Remembering Peter Oliver
Teacher, social scientist, scholar, researcher, activist, pioneer, visionary, mentor, friend … Peter Oliver was a man who walked, talked and breathed his vision of true integrated water management. Integrated water management, Peter often said, is about head, heart and hand - in the same way that life and family are.
If there are two words by which he could be summed up, perhaps they might be passion and fun.
Peter's passion shone through in everything he did. He was a unique and exemplary teacher. "He is part of the DNA of International WaterCentre. He is an ongoing inspiration; a true leader and champion of thoughtful practice in water management." (Mark Pascoe, CEO, IWC)
And fun, to Peter, covered everything from "that deep sense of personal satisfaction you get from doing something that you know is important, and doing it as well as you can; to the feelings of awe, wonder and excitement you get when you swim over vibrant, healthy coral reefs or walk in verdant rainforests; through to the sense of camaraderie and shared satisfaction you get when you work with people of like mind on tasks of shared importance." (Peter Oliver – Dancing with Dugongs)
"Peter Oliver was an amazing man who touched the lives and learning of so many." (Karen Delfau, IWC Alumnus) "I feel privileged for having had the opportunity to know him." (Tari Bowling, IWC Alumnus)
“Peter practised mindfulness beautifully. He always engaged positively and with authentic interest in whomever he was talking to. His interest lay with whomever he was interacting, his sentences almost never contained the words ‘I’ or ‘me’, and he managed to leave those people feeling energised, valued and enlightened. A man who consciously and deliberately lived a good life, and catalysed change in all around him. A man who will be missed.” (Dr Brian McIntosh, Senior Lecturer, IWC)
Peter used his many talents to provide environmental education that was factual and impartial, and catered for all learning styles and all levels and ages in the community. He taught with imagination and enthusiasm. He contributed significantly to communities' waterway knowledge, thus safeguarding the livelihoods and lifestyles of those who depend on the health of the ecosystems in their catchments.
"He was a stellar example of what can be achieved by an individual to change the hearts, minds and actions of a community." (Jim Reeves, former Director-General, DERM)
Peter was particularly skilled in working with school and community groups, explaining fundamental concepts in simple and fun ways. In 1993 he led the Catchment Crawl, a five day expedition down the Mary River system involving 32 students from seven schools. In the late 1980s he set up the first Waterwatch group in the Mary River Catchment. By 1995 over 1,500 students from Maleny to Hervey Bay and the Barung, Noosa, Gympie and Kilkivan Landcare Groups had become involved in Waterwatch. Now with over 50,000 volunteers nationally, Waterwatch has played a major role in raising awareness of catchment health and initiated many positive, community-based conservation activities.
"The central pillar of Peter's work was how he embodied the principles of trust and empowerment in all his dealings with people; the way his personal sense of ethics became infectious in all those around him. Now these characteristics have become the way of doing business in natural resource management in the Mary River Catchment." (Phillip Moran, Chair, MRCCC)
In 1995 Peter organised a ground-breaking conference in Maleny called People Power in Catchment Care, a title that epitomises his belief in the importance of encouraging all people who live in a catchment to take responsibility for its health.
"He had the ability not to just educate and inform, but to entertain and motivate participants into action." (Mick Smith, Waterways Coordinator, Sunshine Coast Council)
The human dimensions of natural resource management was the topic that Peter explored for his PhD, which he completed in 2004. Titled Developing Effective Partnerships in Natural Resource Management, it significantly advanced catchment management understanding. He sought answers to some of natural resource management's most challenging questions, and leading by example, he inspired communities, government and industry to challenge the status quo and work together.
He was also responsible for a wealth of other initiatives – writing catchment management strategies, organising conferences and workshops, writing numerous articles and publications, giving entertaining presentations – more often than not, accompanied by a guitar.
"Peter’s musical talents, booming voice and larger-than-life presence combined to give us songs that galvanised thinking and action around catchment issues, most notably The Dugong Rock. He worked through many different avenues – from science to song and dance, story-telling, journeys, conferences and courses – to promote a collaborative approach to catchment management through the development of understanding and empathy. He is indeed a champion of the waterways of South East Queensland." (Susie Chapman, Community Partnerships Manager (North), SEQ Catchments Ltd)
"His energy, personal touch and unique abilities will always be remembered by those lucky enough to have been associated with him." (J.S. Pulsford, Pumicestone Region Catchment Coordination As sociation Inc)
As well as contributing to numerous newsletters and magazines produced by local catchment and landcare groups, Peter was involved in several publications. He produced a booklet called Hey! Slow Down! I want to look that word up! designed to help ‘the man in the street’ understand basic terms relating to water issues. He co-authored Water Quality from Wastewater to Drinking Water and Even Better with Jenifer Simpson, and wrote the Presenter’s Manual for the Australian Water Association’s We All Use Water project, which he also directed.
As Senior Lecturer at the International WaterCentre (IWC) for six years, Peter championed the development of IWC's postgraduate program in integrated water management. By sharing his knowledge and passion for this topic, he shaped the lives of many people, both in Australia and abroad.
Most recently, he collaborated with Professor Bill Dennison in a new literary adventure called Dancing with Dugongs. The book, soon to be published, contains stories and reflections of these two waterways champions, collaborating to better understand and manage complex waterway, catchment and coastal management problems through storytelling and inspiring others to share their stories and lessons.
"Peter Oliver was a gifted educator, singer/songwriter, philosopher, catchment manager, and pirate. As a generous colleague and a wonderful friend, Peter touched my life, and the lives of many students and colleagues, in powerful ways. He provided abundant laughter, stimulating conversation, warm feelings and good cheer. Peter thought deeply and expressed his thoughts in many ways, including through music and even dressed as a pirate. Peter Oliver gave so much of himself to so many people for so long that his good works will have a lasting legacy." (Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Applications, University of Maryland)
"He was such an inspiration as a teacher. I often think about some of the ideas he shared with us when I am challenged at work and life. His lessons will live on." (Katie Spooner, IWC Alumnus)
Peter Oliver's lessons will indeed live on. "We realise," he said, in Dancing with Dugongs, "that while we may not be quite at the end of our day in terms of our science, education and environmental management careers, it is definitely ‘past lunch time’. It has been pleasant to enjoy lunch and deliberate with colleagues as to why we do the things we do, and to return to work refreshed in the knowledge that we share a firm foundation on which to build an afternoon of new endeavours. A journey to a philosophy for environmental praxis (practical, thoughtful doing) awaits …"
IWC staff, partners and friends would like to express their deepest sympathy to Peter's family and other loved ones in this tragic loss.
Teacher, social scientist, scholar, researcher, activist, pioneer, visionary, mentor, friend … Peter Oliver will always be remembered.