Tom Crosbie Morrison.

Philip Thomas Crosbie Morrison, sometimes known as PTCM, but more commonly as just plain Tom, was born in 1931 and grew up in Brighton.

It’s alleged that on New Years Eve, Tom, and his younger brother James, climbed the statue of Victoria’s infamous and colourful Premier Sir Thomas Bent, which overlooked the Nepean Highway, and placed a beer can in his outstretched palm. It’s not known if the can had been emptied of its contents or not… but one suspects so…

Tom graduated in 1951 from the Victorian School of Forestry (VSF) at Creswick. He was one of three unrelated Morrison students who attended the school around the same time including Ken (1949) and Graham (1962).

Like so many other VSF graduates before him, Tom’s career began with the Forests Commission Victoria (FCV) in Assessment Branch, and then followed a well-worn path of numerous district postings including Broadford, Powelltown (1954), Dunolly (1957), Bruthen at Mount Taylor (1959-1966), before being promoted as District Forester to Corryong (1966).

In about 1969, Tom had been offered the leadership of an Antarctic expedition, but the Commission refused to let him go on the grounds that he was needed in the organisation. Naturally he was very disappointed with the decision.

During the late 1960s, recreation and conservation on State forest was receiving greater community focus.  A key moment for the Commission came in August 1970, then under the new chairmanship of Dr Frank Moulds, with the creation of the Forest Recreation Branch.

This initiative was a first for any Australian Forest Service, and its brief soon widened, and by 1971 it became the Forest Environment and Recreation (FEAR) Branch, firstly under the stewardship of Athol Hodgson and later Stuart Calder.

In January 1971, Tom was one of the founding members of the new FEAR Branch which was based at Treasury Place in Melbourne.

Tom set high standards for recreational facilities in the bush. This included working with FCV Districts to establish signboard workshops at Forrest, Stawell and Benalla, map laminating at Benalla, picnic table and information shelter production at Forrest, and picnic ground fireplace manufacture at Trentham. He also arranged production of the reflective aluminium track markers used on the Alpine Walking Track and Howqua feeder track, and other signs such as the brown and yellow ‘Native Plants and Wildlife Protected in this Forest’ metal signs.

Tom often spoke passionately of multiple-use forestry . . . Water, Wood, Wildlife and Recreation (AKA – the four Ws).

And while with FEAR Branch, Tom also advocated strongly for conservation ideals within the Commission and provided technical advice for the iconic film “The Living Forest” which was produced in 1973.

The 22-minute short film portrays, beautifully for its time, Victoria’s forests and woodlands including its flora, fauna, water and soils, recreation and tourism use, fire management and economic values, including the timber industry.  The film briefly examines the Forests Commission’s “multiple use” philosophy and explored the importance of balancing the environmental and economic demands that community’s make on State forests.

Tom continued to make short films throughout his career and developed many important contacts outside the Commission, such as cameraman David Corke, and ABC natural history producer, Dione Gilmour, in the early stages of her legendary career.

With his colleague and graphic artist, Helen Dean, a new interpretations brochure was designed with the slogan “Forests are for Everyone “…  a phrase that would come to underscore the ethos at the Forests Commission for many years to come.

In 1973, Tom and Helen together with Mary Crooks (who was a geography student at the time working over the uni holidays), hiked the tracks of the Grampians making notes, taking photos and suggesting illustrations for Mary’s publication – Field Guide to the Grampians Wonderland Forest Park.

Tom was also a prolific pipe smoker, just like his father, and in those days public servants could puff away at their desks oblivious to those around them gasping on the fumes. His friends recall a big glass ashtray that sat on his desk full of smelly pipe cinders.

In a pre-computer era, many of his tasks involved reading technical documents and writing memos and manuscripts in longhand for the office typist.  Tom became most adept at with his legs outstretched on the visitor’s chair that everyone had at their desk in those days. Tom had a great command of the English language and asked the organisation for a new-fangled Dictaphone but was rejected because the higher-ups thought everyone might want one. Like many, Tom was known to get frustrated by small-mindedness and bureaucracy.

Tom also had a great fondness for old-style English humour such as Spike Milligan and the Goons. He had an infectious capacity to laugh spontaneously with such freedom and enthusiasm at all their silliness.

His humorous contributions to the banter around the morning tea trolley were legendary. The shenanigans extended to a mock radio program at a FEAR Branch lunch, complete with theme music and commentary.

Never very far from a small portable radio, Tom would readily tune into anything that spiked his interest or curiosity.

At the beginning of 1976, Tom took a stint at his alma mater, the Victorian School of Forestry, as lecturer for the mature aged certificate of applied science students.

Tom lacked a university degree and always felt this had been a handbrake on his career progression.  So, it was while at Creswick, and after a very long gestation, that Tom was finally awarded a Diploma of Forestry (Victoria) for his thesis – “The Natural Occurrence, Distribution and Utilisation of Natural Resources in Victoria”.

A great communicator, Tom was always seeking other people’s opinions and ideas, and genuinely listening to what they had to say. He was widely respected and popular with his students but chose to return to Melbourne at the end of 1981 as an Interpretation Officer.

And just like his father, Tom kindled in anyone who spun into his ever-enthusiastic orbit, an appreciation of the bush, of its simple pleasures, and fostered great care for the outdoors.

People who knew Tom attest he was a gentle soul, a delight to work with, very humorous, very approachable, very kind, very caring, very encouraging, very compassionate and wanting to help others.

But sadly, Tom died suddenly in 1982, aged 51, of a hereditary heart condition.

Philip Crosbie Morrison

They say, “apples don’t fall far from the tree”, and there seems little doubt that Tom was strongly influenced by his father, Philip Crosbie Morrison, the legendary naturalist, educator, journalist, broadcaster and conservationist.

Crosbie Morrison, as he was widely known, broadcast on radio 3DB-3LK during the 1940s and 1950s. Thousands of Australians learned natural history during his Sunday evening radio program, “Along The Track”, which became an institution.

His broadcast opened with a burst of kookaburra laughter, then the tones of a Sherbrooke Forest lyrebird, next the introduction of ‘Mr Crosbie Morrison, Master of Science, editor of Wild Life magazine, followed by the familiar and friendly, “Good evening listeners”.

In his mellifluous voice he told his listeners how to identify the small bush creatures, such as pygmy possums and feathertail gliders that came into their suburban lounges in a load of wartime firewood.

The popularity of the man with the pipe, the moustache and the Harry Potter glasses was enormous, as was his fan mail, which sometimes contained live spiders and other bits of flora and fauna for identification.

Before the programme was five years old, a survey found that 78% of all Victorian radios on Sunday evening were tuned into Morrison. In following years, the programme was relayed throughout Australia, New Zealand and even extended to South Africa.

Prominent in many conservation organisations, Crosbie Morrison lobbied relentlessly for the protection of environmentally significant areas of Victoria such as Wilsons Promontory. He was appointed the founding director of the Victorian National Parks Authority in 1956.

Philip Crosbie Morrison died suddenly in 1958 and left a remarkable legacy.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra dedicated the Crosbie Morrison building as its Environmental Education Centre.

Thanks to Rob Youl, Helen Dean, Kester Baines, Mike Leonard, Brian Fry, Mal McKinty and Dennis Williamson for contributing to this tribute.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: