Born in Adelaide on January 9, 1915, John Harding Chinner studied at the Victorian School of Forestry (VSF) at Creswick and graduated Dux of his class in 1932. He was also awarded the prestigious A. V. Galbraith Medal.
John (or Jack as he was also known) served four years as an assistant district forester at Taggerty with the Forests Commission working in timber utilisation and silviculture.
On his weekends he played cricket for Taggerty during 1935, 1936 and 1937.
In 1937 he took up a scholarship at the University of Melbourne and graduated B.Sc. in 1938 with exhibitions in geology and botany
During the 1939 Black Friday Bushfires, while working for the Commission over his summer holidays, its reported that John Chinner was driving a truck near Noojee rescuing people whose homes were in danger. He had his own narrow escape when racing through one of the worst fire areas with two women passengers, one of them who was aged more than 80. John threw water over the car until the last moment and then, just as the flames closed round, they all ran into the Latrobe River for safety.
On his return to the university in 1939 he was selected for the famed Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University.
But with the outbreak of war in September 1939 John elected to defer his scholarship and enlisted with the rank of Lieutenant in the AIF in July 1940. He served in the 1st Field Park Company, firstly in the Middle East, and later at New Guinea. He was “Mentioned in Despatches” in October 1944 for exceptional service in the field and rose to the rank of substantive Lieutenant-Colonel. Like so many returned servicemen, he spoke little about his war experiences but always offered assistance to former servicemen in need.
At the end of the war, and after six years service with the army, John finally took up his studies to Oxford to complete a post-graduate degree in Forestry doing research into silviculture and forest ecology.
On his return to Australia from England, John was appointed Senior Lecturer of Forestry at the University of Melbourne and remained involved in forestry education for the remainder of his career. John was later promoted to Reader of Forestry in 1956.
During 1963/64, he took sabbatical leave to Harvard University as Bullard Research Fellow in Forestry and Special Auditor in its Forestry School.
Earlier in his career John Chinner oversaw the Creswick Diploma being accepted as the first two years of a Melbourne University B.Sc. For. degree course. This enabled many Creswick graduates to upgrade their qualifications from the late 1940s.
It was also John Chinner who was instrumental in founding the first four-year forestry degree course in 1967 within the University of Melbourne.
Meanwhile, there had been a long association, with some friendly academic and personal rivalries, between VSF, the Forests Commission and the University of Melbourne.
After an extended period of tumultuous negotiation between two strong minded intellectuals, Dr Frank Moulds, Chairman of the Forests Commission, (and ex Principal of VSF), and John Chinner who had then become Dean of the University Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, an agreement was finally reached whereby the University took over the administration of VSF at the end of 1980, using both the Creswick and its main Parkville (Melbourne) campus.
In 1978, a new Chairman of the Forests Commission, Alan Threader was appointed, and he took a lead role in cementing the new arrangements where the Commission ceased offering its Diploma course on condition that the University taught two years of its four-year degree course at Creswick.
The school Principal at Creswick, Alan Eddy, followed by Dr Jim Edgar together with Bob Orr oversaw a smooth transition of the campus.
Always a strong supporter of the profession, John Chinner was an active member of the Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA) and was Chairman of the Victorian Division 1953-1955. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 1974 and was further honoured with the Norman Jolly Medal in 1982, the Institute’s highest award for merit in forestry.
In his honour, the IFA later established the annual J H Chinner Medal for the outstanding graduate in the Bachelor of Forest Science at the University of Melbourne.
John lived at Doncaster and played an important role locally in the development of what is now Warrandyte State Park.
John Chinner retired from the University at the end of 1980 and passed away on 13 Nov 2001.
Photo: John Chinner was Reader-in-Charge of Forestry, University of Melbourne. President of the Royal Society of Victoria 1965-1966. Source: Aust Encyclopedia of Science