Francis  Podger's Memorial

Francis Podger
(1933 - 2009)


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General Details

Name: Dr Francis Podger
Gender: Male
Age: 76 years old
Lived: Friday, 10 March 1933 - Monday, 29 June 2009

My Story

Over the course of his 75 years this remarkable man charted the course of his life from poverty and hardship, through discipline and hard work to ascend to the heights of International Scientific Achievement. Yet not once in his life did he ever bemoan his lot or claim wholly as his own the things that he achieved. Frank leaves behind a legacy that will live long in the annuals of Science.

Francis Denis Podger, was born on the 10/08/33, the Son of Mavis Elizabeth and Stephen Denis Podger. He was the eldest of four children, Frank, Keith, Clare and Neil. Frank was born during a difficult time, and his childhood was not the easy carefree childhood we all want for our children. The world had just gone to war and his father and two Podger Brothers were sent overseas to fight.

Franks uncles were killed in action and this loss had profound affect on Franks Father, Stephen. He suffered post traumatic stress and develop a serious alcohol addiction. Family life suffered and Frank would often escape the stresses at home by venturing into the nearby woods where his love of nature blossomed.

The 1930’s was a time of great economic hardship and this, combined with problems at home lead to Frank and his brother Keith being placed in Swan Boys Orphanage.

Frank was an impressionable 9 year old at the time and he soon learned that life in the Orphanage difficult. The children had to walk up to four kilometers to school each day bearfoot, showers were cold and war time rationing meant that there was little food. Franks health suffered and he developed rickets.

Despite these setbacks young Frank was a gifted child – he possessed unique intellectual abilities. And he found solace from the hardships of his childhood applying these abilities to his study of the bush.

During his time at the Orphanage Frank learnt many of the lessons that shaped him as a man. He learned the value of friendship and camaraderie, how to be a leader and how to use his wit and intellect to persuade, entertain and protect both himself and others.

Franks many talents were soon recognized and he was awarded a scholarship to Study at Guildford Grammar. Then at the age of 17, thanks to the generosity of the Anglican community, Frank was offered a scholarship at the University of Western Australia where he studied botany and his career started to take shape.

He Graduated from UWA and began working at the Forestry Department. One night at a party one of Frank’s colleagues introduced him to Antoinette Marie Stewart. Antoinette described his lodgings at the time as:
“ more like a hut than a house. All of his cloths were all over the floor”

Yet, in his wardrobe, neatly stacked, were all precious books

Despite this Antionette was so taken with Franks charm and impressed with his intellect that they married and quickly had five beautiful children.

The call of the bush and the peace Frank found amongst the Flora was a constant motif in his life. He would return often. And this passion drove his career to greater heights. He went on to earn a PHD from the University of Auckland, and his work on Jarrah dieback was internationally recognized when he won the International Union of Forest Research Organizations award for Scientific Achievement in 1971.

Yet Frank was a humble man who did not value pomp and ceremony. He would be proudest of what his colleagues and friends had to say about him.

Dr Richard Robinson remembers:
“I remember him as a larger than life character. In addition to his vast knowledge of Forest Ecology and Pathology Frank was great company on field trips. I enjoyed his wonderful sense of humour and his clever use of language. I not only enjoyed great company but had the privilege of learning a lot from him as well.”

Trevor Bird
"He was a good and convivial friend with an interest in everything and the capacity, intelligence and wit to engage everyone else in his passions. He enjoyed a good time in almost any company".

And, from Dr Janet Farr
"An astounding man".

Many speak of his Intellectual rigor, his passion for his science and his deep understanding of nature:

Don White:
"Frank’s knowledge of the Tasmanian Ecosystems and the processes going on in them were extraordinary, and in his breadth of knowledge of forested ecosystems he was without peer. It was his deep understanding of the scientific process and skill as a writer that were of most help to me in my early career".

