Vale Bill Forsyth – Wildcare volunteer extraordinaire
Tribute to William (Bill) Forsyth
by Andrew Smith – Founder and Appointed Co-Chair, Wildcare Tasmania Inc. (1998 – 2018)
Sadly, one of the stalwarts of Wildcare Inc passed away on the 28th July. Mark William (Bill) Forsyth was a man of the wilds and had a strong desire to not only experience the wild places of Tasmania but to also contribute to their care.
I first encountered Bill when he met me in my office in Parks and Wildlife Service to discuss how he could contribute more with his volunteering. He had been helping with platypus survey work and had got the volunteering bug. He extended his volunteering far and wide over the following years. His real love was the Overland track. He had walked it many times with family and friends and knew it well. He became one of the first and longest serving hut wardens, based at Waterfall Valley for 10 days at a time. After walkers had braved the climb up Cradle Mountain and arrived at Waterfall Valley, exhausted but pleased with their survival skills, they would encounter Bill, living happily and simply at the hut. His knowledge and advice, stories and companionship set walkers up for the rest of their journey into the wilderness.
This 31/2 min video, covers Bill’s work at Cradle, back when Wildcare included track and hut wardens. It shows his gentle philosophy and love of nature and in it he speaks of bushwalking as ‘active meditation’ saying; “It is solved by walking.”
While they were just passing through, Bill was living and experiencing the wilderness deeply and loving every minute of it. He went on to volunteer at Melaleuca monitoring Orange-bellied parrots and helping out with the Friends of Melaleuca. He volunteered on Schouten Island, Tasman Island, Maria Island and many other places doing the full range of those things that Wildcare volunteers do. So many members will have memories of Bill working alongside them.
It still wasn’t enough, he wanted to do more, and following another chat in my office he agreed to stand for election as Co-Chair of Wildcare Inc. Over the next few years, as Elected Co-Chair, he took on the job of Chairing Board meetings, attending Branch meetings and working bees, listening to the volunteer members and Rangers first hand. He met regularly with the Minister for Parks and the Premier, making sure they were aware of the enormous value of the work that the organisation was providing towards the care of Tasmania’s natural and cultural values. We travelled to meetings with potential new branches to discuss the benefits of becoming part of Wildcare Inc.
We explored innovative ways in which Wildcare Inc could better support the Parks and Wildlife Service. At one stage he managed to negotiate sponsorship and donations to enable him and me to travel to Los Angeles to meet with the founder of the Friends of the Golden Gates National Park – one of the organisations that served as a model when I designed Wildcare Inc. In the end we were able to meet with him in Melbourne instead!
The many years of working alongside Bill, as Co-Chairs, were positive, imaginative and fun. We became very good friends and travelled many kilometres together. On one trip however I thought I had killed him. We were at Cradle attending a debriefing session at the end of the Hut Wardens season. We booked into one of the original huts near Waldheim Chalet, and despite there being ample room in the hut, Bill insisted on sleeping in his swag out on the porch. After a rainy night I woke to the sight of a very crumpled swag with water pouring off the roof straight onto it. No movement was apparent and I started to compose an explanation of why I had let an old man sleep
outdoors and expire in the cold. Moments later Bill emerged from the swag, made breakfast and bounced into the day ahead.
Bill was a philosopher with ideas and concepts drawn from his obsessive reading on a broad range of topics. When Bill decided to downsize and move into his unit in Oatlands, his book collection filled a number of outlets in Oatlands and beyond. He promised not to buy any more books – a promise that lasted just a few days. Books filled every nook and cranny of his place. Long drives were never boring with a man who was so well read.
He was intensely interested in other people and made friends easily. His birthday celebrations were a fine affair. When most men of his age sadly see their friendship circle shrink, he was able, on one occasion, to fill the Ross Pub with friends and family and his 90th birthday filled the Stables in Oatlands. His friends were of all ages.
After leaving the Co-Chair position he continued to attend Annual General Meetings. I would pick him up as I passed Oatlands on the way to wherever the meeting was happening, until various health issues made it too difficult to travel far from home.
Bill was one of a kind. He was more active than people half his age. He was interested in life, the world and the people around him. His efforts as a volunteer made a difference. He spoke softly and listened intently. He rolled his sleeves up and did the work. He lived a long, adventurous and meaningful life. Like so many people in Wildcare I valued his friendship and it will take a long time to process that Bill isn’t around anymore. Wildcare Tasmania Inc., the Parks and Wildlife Service and the
Tasmanian natural and cultural environments owe a great debt to Bill.
Bill was a Wildcarer through and through, and Bill was very proud of that.
I wish to pass on my condolences to his family. Bill was here for a long time and a good time. His was a life lived to the full. Rest in peace Bill.