiversity: Learning from Farmers Across the World (2003, with Helen Parsons and Muriel Brookfield), and Family Farms: Survival and Prospect (2007, with Helen Parsons).

Harold’s papers, including the field notebooks that bear witness to his remarkable travels, are held in the ANU Archives.

Harold is survived by his wife, Muriel Brookfield, also a geographer of considerable renown.

A full obituary for Harold is provided by Bryant Allen on the ANU Emeritus website, Life Celebrations.

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