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Charlma Phillips remembered as a quiet forestry high achiever

Charlma Phillips (right) presenting her book to SCU forestry student.

Dr Charlma Phillips who recently passed away after a long illness was a well-known and respected entomologist who worked in SA but also at a national level. Source: Timberbiz

Dr Phillips was an entomologist by training who was recognised nationally as a leading authority on the assessment and management of forest health.

She was involved in the South Australian forest industry for the past 30 years, since her recruitment by ForestrySA in 1992.

ForestrySA had advertised widely for an entomologist and interviewed two highly qualified applicants, one of whom, Ms Phillips, was judged the best applicant. Much to their surprise they found that she was living on a farm 20 kilometres down the road.

In her role as Principal Forestry Scientist with ForestrySA and later PIRSA, she provided advice on forest pests and diseases to South Australian forest growers, other government agencies and the public.

In 1996 she published the definitive text on eucalyptus health: Insects, Diseases and Deficiencies associated with Eucalypts in South Australia, an essential foundation for the development of the eucalypt plantation estate.

It remains the “go to” text for eucalypt plantation forestry and is still the most detailed that has ever been produced. She was of great assistance to blue gum growers in the early days and helped to get the first hardwood forest health group up and going in the Green Triangle.

She was a respected leader of a number of different forest health related initiatives including the Green Triangle and South Australian forest health groups, and a significant contributor to national forest health groups.

Dr Phillips always maintained her academic interests and over the years supervised several PhD and Honours students at Southern Cross University, University of Melbourne and University of Tasmania as well as lecturing in Forest Health at Southern Cross University.

Of late, she has been a valued member of the Industry Committee of the Mount Gambier NIFPI Centre advising on matters of forest health and productivity.

For many years she has advocated for the Green Triangle forest industry to jointly fund a forest health position similar to the Integrated Pest Management Group in Western Australia. She wasn’t to know that in early November the industry agreed to fund Dianne Patzel, (who she has mentored in recent years) to develop a cooperative forest health program for the GT.

It has been observed that Dr Phillips was a quiet achiever who just got on with things, often behind the scenes, but the things she did achieve were of key importance to the Green Triangle and the national plantation industry.

The tributes from her colleagues below show the respect and affection in which she was held, and demonstrate the way in which her professional achievements, although many and substantial, cannot overshadow the personal qualities she brought to her position, to her colleagues and friends in the forest industry.

Andrew Moore (formerly GTFP, consultant):

Despite her strong expertise in her field, she was a great listener and a very thoughtful person. As a result, her contributions were sensible, sound, respected, and always useful. She had an easy, personal, approachable manner which meant that she could communicate well with everybody. We will all miss her cheerful, honest nature and her thoughtful and positive approach to her work. She has made a major contribution to the success of our industry.

Chris Lafferty, Forest and Wood Products Association:

She was a valued contributor to the Essigella biocontrol project particularly and noted for her clear informed contributions to those collaborative projects.

Ben Bradshaw, Australian Bluegum Plantations:

Charlma was a wonderful person and always smiling I recall. Generous with her time and always willing to help no matter her workload. She was of great assistance to blue gum growers in the early days.

Jan Newport:

Visiting Charlma in her “office” in the old ForestrySA building was like stepping into another world. The counters were covered in leaf specimens, various creatures in bottles, some dead, some alive; sticks, twigs, branches, sliced tree trunks, pine needles. In a small clearing she had a microscope. In a slightly larger clearing was her computer and notebooks. It was a place of refuge for colleagues and a place of great knowledge which set the benchmark for forest health and forest biosecurity long before it was recognised field of endeavour.

Dr Phillips literally wrote the book of forest entomology and became a well-respected leader in forest pathology, invasive plant, survey and monitoring, and insect pest suppression and control in Australia.