Who we are

Foundation Members.

The founders were a group of experienced land and fire managers, scientists, foresters, anthropologists, historians, past and current stake-holders who all shared one passion – caring for country, and membership and interest has grown from there.

Committee: office bearers

President: Rick Cooper
Resident of Mallacoota since 2007 after nearly thirty years as a carpenter/builder and farmer south of Braidwood on the Southern Tablelands, NSW, during which time a member then twenty years as Deputy Captain of local RFS brigade, four years as a seasonal fire tower observer followed by three years full time with Forests NSW on silviculture, firefighting and fuel reduction. The move to Mallacoota led initially to three years seasonal firefighting with DELWP ‘summer crew’ then membership and 4th Lieutenant of the local CFA brigade, instigating co-operation between CFA and DELWP for fuel reduction and a community education campaign to promote its benefits. In total, nearly 40 years of practical land management and firefighting experience.

Vice President: Peter Rice, AFSM, MAIES
Born and raised in the Alexandra-Rubicon area, Peter comes from a family with strong links to the Northeast and East Gippsland since the 1860s. His interest in the bush includes long-standing membership of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association. Initially employed by the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in business planning and budgeting, including power station construction, for some 10 years, Peter went on to join the CFA as a Regional Officer for nearly 20 years, serving in different Fire Control Regions across Victoria, including five years as an instructor at the Fiskville Training College. During 1987/1988 was Peter was seconded to serve as Chief Fire Officer of the Australian Bicentennial Exhibition, responsible for managing and commanding the fire service capability for the Australia wide exhibition during the celebration year. Peter has a very keen and active interest in fire prevention, including protecting the natural environment from fire, and been involved in in regional and municipal emergency management planning. Continuing his CFA commitment of some 55 years he is a long-standing volunteer member of Alexandra Fire Brigade, with service as Group Officer and a Level Three Incident Controller.

Secretary: Garry Squires, AFSM, BSc (For) Melb Uni, Dip For (Cres)
former Area Manager Gippsland for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment with over 40 years’ experience in forest and fire management.  Extensive operational experience in both high intensity slash burning and low intensity fuel reduction burning and in fire control operations as well as fire policy.


Ewan Waller, AFSM, Dip.For (Cres 1974)  B.For.Sci (Melb 1977)  M.Sci (Aberdeen 1991)
Raised on a farm near Bairnsdale in East Gippsland, Ewan was selected to study forestry in Victoria and has worked in all the state’s forests. He later moved into land use planning and managed all the crown land and coasts across Gippsland. He studied sustainable development, rural and regional planning at Aberdeen University in Scotland before returning to Gippsland as Regional Manager for the state owned forest company, VicForests.
Appointed Chief Fire Officer for Victoria’s Environment Department in 2005, Ewan was responsible for fire management for a third of the state’s land area. He was the leader when the state experienced some of its most severe fire years, including the Grampians, Great Divide and Black Saturday fires. He set up and led the development of the increased preventative burning program and the enhanced community engagement program. During this time he chaired COAG’s Forest Fire Management Group and was Board Director for the Bushfire CRC and Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities (AFAC).
Since leaving the public service, Ewan has chaired the Victorian Alpine Advisory Committee to provide advice to the state Environment Minister on the management of the Victorian high country. He is also a board member for the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation as a non-executive director.
Ewan has continued as a professional in land, forest and bushfire management with work involving review of the NSW Regional Forest Agreements, the fuel management program for the Tasmanian Government, consolidation of fire management for the plantation companies in the Green Triangle, review of fire preparedness for the NSW Forestry Corporation, reports on national capability, and training and delivery for prescribed burning for the National Burning Program.
He now farms near Bairnsdale in East Gippsland and is involved as a CFA volunteer and Landcare.

Robin Hicks, M.Sc (Melbourne 1990) MBA (Latrobe 2003)
Born in the United Kingdom, I have lived most of my life near Melbourne. Meteorologist with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for 38 years until my retirement with experience in forecasting, climate and policy development of weather services. National Manager for Fire Weather and Air Quality Services 2006-2016.  Expressed strong concerns about the National Fire Danger Rating System developed following the Black Saturday fires in 2009 and the limitations of current generation fire modelling.

John Mulligan
Born and raised in Mallacoota in his early days. He experienced life on the land and was a former owner of the now non-existent Gipsy Point hotel during which time he conducted tours of the local area and has a wealth of knowledge of the ‘old timers’ and their stories.  He brings valuable first-hand historical knowledge to the Howitt Society, having observed changes to the bush of East Gippsland, particularly concerning life and bushfire over many years.

Peter Flinn, M.Sc. (Aberdeen)
Life Member CFA, worked in agricultural research for 48 years, specialising in ruminant feed evaluation and near infrared spectroscopy.  He was Secretary of Dunkeld Fire Brigade for 44 years and Group Communications Officer of Serra Group for 25 years.  He has been Secretary of the Grampians Asset Protection Group (GAP) since its inception in 2006, and has been involved in lobbying efforts to ensure adequate fire prevention measures in the Grampians since 1979.

Photo by Ben Marden

Vic Jurskis, B.Sc (Forestry) Australian National University
Renowned as one of Australia’s eminent Eucalypt scientists, was silviculturist with the Native Forests Division of Forests New South Wales. He has written extensively on forest management issues. Vic resides in Eden and is author of “Firestick Ecology – fair dinkum science in plain English”.

Jim Armstrong
A dairy farmer from Cann Valley, East Gippsland, Jim has spent 55 years of his life as a volunteer member of the CFA in various brigade positions.  The first 41 years in the CFA were with the Cann Valley Fire Brigade and then a further 14 years in the Longwarry and District Fire Brigade after he retired from dairy farming and moved home.
He has also been a Land Care member for 30 years with a lot of emphasis on fire and looking after our country.
Up until 2004 when he moved to Labertouche he was a member of the East Gippsland Wildfire Taskforce.

Chris Commins
Farmer and Contractor; practicing environmentalist; and a lifetime living and working with fire in the High Country of Eastern Victoria. President of Mountain Cattlemen’s Association Victoria 2010 – 2011 Alpine Advisory Committee Member 2013 – 2017

Andrew Dwyer
Andrew has a lifetime experience in the tourism, culinary and media industries. He is currently the Managing Director, Diamantina Touring Company, one of Australia’s leading award winning outback adventure companies. Previously, Andrew was a producer/presenter for a number of media and advertising companies focused on travel. Andrew was a member of the Alpine Advisory Committee and is a former Board Member of the Victorian Tourism Commission, the founding Chairman of the Victorian Tourism Operators Association (now the Victoria Tourism Industry Council). He was a Commissioner of the Victorian Tourism Commission and a member of the Forest Policy Planning Advisory Board. Andrew lives in Jamieson, is active with Landcare and has been a member of the Jamieson CFA Brigade for 30 years.

Sarah Commins