A tribute to Dr Graeme Worboys

GER is very saddened by the loss of Honorary Associate Professor Graeme Worboys AM; one of Australia’s conservation giants and co-founder of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative.

Dr Graeme Worboys was a passionate conservationist who spent his life advocating and working to protect Australia’s environment, which he loved so deeply. Despite battling a lengthy and debilitating illness, Graeme continued to write, teach and mentor until his passing, and to tirelessly campaign to strengthen the management of Australia’s protected areas, particularly his beloved Kosciuszko National Park.

Starting his career as a ranger and later executive director with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Graeme went on to become a global leader and expert in connectivity conservation and contributed to the science and management of protected areas internationally through his work with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). In 2010 he co-edited and co-authored Connectivity Conservation Management: A Global Guide, which became an international handbook for large landscape conservation.

With a life-long interest in protected area management and geology, it was Graeme who was among the first to spawn the idea over forty years ago of an interconnected string of national parks stretching from the Blue Mountains 600 kilometres south along the Great Escarpment and Great Dividing Range to the Victorian border.

“I met Graeme Worboys first in 1983 when he became the manager for the Blue Mountains District of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales, and I was a new member of parliament in that locality. He was supervising the expenditure of funding from a national job creation program for large scale improvements in the Park, and his competence and selfless ambition for conservation were immediately obvious. Graeme’s unbreakable determination, his quiet courage and his capacity for lasting friendship became more apparent over the passing years,” Bob Debus, Chair of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative.

Twenty years later that kernel of an idea grew into what became the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative. Along with fellow conservationist, Ian Pulsford, Graeme approached the then Minister for Environment in New South Wales, Bob Debus, with their vision to relink and protect no less than the entire arc of eastern Australia.

Thirteen sometimes difficult years and several iterations after that, GER is flourishing, and Graeme’s support never lagged for a moment. The seminal IUCN publication, Protected Area Governance and Management, of which Graeme was lead editor and author, captures the vision of the Great Eastern Range Initiative, in his words, “on the cover and every chapter of the book”.

Between 2019 to 2020, Graeme released a brilliantly illustrated 400-page book, Kosciusko – a Great National Park, co-authored by Diedre Slattery; contributed to IUCN’s Guidelines for conserving connectivity through ecological networks and corridors; and provided critical support to the South Australian Government’s proposal for World Heritage nomination of Ediacaran fossil sites, including the Arkaroola geological area.

These accomplishments were all completed under the constant shadow of his illness, yet Graeme’s boundless ambition and fierce commitment to the task at hand never let it interrupt him.

Graeme’s place in IUCN’s history was recognised when, in 2018, he won the most prestigious global award in the conservation field of protected areas – the IUCN Fred Packard Award.

In a fitting final tribute to his lifelong dedication and significant contributions to conservation, the environment and community, Graeme was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) from the Governor General on Australia Day 2020.

The many tributes that have flowed in from around Australia all over the world attest to Graeme’s special character – his prodigious energy, modesty, integrity, vision, leadership, strategic thinking, political nous, teaching ability, optimism, good humour, courage and the utter determination to achieve a long list of wins for conservation.

We have lost a brave friend and one of Australia’s greatest champions for nature. The Great Eastern Ranges will stand as a permanent testament to the remarkable legacy that Graeme leaves behind.

“So many thoughts flood to mind when thinking about the life and extraordinary achievements of Honorary Associate Professor Graeme Worboys– or “Worbs” as he was widely known. Graeme was a loyal friend and truly extraordinary colleague during the 35 years that we worked, socialised with our families and professional colleagues, and explored “nature’s gifts” together. He created a prodigious legacy of achievements both in Australia and internationally.  Graeme’s humbleness, integrity, sparkling smile, energy, sheer determination and life-long commitment to protecting nature inspired his many colleagues, students and friends to do better wherever he worked,” Ian Pulsford, GER Board Member.

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