I have been asked by Don Francois to write his biography, a task for which I am ill equipped but honoured. Honoured, since I think he has made a huge contribution to fish and fisheries in Australia over a professional career spanning twenty four years, twenty of which as Director of Fisheries. Don graduated with a BSc (St Lawrence University), MSc (University of Ohio) and PhD (Cornell University, New York). His MSc thesis was a taxonomic study of the freshwater crayfishes of New Jersey and this work led to a Fulbright scholarship at the Australian Museum in 1958, studying freshwater crustaceans of New South Wales. This work then became the subject of his PhD at Cornell. In 1962 Don returned to Australia as the Senior Fisheries Biologist at the then Chief Secretary’s Department, and with inhouse talent such as Dr A.A. Racek and Dr John Lake, two of Australia’s foremost fish scientists to build on, he set about establishing a fisheries management organisation with a strong research focus, recruiting Dr W.B Malcolm (CSIRO) as Chief Biologist and TB Gorman (MAF NZ), Dr Baughn Wisely and Dr Peter H. Wolf.
High points in Don’s stewardship included a number of innovative and strategic activities that placed NSW at the forefront of fisheries. For example, he sourced disease-free Atlantic salmon eggs from Nova Scotia and conducted hatchery trials at the Gaden Trout hatchery, Jindabyne. Though the ocean waters of NSW were too warm to entertain a successful ocean run, progeny of these fish were stocked into the Snowy impoundments and later became the brood stock for the successful Tasmanian salmon industry. The Narrandera Fish hatchery for native species was opened in 1962, with John Lake as scientist-in-charge. Narrandera became a focal point for the rehabilitation of native freshwater fish stocks in NSW. A major investment in 1969 by the then NSW Government was the commissioning of the FRV Kapala, built at a cost of $250,000 to expand research into the State’s deepwater fisheries and a beneficial relationship with the Australian Museum. This was quickly followed by the opening of the Port Stephens Brackish Water Fish Culture Research Station in 1972, jointly managed by Bob Martin (later to become Fisheries Minister) and Dr B. Wisely, and dedicated to the then novel science of aquaculture. The most recent laboratory and office complex at the Centre was named the Dr Donald D. Francois Building in his honour.
It was an exciting period for fisheries and fisheries research in the 1960s and 1970s. Funding was invested in science and the NSW Fisheries Scientific Section became one of the best resourced and staffed fisheries research groups in Australia. Recreational fisheries, innovation in aquaculture, deepwater research, fish genetics, nutrition, fish aging, restocking of native freshwater fishes, the declaration of marine reserves, and cracking the breeding of Australian Bass are just some of the fisheries disciplines and techniques that were first adopted or seriously trialled in Australia by NSWF. Such success was largely due to the foresight and tenacity of Don Francois. Changes to State-Commonwealth management arrangements (after OCS) and the absorption of Fisheries into NSW Agriculture saw a gradual nett reduction in State Government funding support for Fisheries and fisheries science in NSW and Don’s subsequent retirement as Director of Fisheries in 1986 saw the end of an era.
Don has a keen interest in wine and food and in 1969, planted his first vines at Chateau Francois, on the Broke Road at Pokolbin. He has built the vineyard into one of the most successful single person vineyards in Australia, with his classic Hunter wines still winning awards at shows. He conducts the entire process himself, although these days gets the wine bottled at Tyrrell’s. He was also an active member of the NSW Wine and Food Society and a long standing member of Escoffier Society, a sort of Sydney food and wine mafia, and Don continues to have a great interest in matching food and wine. He is a keen gardener, fly fisherman and banjo player.
Dr Don Francois was a tough boss and could be a difficult personality on occasions (as some of our Commonwealth colleagues can well attest), but my remembrance of his tenure at NSWF was that it was amongst the best years of my career with some of the best memories. Although now 79 years young, and having some difficulty with speech as a result of a mild stroke some years ago, Don is still an avid reader of ASFB news and enjoys seeing fisheries people. If you are in the ‘hood, drop in, he would love to see you.