Norman Jolly was born on August 5th 1882 at Mintaro, South Australia, the son of storekeeper Henry Jolly and his wife Annie (née Lathlean). He was educated at Mintaro State School, Prince Alfred College and the University of Adelaide, where he obtained his B.Sc. in 1901. He distinguished himself in sport, playing A-grade cricket, rowing in the University eight and representing South Australia in Australian Rules football in three successive years. He was a schoolteacher in Queensland before going to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1904 as South Australia’s first Rhodes Scholar. He graduated with a B.A. in natural sciences in 1907 and the same year joined the Indian Forest Service in Burma. He left there believing that ‘an Australian should do his job for his own country’ and in 1910 became an instructor in forestry for the S.A. Woods and Forests Department. Here he established the first course in higher forestry training in Australia and in 1911 was also Assistant Conservator of Forests.

On 18th August 1911 he married a widow, Mary Clyatt Gellert (née Colebatch) and shortly after was appointed as Queensland’s Director of Forests. While there he began the state’s first silviculture research programme and, upon reviewing the degrading and dwindling condition of the forests, implemented a sustained yield policy, beginning his battle to retain land for forest use rather than exploitation and sale. One conclusion from his Queensland experience, noted in 1911, was the lack of trained foresters in Australia: ‘I consider that the training of students for the State Forestry Department is a matter of very great importance. . . It is, I should say, obvious that the forestry interests of all states will be most economically and efficiently served by the foundation of one central school for the whole of Australia.’

In 1918 he became a Forestry Commissioner in New South Wales and in 1925 he was appointed first Professor of Forestry at the University of Adelaide. This appointment was short-lived as the department was transferred to Canberra in 1926 to become the Australian Forestry School. Jolly then returned to New South Wales as sole Forestry Commissioner and served in this capacity until 1933, pioneering the softwood industry in that state. He had frequent conflicts, however, with his supervisor, Commissioner Ralph Dalyrmple-Hay, and with government bureaucracy. A later commentator observed that Jolly was ‘enlightened and realistic’ in his approach to softwoods and the writer of his obituary remarked: ‘To some it is given to be diplomats first and foresters afterwards as circumstances dictate; Jolly’s gifts were markedly in the reverse and he left New South Wales in a political dust storm of a type almost endemic in those parts.’

Returning to South Australia, he acted as a consultant to New Zealand Perpetual Forests Ltd. and in 1939 became Forestry Consultant to the S.A. Woods and Forests Department. He led research programmes and successfully translated the German forester Peschel’s research on plantation forecasting and management and adapted it to local conditions. He was a member of the S.A. Forestry Board and in 1953 was elected as an honorary member of the Institute of Foresters of Australia.

Notwithstanding his academic ability, Jolly wrote very few books or articles. In Queensland he published the significant policy texts, Silvicultural Notes of Forest Trees in Queensland (1917) and The Structure and Identification of Queensland Woods (1917), wrote the first manual on Australian silviculture, New South Wales Silviculture (1920), and in South Australia had to be bullied into writing a departmental bulletin on The Thinning of Radiata Pine. He was an accomplished scholar, known for his intellect, integrity and keen critical faculty.

Norman Jolly died on 18th May 1954 and was cremated. In the same year the Institute of Foresters of Australia honoured him with the establishment of the N.W. Jolly Medal as its highest award for services to forestry in Australia and in 1957 a cairn was erected in the Norman Jolly Memorial Grove in the Moonpar State Forest on the north coast of New South Wales.

Add your comment


Lewis, N.B., A hundred years of state forestry, South Australia: 1875-1975 (Adelaide: Woods and Forests Department, 1975).

Meyer, A., The foresters (Hobart: Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1985).

Vear, K.W.E., ‘South Australia’s forests: Their history’, in R. Boardman and D. Corbett, eds., Our forests in focus (Adelaide: University of Adelaide, 1975).