Vale Jack Davies at age 97 - leader, teacher and mentor

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Beach ridge plain at Seven Mile Beach, Tasmania (Source Dr Tom Oliver)

In 2016, Tom Oliver, Colin Woodroffe and I visited Jack at his home in Beecroft (Sydney) to present to him our just published paper in his honour in geographical research. We titled the paper “Formation of beach-ridge plains: an appreciation of the contribution by Jack L. Davies”. He sat quietly in his favourite chair beneath the bay window somewhat puzzled about the fuss we were making of his work. A year later we went back to his home to present the Griffith Taylor Medal of the Institute of Australian Geographers in honour of his great contributions to Geography in general and coastal studies in particular.

We explained the debt we and so many owed him. Tom was just beginning his academic career with his exciting optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of beach ridge plains; Colin was pleased to meet with Jack having referenced so many of his publications over the years; and I was contemplating my early encounters with the insightful 1957 Australian Journal of Science paper by Jack which got me working on beach ridges as an undergraduate in 1960!

The discussion broadened with Jack reminiscing about his war-time experiences, then later as a town planner post war in the UK, and his early zoological studies especially on seals. Coming to Tasmania in the 50s to a small geography department was a great adventure. But it was here that coastal landforms attracted his curiosity as things were not quite what he had experienced in the UK. With the intellectual stimulus of Joe Jennings, he set about making observations that would transform the thinking of Australian coastal geomorphology and later provide a global vision of geographical variability of coastal landforms that had never been seen before (in the textbook Geographical Variation in Coastal Development, 1972, Oliver & Boyd).

In the preface to this textbook, he said he was aware “of metaphorically swimming against the present geomorphological tide in at least two respects”: it was a synthesis invoking generalisations  using words such as probably and likely, not following the in vogue “quantified fashion”; and he was also being unfashionable in adopting a climatic zonation approach then out of favour with many subaerial geomorphologists. He was the self-effacing, gentleman scientist and scholar demonstrating that you can make a profound contribution by using personal experience to demonstrate how geographical variation influences coastal processes and morphologies. Over the years, Andy Short, Pat Hesp, Don Wright and many others were all profoundly influenced by this thinking.

I will never forget the debate initiated by Jack with that 1957 paper on the origin of sand beach ridges. It came at a time when Trevor Langford-Smith at Sydney University was struggling to enthuse his coastal class with issues beyond that of rock platforms. Peter McKenzie responded with a letter in Australian Journal of Science (AJS) to Jack’s paper and Eric Bird responded to Peter. It was a new world for me—a full on debate which later expanded internationally with papers by Psuty and Otvos. I could not resist the temptation to later join the debate with a paper in the AJS in 1964 combining my Australian and Mexican observations. But it was Pat Hesp who really took up the challenge with his PhD and papers on foredunes in the 1980s and continued work with colleagues and students from different parts of the world. It is notable that both Pat and Andy spent time with Jack at Macquarie University.

In 1974 Jack gave his Presidential Address to the Institute of Australian Geographers on “The coastal sediment compartment” (Australian Geographical Studies, 1974, vol. 12). This paper supported subsequent field work in Tasmania conducted by Jack and one of his students, John Hudson. The 1974 paper gave substance to more recent work undertaken by a team of Australian coastal geomorphologists sponsored by NCCARF under the CoastAdapt program. It feeds into policy work in all states as we try to understand the dynamics of shoreline change in the new climate era. And most recently it has provided the framework for a book on the Australian coast by Andy Short (Springer, 2019).

All this can be traced back to Jack Davies coming to Australia in the 50s, inspired by our extraordinarily diverse coastal landforms and in turn providing generations to come with insights that will go on into the future.

Bruce Thom

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author's thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2019, for correspondence about this blog post please email