When the Blue Mountains achieved a World Heritage listing, the then premier, Bob Carr, wrote to Alex Colley, saying: “The World Heritage decision caps your work of a lifetime. Few people get to deliver anything as grand as the vast protected areas of the Blue Mountains to future generations. Without Alex there would be little wilderness protected in this state. We owe Alex a lot.”
Colley was the cheerful, behind-the-scenes achiever of the NSW conservation movement and tireless worker for wilderness preservation. Legions of people who care about wilderness and the environment can attest to his steely goodwill, his wicked smile and purposeful determination. “No” never meant “no” to Colley. He achieved much, with modesty, humour and good spirits.
A shining example of service, his publications include Blue Mountains World Heritage and Sustainability, which he published at 96.
Alexander Gerald Colley was born in Lithgow on August 1, 1909 in the Commercial Bank building (which still stands on Main Street), where his father, James, was manager. His mother was Mabel (nee Scougall). He began his bush walking adventures as a little boy on family picnics in the Gardens of Stone region around his home.
He took a Diploma of Agriculture from Hawkesbury Agricultural College and then a Bachelor of Economics from Sydney University during the early 1930s.
Colley joined the Sydney Bush Walkers Club in 1936 serving in several executive positions over 60 years. He was one of the legendary Tiger Walkers (The Tigers - an acronym from the names of the first members) who went out for days at a time in uncharted wilderness.
Colley married another Tiger, Hilma Galliott, in 1951, and built a weekend cabin on Jamberoo Mountain. Some years after her death in 1980, Colley became partners with another Tiger, Dot Butler.
In 1939 Colley became secretary of the Federation of Bush Walking Club’s conservation bureau, and was conservation secretary of the Sydney Bush Walkers for 36 years. He served as secretary of the Turramurra Branch of the Liberal Party from 1963 to 1979, securing a unanimous vote of the party’s state council in favour of saving the Colong Caves in the southern Blue Mountains (now part of the Kanangra-Boyd National Park).
Professionally, Colley was an economist, serving with the Sydney Area Transportation Study until 1974, when at 65, he “retired” so that he could become a full-time conservationist with the Colong Committee. He was a director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness for 40 years, retiring from its board in 2008. In 1985, the foundation gained the support of the newly appointed NSW environment minister, Bob Carr, for a Wilderness Act. Over 2 million hectares of wilderness have since been declared under this Act, and many of these protected areas are due to the efforts of the Colong Foundation.
Under Colley’s guidance, the Colong Foundation worked to fulfil Myles Dunphy’s wilderness vision of a Greater Blue Mountains National Park, securing the Nattai and Gardens of Stone National Parks in 1991 and 1994. Ultimately the Greater Blue Mountains was inscribed on to the World Heritage list of properties in 2000, a campaign Colley had worked on for 14 years.
In 1984 Colley was awarded a medal of the Order of Australia for services to conservation. Alex Colley is survived by his daughter Frances and son-in-law David, grandchildren Alexander and Louisa, and is missed by his many friends and admirers in the bush walking and conservation movements. Dot died in 2008.
A celebration of Alex Colley’s life will be held in late June. For details: Keith Muir, director, Colong Foundation for Wilderness, 9261 2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
He became the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment leader of the year in 1998, received a Senior Australian Achiever Award in 2000, and a Centenary Medal and the Australian Geographic’s Conservation Award in 2001, all for tirelessly campaigning for the preservation of wilderness.