Reef tribute to Marine Park visionary

Sir Sydney Schubert was a builder of vision and ideals — fostering infrastructure development around the state, as well as the creation of an agency to safeguard the largest living structure on Earth, the Great Barrier Reef.

Now part of that globally-recognised natural wonder will bear the name of the highly respected Queensland public servant, who believed economic development and a healthy environment could co-exist, with the proper frameworks in place.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt today announced that a reef located about 17.7 km east of Lizard Island will become Sir Sydney Schubert Reef — in memory of the man who skilfully steered the inception of the Authority and became one of its founding board members.

As Coordinator-General and Director General of the Premier's Department, Sir Sydney played a leading role in shaping Queensland’s economic development during the spectacular phase of growth in the 1970s and 80s.

The son of a train driver, equipped with degrees in both engineering and the arts from the University of Queensland, Sir Sydney combined enthusiasm for innovative planning methods with a no-nonsense approach to getting the job done.

“He had an innate drive to ‘see things done properly’,” his daughter Marie-Louise Theile said.

“He did not tolerate mediocrity, procrastination or time wasters.”

But he could play the diplomat. It was his exceptional skill at building relationships which came to the fore during the creation of the Marine Park Authority in the mid-1970s.

“His vision was to see all of those interested parties in the Great Barrier Reef work harmoniously and constructively to ensure its safety and preservation, while still allowing it to be an economical and viable asset for those dependent on it for their livelihoods,” Ms Theile said.

“Syd worked tirelessly behind the scenes to navigate the agreement that enabled the establishment of the Authority.”

His commitment to the Authority did not end there; Sir Sydney joined the inaugural board of the agency and continued to serve as a board member for more than a decade, helping to guide the organisation during its formative years.

Sir Sydney retired from public service in 1988, but that didn’t slow him down.

In 2001, he became the Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for the Reef, as well as the CRC for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management. In 2003, he made it a hat trick; assuming the role of Chair of the CRC Torres Strait as well.

“Sir Sydney was a member of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and very strongly supported the use of the best available science and engineering for the protection of the Reef and in particular the conduct of sustainable tourism,” said Dr Reichelt, who was an executive member of the CRC Reef during Sir Sydney’s chairmanship.

“In both government and scientific research, Sir Sydney served to protect the Reef for many years. He was a terrific and greatly respected boss.”

Sir Sydney relinquished all three posts in 2007, due to ill health. He died in August, 2015, at the age of 87.

A high-flying career garnered him many accolades during his life, including a knighthood in 1985 and an honorary doctorate from James Cook University in 2006, but his daughter remembers him as a humble man who savoured small pleasures.

“Many of his visits to the Reef were work related, however one of our most memorable family holidays was, in fact, on Heron Island.” Ms Theile said.

“Dad was most at home with his toes in the sand, bathers, no shirt, looking out to sea. He was ultimately a man of simple pleasures, who loved nature and the environment.”