JACK DAVIES—GEOGRAPHICAL GEOMORPHOLOGIST

Tom Oliver with Jack Davies

Bruce Thom with Jack Davies

I wish to interrupt my series on the work of Robert Thompson to write about a wonderful meeting I had today. Along with Tom Oliver, I visited Jack Davies at this home in Beecroft, Sydney. The occasion was to present Jack with a copy of the article that Tom, Colin Woodroffe and I have just published in the journal Geographical Research (2016) entitled “ Formation of beach-ridge plains: an appreciation of the contribution by Jack L. Davies”.

Jack just turned 94. He is living at home with his wife Barbara and is in good health. He seemed to greatly enjoy hearing stories of the work of Tom who has just completed his PhD and has got to know Jack through his Grandmother, a family friend of Jack and Barbara. We both felt privileged to talk to Jack about his past and tell him of new work being undertaken in coastal studies that he inspired. We even asked him to sign copies of his books and the recent article mentioned above.

He retired from Macquarie University just over 30 years ago. Since then he has devoted his life to family. I must say I felt somewhat guilty in not keeping in touch with him over this period as he clearly enjoyed the talk. Both Andy Short and Pat Hesp have visited him in recent years. He was very interested in the way new techniques have been used to further explore questions that he was asking back in the 1950s; this is where the work of Tom using OSL, GPR and LiDAR is so important.

I got to know of Jack’s work as an undergraduate at Sydney while studying coasts with Trevor Langford-Smith. Trevor made us read Jack’s 1957 paper published in the Australian Journal of Science (1957, 20) on “ The importance of cut and fill in the development of sand beach ridges”. This paper opened our eyes to new ways of looking at depositional sequences around the Australian coast and stimulated a series of papers that built on his ideas. Jack demonstrated the value of reviewing past work in the context of environmental factors that erode and accrete sand on open coasts. His experience in the UK where he did his early studies before and after WW2 offered him insights into what he observed in Tasmania after joining the University’s Geography Department in 1954. We discuss his insights from this paper, and also the one on wave refraction and the evolution of shoreline curves (Geographical Studies, 1958, 5), in our 2016 paper. In reflecting on his contribution we hope we have demonstrated that past work, many decades old, has relevance today.

Jack wrote many papers and books. He is proud of his contributions in biology including his work on grey seals on the Welsh coast. We know him more for the seminal study Geographical Variation In Coastal Development, first published in 1972 (Oliver and Boyd). Even then he felt he was “swimming  against the present geomorphological tide” in his characteristic unassuming way. Yet for those who read it in the 70s it was an incredible synthesis of global factors at work on “our” coast; no one had managed to cover so much in such a clear way before this in my view. Then he gave his Presidential Address to the Institute of Australian Geographers on “The coastal sediment compartment” published in Australian Geographical Studies (1974, 12).

I reminded him of the value of this work today in policy terms as we roll out the NCCARF sediment budget project as part of CoastAdapt and include the concept in legislation (see NSW Coastal Management Act, 2016). He was surprised to learn of this continued interest in his work and we left the visit feeling we have shown this great coastal geographer how much he is still appreciated.


 Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect Bruce Thom’s thoughts and reference where appropriately: (c) ACS, 2016, posted 2nd September 2016, for correspondence about this blog post please email admin@australiancoastalsociety.org.