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Vale Peter Fairweather

It is with sadness that we announce the death of quantitative ecologist and former ESA President Professor Peter Fairweather.

Rebecca Lester from the Centre for Regional and Rural Futures at Deakin University has asked us to share the following reflections with the ESA membership, and we invite you to post your thoughts below, which we will share with Peter’s family.

Peter worked at Flinders, Deakin, Macquarie and Sydney Universities as well as the CSIRO over a period of 35 years. As a quantitative ecologist specialising in the field assessment of ecological variation using well-designed sampling, manipulative experiments and modelling, he strove to seek out the true nature of aquatic ecosystems and human impacts thereupon. He always sought to engender intellectual rigour coupled with a sense of wonder in both his students and colleagues.

Peter was a leading ecologist across marine, coastal and freshwater systems, from basic biology to bioassessment and management-oriented science. He believed that sound environmental management of our waters must be based on an understanding of how such ecosystems work.

He held many roles advising all levels of government, private enterprise, and the non-government sector about better environmental decision-making, including via long-term secondments.

He was an extraordinary scientist – dedicated, incredibly knowledgeable and upholding the highest integrity. More, he was a truly great teacher and mentor who shared his wisdom and experience with generosity, respect and humour. He will be sadly missed.

3 thoughts on “Vale Peter Fairweather

  1. I first met Peter in 1989 while I was on sabbatical leave at the University of Sydney. He was at Macquarie at the time, and we met at a seminar. After the talk, he mentioned he was about to leave on a trip to re-sample Hugh Caffey’s field sites at seven headlands along the New South Wales coast (Caffey 1985, Ecological Monographs). In short order, I invited not only myself, but also my wife Carol and our two very young sons, along for the trip. It was a fabulous trip and the start of our very long friendship. It was also on that trip that I was introduced to his deep and wide range of interests and learned he collected detailed data on road kills along the way. In the early 1990s, Peter spent a study leave with me – part of it on Swans Island, Maine where we collected a massive amount of data for two papers, which we never managed to publish. I have wonderful memories of our long and meandering discussions of natural history and everything under the sun while we were on the shore that summer. Those conversations gave rise to my first paper on alternative states with Roger Latham, and it was Peter’s encouragement and unrelenting prodding that pushed me to start and finally finish my book on multiple states. Over the years our paths have crossed less frequently although whenever I was in Australia, I usually found a way to stay with Peter and Gillian for a brief visit. My most lasting impressions of Peter are his wit and wisdom. He was always a true and trusted friend for me. I know as I head out to the shore in Maine to do fieldwork over the next couple of weeks, I will hear his voice in my head, offering his gentle and wry comments about nature and life. I will truly miss him.

  2. I cannot claim to have known Peter as well as his many close friends, not least because we always lived on opposite side of the world, but during our lengthy acquaintance I developed the deepest respect for his work as a scientist and greatly enjoyed his company on the occasions when our paths crossed, usually at ESA meetings. As a book commissioning editor at Cambridge University Press my job was to seek authors for top quality books in ecology and conservation, which required visiting universities and attending conferences to identify lively research topics and meet the researchers doing the best work. My first visit to Australia was in 1989; Peter was one of the people I met on that visit, a trip gave me my first taste of Australian hospitality and stimulated lifelong respect for the way that Australian ecologists seek to apply innovative ecological research to practical conservation issues. I’d meet Peter on subsequent visits to Australia over the years and always enjoyed his company. Our professional relationship culminated in the publication of the excellent Monitoring Ecological Impacts: Concepts and Practice in Flowing Waters (Downes et al, 2002) which was produced as a collaboration with seven wonderful co-authors. That book might not have sold quite as well as any of the Harry Potter books, but it is a great example of how a group of people can sit down together and produce a volume that is both scholarly, readable and a real contribution to knowledge. On a personal level, a highlight for me was being invited to sit at the President’s table at the conference dinner at the ESA meeting in 2007. Peter had failed to realise in advance that as ESA President he was free to invite seven others to sit at his table, and with the pre-dinner drinks in full swing he was desperately trying to find faces he recognised in the crowd. It was a measure of the man that he could be so candid about his dilemma without causing the slightest offence to last minute invitees. And besides, I had the last laugh; I got to enjoy a wonderful evening with a very special man and his mates. My deepest condolences to Peter’s family and friends; if it is any consolation, your loss is shared way beyond Australia’s shores.

  3. I first met Peter over 30 years ago, and he was very generous to me in oh so many ways over the years. Alongside his excellence as a scientist, it was more Peter’s ‘scholarliness’ that stood out to me in these days of increasingly narrow foci. Perhaps he would have been quite suited to having been a mediaeval polymath where all fields of inquiry were open to one. I asked him once why he continued on so long as the editor of the Australian Journal of Zoology and he said that he just loved seeing the wide range of interesting studies that passed by his desk. I had the impression he read them all cover-to-cover – he had so much more patience that me! Peter often provided cogent and very useful comments on many of my manuscripts and grant applications, especially in the 1990s, which no doubt made them much less worse that they otherwise would have been. Peter had a very dry, acerbic wit, which sometimes left me in a little doubt as to his meaning, but that was part of his quirky charm. I hadn’t seen him much in recent years, apart from several ESA Annual Meetings, as we had settled in different parts of the country, so it was an absolute delight to spend some time with him in Warrnambool to celebrate one of Professor Gerry Quinn’s milestone birthday a few years ago. Very sad that he has missed out on having many long years in north Queensland. I will miss you greatly Peter.

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