 Ian Smith recalls:
"My memories of Frank are of a man with a deep passion and energy for any issue that caught his imagination".

Dr Richard Robinson
"His ability to ‘read’ the bush and interpret the influence of fire and disease was uncanny".

Don White
"Frank was a maverick who didn’t care much for bureaucracy – he was fiercely loyal to his mates and to those he respected".

Frank it would seem was well known for holding his peers accountable – after all “Science was not a bloody popularity contest!” he would say.

And he did not suffer fools idly.

“If anyone here has had to deliver a scientific seminar with Frank Podger in the audience, you will know what I mean!” observed Dr Neil Burrows.

His wit was legendary and he was not afraid to use it. Don White recalls one particular incident:
“There was a colleague in Tasmanian who was well known for being a bit precious (a bit of a self-involved twit really). One day as Frank and I walked across the court yard this bloke yelled from his window – ‘Frank, they’ve put the rubbish bins under my window’. Franks reply was quick – ‘Don’t worry, it’s a policy of centralisation’”

Ironically – it was Frank’s tendency to spread his rubbish as far and wide as circumstance would allow.

Frank was also well regarded for his sense of humour and his willingness to laugh at himself. All those who knew him had a funny story to share.

Dr Robert Richardson:
"One field tour with him was one to remember. He suggested we go in his car to Windy Harbor, but to remind him to get petrol when we returned because his tank was on empty.
On returning to Northcliffe, Esther & I jumped back into our car and took off following Frank back to Walpole. Of course we all forgot about the petrol!
As can only happen with Frank, he ran out of petrol 100 m short of the service station in Walpole.
As he jumped out of the car laughing he proclaimed ‘thanks to my Germanic sense of detail, I have planned the trip perfectly’.
We all pushed him triumphantly into Walpole. Time with Frank was never dull".
Whilst Frank was passionate about forest ecology, there were other passions in his life.
Dr Burrows recounts:
"Over a couple of beers after work, it would not take Frank long to talk about his children, and it was evident that he was enormously proud of them and that they were by far his greatest achievement".
And Frank gave a bit of himself to each of his children

Lisa – who inherited his sharp intellect and passion for learning.

Catherine - whose intuitive understanding of what drives people both spiritually and emotionally mirrors Dads .

Julie - who along with her Husband Luigi, have demonstrated their fierce loyalty to Frank by given up more to support him than should be have been expected.

Aaron – who also shares Franks ability to throw himself into his passion with a dedication and intensity astounds those who witness it.

And Me – his youngest. Adam. I have had the great fortune of inheriting Frank’s good looks.

So Lisa, Cathy, Julie Aaron, and I are all part of Franks Legacy. As is Toni and the Grandchildren they share, Loretta, Franco, Sophia, Alaylee, Ashlon and Felicity.

And then, there are the impressions he left both on science and within its community.

Dr Richard Robinson
"To me Frank is a legend. He was very highly regarded by his peers and his substantial contribution to the broader knowledge of eucalypt forest ecosystems is testament to his substance as a scientist. He will always live on in my memory as great fun, an eminent interpreter of forest pathology and ecology, a philosopher, scientist and friend"

Trevor Bird
"Frank was humble in discovery, ascribing new truths he developed as arising ‘because he had stood on the shoulders of the giants who went before him’. I am proud to have had a comrade in such a giant. I will miss the intellectual stimulation of Frank, but will cherish the legacy he has left"

The Frank Podger his friends and family came to know is the result of what happens when a powerful will and incisive intellect encounters obstacles in life.

Childhood was not easy for Frank –but he, like the nature he loved so much was able to learn, adapt, prosper and blossom. His Legacy will live long in the hearts and memories of those who knew him and in the history of scientific achievement.

Dr Frank Podger – we all are profoundly grateful to have known you.

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Dad - I got to know you better after you left than I did while you were here. I wish I could have spent more time wi...




Date of Passing: 29 June 2009
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