Obituary: Noel Dwyer 1924 -2013

Noel Dwyer played a pivotal role in the growth of Kosciuszko National Park, the creation of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the establishment of now internationally recognised wetland reserves at Kooragang Island at Newcastle and Towra Point at Botany Bay.

As chief administrative officer of the newly created National Parks and Wildlife Service from 1967 to 1984, Dwyer was part of the small visionary group who forged the nascent parks organisation. He was also a driving force in the transfer of former Defence Department land, including North Head and South Head, to form Sydney Harbour National Park.

Kenneth Noel Dwyer was born in Waverley on December 21, 1924, one of five children of Jeremiah Dwyer and his wife, Bridget (nee Collins). After going to Sydney Boys High, he joined the Board of Health as a junior clerk.

In 1942, he enlisted in the RAAF and earned his wings in navigation, bomb aiming and air gunnery. In 1944, he left Australia for England and his unit joined 460 Squadron in March 1945, with time to fly twice over Germany before its surrender.

Back in Australia, Dwyer returned to work with the Board of Health and became secretary/manager of the Stockton Mental Hospital and later the Watt Street Mental Hospital at Newcastle.

He married Margaret Tindall in 1955, but the marriage was annulled in 1961.

In 1959, Dwyer was appointed to the Department of Lands as the secretary of the Kosciuszko State Park Trust. At that time, the 12 or so national parks in NSW were run by separate trusts through the Department of Lands. Kosciuszko was the largest park in NSW.

Dwyer ran the administrative side of the park's activities from Sydney, with the able assistance of Fred Neary and Brenda Gregory. Park superintendent Neville Gare was appointed at about the same time and was responsible for the field staff and local operations.

The years 1959 until 1967 were momentous years in the park, with the continuing construction of the dams and pipelines of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the development of ski resorts at Perisher, Smiggin Holes and Thredbo, and controversies over continued grazing in alpine areas and proposals for a primitive area in the high country.

Dwyer would travel by train to the trust's meetings at Sawpit Creek, always burdened by an enormous trunk full of files.

With the accession of Tom Lewis as minister for lands in 1965 action was started to establish the National Parks and Wildlife Service as a separate department, independent of the Lands Department, and the National Parks and Wildlife Act was passed in 1967. Lewis imported Samuel Weems, the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, to be the first director of National Parks and Wildlife in NSW.

Dwyer became chief administrative officer of the NPWS, responsible for the service's concessions and leasing, legal and policy functions. His approach to public administration could best be described as ''shock and awe''. He applied overwhelming force - measured in meticulous detail backed by thorough research and extensive documentation - to any problem. Brevity was not his strong suit.

Many a bureaucrat or minister was cowed by the sheer weight of Dwyer's submissions, often more than 50 pages long with hundreds of pages of appendices, all neatly tabbed and using all the letters of the alphabet many times over. His knowledge was encyclopaedic, his grasp of detail and complexity immense, his memory prodigious, his work ethic incomparable. His compassion for all, especially indigenous people, was pronounced.

Dwyer's strength was his passion and commitment to nature conservation and the parks service. That continued long after his retirement in 1984, despite his failing health. In his retirement, he pursued research into his Irish heritage and family history and he made a significant contribution to the coronial inquiry into the Thredbo landslide in 1997.

He continued his passion for national parks, and expressed his utter dismay at proposals to allow shooters into national parks.

Noel Dwyer is survived by his sons Michael and Terry, daughter-in-law Carolyn and grandchildren Libby and Thomas.

John Whitehouse

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