Dr John Dargavel

BScFor (Edin), MScFor (Melb), PhD (ANU)
Honorary Associate Professor
ANU College of Science
T: 0490 121 068

Research interests

  • Forest history
  • History of forest science
  • History of Australian wood collections (xylaria)
  • History of forestry education
  • Biographies of foresters
  • Political economy of forest sector
  • Labour history of forest sector
  • Arboreal remembrance



John Dargavel is actively engaged in several aspects of environmental and forest history research.

He has forestry degrees from the Universities of Edinburgh and Melbourne. His doctorate from ANU presented a radical analysis of the development of the Tasmanian wood industries. He worked as a forester in government and industry for twenty years, and spent a year researching and teaching in the University of Georgia before moving to ANU in 1982. He has researched and taught in the areas of forest economics, planning, politics and history.

He is the author of over 70 papers and has editied 10 books covering forest science, management, industrial and labour history, trade, environmental politics, and cultural aspects of landscape and remembrance.

His book on Australian forest history, Fashioning Australia's Forests (Oxford University Prss) was published in 1995 and his biography, The Zealous Conservator: a Life of Charles Lane Poole (University of Western Australia Press) was published in 2008. His most recent book on the history of forest science over the last three centuries was written with Elisabeth Johann, Science and Hope: a Forest History (White Horse Press) was published in 2013, followed by a German edition Die Geschichte der Forstwissenschaft – eine Geschichte der Hoffnung in 2018.

Researcher's projects

Restoring Forests in Times of Contagion

I am working with others to collect papers that reflect on the history and policy of tree planting to restore Australian and New Zealand forests and landscapes. They will be published on-line in October 2020 to mark John Evelyn’s birth in 1620. The coincidences of Evelyn’s time and ours extend beyond the need for trees. Just as the Royal Society published John Evelyn’s Sylva or a Discourse on Forest Trees in 1664, England was hit by the Plague. Just as we were planning a conference forest restoration, we have been hit by COVID19. Just as Evelyn was appalled by waste and deforestation, so are we in many of our landscapes. Evelyn wrote Sylva as a textbook on restoring the English forests. We need to restore our Southern Hemisphere forests and landscapes in ways that consider our own history, environment, changing climate and ravaging bushfires.

Environment in everyday life

I am currently investigating the paradoxes of how the environment appears in a variety of aspects of everyday life. Canberra as 'the Bush Capital' provides many examples, of which the fences at Mulligans Flat nature reserve are one. Dust from which the universe and us was created, and which appears annoyingly in our houses each week is another example.

The lives of Australian foresters

I investigated the lives of Australian foresters in a collaborative project in National Centre for Biography with the Australian Forest History Society and the Insitute of Foresters of Australia. An initial inventorywas prepared with 186 obituaries and 20 entries in the National Dictionary of Biography. It covers the period from 1900 to 2015.

History of Australia's wood collections (xylaria)

In collaboration with Gordon Dadswell (University of Melbourne) and Phil Evans (University of British Columbia) I am investigated the history of Australia's wood collections.
These were created in the states from the 1880s and nationally from the 1920s and together constitute the scientific infrastructure for wood anatomy. Several of the collections are falling into disuse and their future conservation is problematic. A particular case is the collection held at ANU that was originally started in 1928 by the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau.


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Updated:  02 February 2023 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers