Alf Lawrence.

Alfred (Alf) Oscar Platt Lawrence, OBE, was an outstanding Victorian forester and community leader.

In 1920 he began at the Victorian School of Forestry (VSF) at Creswick.

Upon graduation in 1923 Alf was appointed as a cadet forester with the Forests Commission Victoria with his first country postings to Bright and Beaufort.

He later studied at the newly established Australian Forestry School (AFS), initially in Adelaide in 1926, before moving to the Canberra in 1927.

During 1934-35 Alf Lawrence was able to travel to Oxford to study for a Diploma of Forestry at the Imperial Forestry Institute on the prestigious Russell Grimwade Prize.

Returning from England as one of the most highly qualified foresters in the country, he took a more operational role as District Forester at Ballarat and Creswick.

In the wake of the disastrous 1939 bushfires, and Judge Stretton’s scathing report, Lawrence was the natural choice to become the Commission’s Chief Fire Officer.

He immediately set about the huge challenge of rebuilding a highly organised and motivated fire fighting force, lifting staff morale, introducing RAAF fire spotting aircraft, fire towers, modern vehicles and equipment such as powered pumps, as well as a statewide radio communications network, VL3AA.

After the sudden death of the Chairman of the Forests Commission, Alfred Vernon Galbraith, in 1949, Lawrence was appointed as one of the three commissioners joining with new Chairman Finton George Gerraty and Charles Montgomery Ewart.

Gerraty then died suddenly on 25 June 1956 during a difficult period for the Commission, amidst serious allegations of financial mismanagement of its Newport seasoning works, and after some delay, Lawrence was finally elevated to Chairman in December 1956, a position he held until his retirement in July 1969.

During the next twelve years of his Chairmanship, he oversaw a major plantation expansion (PX) program, a new Royalty Equation system for Sawlogs in 1950, and restructuring the small head office cadre and much larger number of field staff into 56 geographic forest districts, grouped into 7 larger divisions in 1956. The boundaries and structure remained relatively stable for the next 40 years.

He later oversaw a major revision of the forest legislation in 1958.

And while the entire world was focused on Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, Alf Lawrence quietly retired at the compulsory age of 65 in July 1969, after a career spanning nearly 50 years. He was honoured with a civil Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his outstanding services to forestry and scouting.

Together with his predecessor A.V. Galbraith, Alf Lawrence laid the foundations for forest and bushfire management in Victoria and can lay claim to be one of its founding fathers.

He remained active in many community organisations after his retirement and died in 1986, aged 81.

Alfred Oscar Lawrence – graduated from the Victorian School of Forestry in 1922. Lawrence sitting second from the left. ben Benallack sitting next to him (third from left)
Alf Lawrence (centre) was a very hands-on and visionary Fire Chief. He laid the foundations for a renewed, innovative and well-equipped firefighting organisation in Victoria after the setbacks of the 1939 bushfires.  He later became Chairman of the Forests Commission from 1956 to 1969. Photo at Albert Park Lake circa 1950. Note the vehicle-mounted pump. Source: FCRPA collection.

3 thoughts on “Alf Lawrence.

  1. Excellent, Peter. Very important executive figure.

    The last time I saw him was at the IFA meeting at Creswick one weekend to get members to support its campaign on farm trees.

    That would’ve been the late 70s.

    Sadly, and obviously, he was starting to exhibit dementia. Maybe that was the first time I ever seen that condition, as it was rarely mentioned then. So it was a shock.




  2. Hi Peter,

    Great article about Alf Lawrence who I remember meeting him on a few occasions when he visited Kallista or the Dandenongs.

    I also had opportunity to attend a farewell function for Alf at 1 Treasury Place. I was working in the Premier’s Office on the first floor and the Forests Commission occupied the fourth and fifth floors. Dad told me that Alf was retiring and that a function was to be held in a foyer area outside the commissioner’s offices. I recall Alf’s private secretary made a very humorous speech about him and that he was genuinely held in high regard by FCV staff.

    Kind regards,


    Geoffrey H Westcott CPA

    43 Menzies Close

    Frankston South Vic 3199

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