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Obituaries - Haydn Grinling Washington 

Important People - Gone but not forgotten


          Vale - Haydn Grinling Washington

  • an Obituary copied from the SPA Newsletter, No 150, February 2023

It is hard to think that this man, so much larger than life, has died. He was only 67. Haydn finally succumbed to cancer a mere week after publishing his last paper. We knew he was going some weeks before as his friends had asked for pic­tures of bush landscapes to adorn his coffin. I held off send­ing mine for fear it would somehow speed his demise and sent it only when I heard he had died. A friend propped it on top of the beautiful coffin, duly pasted with pictures of the bush, at the funeral in his beloved Blue Mountains.

SPA national executive member Dr Jane O’Sullivan helped Haydn with the proof-reading of his last paper. After his death, Jane wrote: "Haydn was a prolific and passionate writ­er and speaker on sustainability, degrowth, the need for pop­ulation stabilisation and denialism against both climate and population realities. He wrote or edited many books. He was active in CASSE NSW  and the Ecological Economics community.

“And he was a generous, humble colleague who supported others to raise their voices. I worked with him over the past couple of months to get a paper published on population de­nialism.

“Thankfully it was published a week before he died. Here is the link to the paper (it is open access):

At the funeral, his older brother Matthew described Haydn’s extraordinary life that began with an idyllic childhood near Middle Harbour in Sydney where the two brothers roamed the nearby bush. Haydn came to love nature and was an avid bushwalker, starting when he was in his final years at the In­ternational School near Macquarie University. Before univer­sity where he studied ecology, he and three other 18-year-olds walked over five days down the Capertee River to Colo Heights, walking through the largest wilderness in NSW in the ‘wondrous’ Colo River gorge. One morning he woke to find himself eye-to-eye with a Superb Lyrebird, with which he felt a momentary one-ness. He eloquently described the experience in his book ‘A Sense of Wonder’ and in a poem ‘Colo’:



After communing with the lyrebird, he offered his services to Milo Dunphy at the Total Environment Centre and Haydn became the secretary of the Colo Committee, established that very night. In the 1970s this committee was responsible for the formation of the Wollemi National Park. (A few years later, he was part of a bush-walking party that discovered the Wollemi pine.) It was not their only campaign: they started the campaign for the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow which was made a national park in 1994. Haydn also worked on the NSW rainforest campaign, the Franklin, and later the Dain­tree/Wet Tropics campaign.

In 1985, Haydn took a year off to travel South America. It was in Torres Del Paine national park in Chile that Haydn became a poet, which he described as the ‘single most glorious feel­ing in my life’. He subsequently published two books of na­ture poetry - ‘Gift of the Wild’ and ‘Poems from the Centre of the World’ and contributed to two collections, edited by Dexter Dunphy, Milo’s brother.

A year after he was a speaker at the 2013 Fenner Conference on Environment, organised by SPA on the subject ‘Resources, Population and Climate Change’, Haydn organised the suc­cessful 2014 Fenner Conference on ‘Addicted to Growth? How to move to a Steady State Economy in Australia’ with a remarkable line-up of speakers. It was life-changing for many attendees.

Perhaps his most valuable contribution to SPA was his in­volvement in the Nature Conservation Council of NSW where he twice served as executive officer. He was influential in the Population and Consumption (now Population and Sustain­ability) sub-committee.

Haydn died in the house he built for himself at Rylstone on the edge of the Wollemi National Park, looking across to the Blue Mountains, with his beloved brother Matthew beside him. He is greatly missed but his legacy will remain.

Jenny Goldie

Vale - Haydn Grinling Washington

An Obituary written by a life long friend and fellow conservation activist

Haydn Grinling Washington was born on 12th September 1955 and died at 2 am on 10th December 2022.

Haydn was a formidable and relentless fighter for the environment, for wilderness and for nature in general. He gave his life generously to many great causes. His charismatic and energetic leadership prompted many others to join in. Together we surfed the great wave of conservation, so successful in the days of the Wran government and for some years after. He helped significantly in the lasting protection of other wild areas including many wilderness areas, the rainforests, the south-east forests and the Gardens of Stone.


Haydn was the energetic force behind many volunteer efforts to save the Northern Blue Mountains in particular, campaigning actively, organising media and held meetings with communities at the edge of what was to become Wollemi National Park. He was joined by a host of bushwalkers, conservationists, public-spirited bureaucrats, politicians and noted adventurer Dick Smith.


Analysis from experts within the Electricity Commission, passed secretly to Haydn, produced an alternative that ended the folly of a planned gigantic dam across what the media proclaimed as our Grand Canyon, the Colo River Gorge. To the dismay of miners, Environment Minister Paul Landa had Wollemi dedicated to the centre of the earth.


Latter decades of government environmental antipathy, neglect and destruction were hard to bear and Haydn, while maintaining positions in several conservation organisations, went from scientific researcher in the CSIRO to university academic. He never surrendered to despair during these hard times, even when sequences of raffish charlatans denounced the concept of wilderness and uncaring miners continued to devour the edges of unprotected natural wonders.

 Haydn was also an active member and director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, the secretary of the Colo committee, a Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, an ACF Councillor and an advisor to the local Land Council in the Mutawinji National Park area. He was vexed when David Noble beat him to discovering the Wollemi pine. Days later he went out and found the second site of populations of this rare ancient tree.

 He hand-built a medieval stone keep in the splendid isolation of Nullo Mountain where he lived for decades, hard against the endless tracts of forested mountains and towering cliffs of Wollemi. He was a prolific writer and protagonist, co-authoring what to me was a pivotal paper of anthropocentric hubris as the cause of lasting damage to our planet.


Haydn was a “great bear of a man” as described by one author, a charismatic and sometimes difficult person, but a staunchly loyal friend. Together and with others we spent very many happy, sometimes gruelling days exploring the wildest remaining lands of NSW. He was often great fun. Not a neat man, he was often given to quoting an unknown German philosopher saying "tidiness is the refuge of the sterile mind".


Once, while taking a television crew through Putty into the north-east of the Colo Wilderness, someone illegally locked a gate across a public road behind them thinking they’d be trapped. Haydn, an immensely strong man, pulled the gatepost out of the ground, drove through, then replaced it, no doubt bewildering the offending gate owner.


He wrote poetry and many books on fighting climate change denial and protecting the environment. His latter years were consumed with ecological economics in attempts to find meaningful, practical ways to attain a sustainable society. He achieved much; he was an environmental scientist, an Adjunct Lecturer, Earth and Sustainability Science Research Centre, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Australia, and held a doctorate in Environmental Sociology.


He fought a prolonged battle with cancer bravely and with purpose, continuing to write treatises and academic papers on conservation to the last days of his life.


I and many others will miss this larger than life hero sorely. He will live with us and future generations through his lasting achievements in conservation and his prolific publications.


Rodney Falconer

Now I remember,

Wild river flowing

Mother of waters,

Cliffs of light rising.

This is my home ...

Canyons and chasms

Jungle and plateau,

And architect's mountains

Stone wizard's wielding.

The land of the Lyrebird

Harp song calling,

Soft breeze blowing,

Dreamtime falling

To blanket the eyes.

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