Issue 31, January - June 2005

Savanna people and landscapes lose an inspiring champion

Jill Landsberg

Dr Jill Landsberg’s contribution to knowledge and management of Australian ecosystems were many and profound; a champion for the landscapes she loved and people who lived in them

Members of the Tropical Savannas CRC community were saddened to learn of the death of Dr Jill Landsberg on 24 May, 2005, in Cairns.

Jill battled cancer over the preceding 12 months with bravery and dignity, and was inspirational in her last few weeks as she has been throughout her life.

Jill joined the Tropical Savannas CRC as the Leader of the Community and Industry Natural Resources Manage­ment Theme towards the end of 2001. She came to the CRC bringing a wealth of experience in rangeland science, a huge enthusiasm for the task, a passion for the environment, a love of the people that occupy our landscapes, and an impressive intellect and competence.

We were truly fortunate to have had such a person working in our midst, and our community has benefited enormously.

Jill started her professional life with a degree in pharmacy, then education, and worked as a high school teacher from 1976 to 1979, before following her love of the environment into a research career. Working in the Botany Department at the University of Queensland as a research assistant, she completed a first class Honours in botany in 1982 at UQ, and a PhD in plant ecology in 1986 at the Australian National University. By 1990 she had completed two research fellowships, and began a 10-year career with CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology in Canberra.

Jill’s contributions to knowledge and management of Australian ecosystems were many and profound, resulting in her recognition by the Ecological Society of Australia through the award of the ESA Gold Medal in May this year. Her work on dieback of forest and woodland trees in the late 1980s established a conceptual understanding of the problem that underpins much of the current work in the area. A decade of research on rangeland grazing and biodiversity was characterized by collaboration and engagement with all stakeholders, discovery of solutions to real problems and some profound changes in our understanding of grazing–biodiversity interactions.

This definitive work resulted in national and inter­national recognition, and perhaps more importantly, real progress towards ecologically sustainable pastoralism in the rangelands. Some of her recent work on threatened species and vegetation management drew on a diversity of experience and perspectives, and always combined rigorous scientific foundation with high levels of relevance and application to contemporary management issues.

In 2000, she moved to north Queensland, where she worked as a conservation scientist with the Queensland Government, most recently with the Department of Primary Industry & Fisheries. Over the past four years, Jill held a shared position between the Queensland Government and the Tropical Savannas CRC. Jill’s leadership role with the CRC had a strong influence on the impact of our research, and its relevance to the needs of community and industry.

A strong team player, Jill was a seemingly inexhaustible source of drive and enthusiasm for many new initiatives. She was always the first to volunteer, and the last to criticize. She was great fun to work with; she inspired, she encouraged and she always shared the credit. Her lively intelligence might have been intimidating in another person, but Jill always leavened her sharp insight and dry wit with empathy and kindness. She could find the grain of humour in any situation, and point it out to those of us not so quick on the uptake.

A keen caver, explorer, bushwalker and naturalist, Jill was an effective champion for the environment and landscapes that she loved, and a shining example of the way that science can make a positive difference to those environments. But she was also blessed with a rare mix of compassion and common sense, and had a strong empathy with the people who live and work on the land.

Her significant contribution to conservation and management of the rangelands was grounded in that compassion. Jill placed a high value on the experience and insight of people in all walks of life, respected knowledge in all its forms, and argued fiercely for what she held to be true. She was an ardent advocate for reconciliation, and her politics were those of generosity and mutual understanding.

All of us in the Tropical Savannas CRC community share the loss with Jill’s husband Dave Gillieson, members of her immediate family and the many close friends whose lives Jill has touched over the years. On behalf of that community, I extend our heartfelt sympathy.

A memorial service to celebrate Jill’s rich life and legacy to Australian science and environ­ments, was held on the Cairns Campus of James Cook University on 8 July.