Wildlife Matters

A legacy for conservation: vale Jack Baker – teacher, conservationist, poet

06 Nov. 2023
Katrin Lowe/AWC

During his lifetime, Dr Jack Baker was many things – a teacher, a conservationist and a poet, to name a few. Following his passing, his story continues in many ways.

After teaching maths and science in high schools and TAFE for two decades, Jack had an epiphany and converted to a career in conservation.  His specialty became threatened species recovery.  By 2004, he was the Manager of Biodiversity and Conservation Science with the NSW Department of Conservation. For Jack, this was the pinnacle of his career.

Jack sat on the Council of Birdlife Australia from 2002–09, and in 2006 became involved with the transfer of Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary from Birdlife to AWC.  He became deeply passionate about the philosophy and conservation model of AWC. Jack and his wife Jeannie became dedicated supporters, giving steadily and even volunteering at Newhaven and Scotia wildlife sanctuaries.

While Jack loved all birds, he had a special affinity for Eastern Bristlebirds and played a major part in securing their future.  He studied the role of ecology and fire on their survival for his PhD, radio-tracked them at Booderee National Park, served as Specialist Biologist on Eastern Bristlebird Recovery Teams, and successfully translocated a small population into a new area as a part of that recovery in 2008.

In 2008, Jack Baker and Jean Clarke relocated 50 Eastern Bristlebirds in 50 days to Sydney Catchment Authority Cataract Special Area as part of the Recovery Plan for the species. The population has bred and persisted. Supplied
In 2008, Jack Baker and Jean Clarke relocated 50 Eastern Bristlebirds in 50 days to Sydney Catchment Authority Cataract Special Area as part of the Recovery Plan for the species. The population has bred and persisted.

Fundamentally, Jack stayed loyal to his beginnings and remained a teacher throughout his life: from increasing awareness and encouraging thought and involvement in communities, to supporting and mentoring students, to supervising PhD candidates and guiding research projects. He was appointed to several positions at the University of Wollongong (UoW): Visiting Fellow, Department of Biological Sciences (1998); Honorary Principal Fellow, Institute for Conservation Biology (2008); and UoW Fellow (2013) in recognition of his extensive educational and conservation contributions over many years.

Then it was time for a new career. Under his pseudonym ‘Jack Oats’, he became a poet.  Between 2017 and 2022 he published five books – four in his lifetime and the fifth launched a week after he passed. He wrote of family, friendships, values, humour, sorrows, strengths and weaknesses.  He wrote of his spiritual places – the Budawangs and the desert. He wrote of the many birds he saw with Jeannie all around Australia. These books tell us about Jack – the wonderfully warm, deeply thoughtful, determined, bloody-minded wise man with the cheeky grin and the twinkling eyes.

Jack Baker, friend and mentor to so many, passionate, prodigious and effective conservationist, passed away with his beloved wife ‘Queen Jeannie’ by his side.

It is very fitting that, as both conservation educator ‘Dr Baker’ and philosopher ‘Jack Oats’, he chose to dedicate his legacy to the same passions he had dedicated his life to. Jack generously included a gift in his will to support AWC, driven by a specific intention to ensure the continuation of the Internship Program, where budding ecologists gain invaluable field knowledge that will shape the rest of their careers.

AWC intern Emily Simpson and former intern now Field Ecologist Aiden Wright process an Eastern Pygmy Possum at North Head in Sydney. Brad Leue/AWC
AWC intern Emily Simpson and former intern now Field Ecologist Aiden Wright process an Eastern Pygmy Possum at North Head in Sydney.

Join us in celebrating Jack’s legacy, which will continue in the lives of the young interns he’s supporting and the wildlife he’s protecting.

Vale Jack (1950–2022), may you soar with your totem:

White bellied Sea Eagle.

Serene in my place

Soaring above angst, for now

Calm of mind and wing

Jack Oats

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