In memory of Peter Schwerdtfeger

In memory of Peter Schwerdtfeger

Funeral Service – 10th September, 2013


Craig T. Simmons

Inaugural Schultz Chair in the Environment, Flinders University

Director, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training


I first met Peter in 1997, when I joined the Earth Sciences group at Flinders as one of the new staff in hydrology. Peter and I co-taught first year surface water hydrology that year – and it was fun.  Peter was certainly one of the most interesting, interested and colourful Earth Scientists … It was both an honour and privilege to work with and learn from Peter.

It is impossible to both summarise and do justice to Peter’s illustrious career.  He achieved so much as Foundation Professor of Meteorology (1971), putting Flinders “on the map” in terms of Atmospheric Sciences; as Director of Flinders Institute for Atmospheric and Marine Sciences, which still has a great reputation world-wide; and Co-founder (1995-96) (with A/Prof. Jörg Hacker and Prof. Neville Clark) of Airborne Research Australia (a Major National Research Facility at Flinders University).  He both enjoyed and contributed to many professional activities, such as his service as President, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, amongst a very long and distinguished list of service and leadership.

Peter’s research interests were wide and varied: from meteorology and climatology, to hydrology, to broader environmental issues.  His interests spanned the academic to the very practical.  His blog has many of his letters to print media and public figures; “mainly critical utterings” – Peter’s own description of his letters. He had deep-seated views about all sorts of water issues, environmental issues and even discussed towing icebergs as a solution for water supplies, writing prolifically on a range of water related topics. As I read Peter’s blog the other day, I was reminded of Peter’s great ability to use the English language (Warwick and Karen Grace remembered Peter’s language as “polysyllabic and extravagant”) to great, sharp and colourful effect. As I read Peter’s blog, I could hear Peter’s voice, and see his smiling, cheeky, grin …

Through his wide-ranging professional service and prolific engagement with media, politicians and communities, we see just how interested Peter was in bringing about change, making a difference and in being useful.  Peter was a natural, gifted and highly accomplished academic, and he was also drawn to and driven by direct knowledge and first-hand experience.

Finally but by no means least, Peter Schwerdtfeger was the person who made first contact with the late Don Schultz during one of his talks on Eyre Peninsula in the late 70’s and that was the basis of the generous donations Don Schultz and his wife Joyce made to environmental research at Flinders University. Without their substantial and future-focussed donations and Peter’s own gargantuan efforts on Flinders’ behalf, Flinders would never have received the multimillion dollar grant from the Commonwealth to set up the National Research Aircraft Facility. The Schultz bequest has supported a wealth of environmental research, conducted by Centres including my own (the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training) and a personal Chair named in Don Schultz’s honour. As Inaugural Schultz Chair in the Environment at Flinders, I am in tremendous debt to and have deep gratitude for Don and Joyce Schultz, and to Peter, without whose vision, dedication and hard work none of this would have been possible. In many respects mine is a Schwerdtfeger-Schultz Chair, and I think both Don and Peter would find this agreeable and amusing, both telling me what to do and both on my back to make the world a better place.

Peter was deeply interested in, and derived great pleasure, from so many things outside of work. I enjoyed my visits to “the Loft” when Peter cooked up a storm in the kitchen and we would play duets – Peter on the violin and me on the piano. They were most enjoyable times and I remember them both often and with great affection. Peter was very good at living. Peter was very good at being Peter; generous, flamboyant, insightful, intelligent and ever fond of the odd elaborate linguistic indulgence and always at the ready with a pithy quip or elegant epithet.

Peter has left a very large, deep and positive footprint. The results of his vision, passion and tireless work have reaped, and will continue to provide, tremendous rewards for many generations – past, present and future. Peter pointed the way and cut the path – it’s now up to us to take up the challenge.  “The Prof” as he was affectionately known, will be greatly missed.



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