Prof. James Andrew Peterson, friend and highly valued colleague to all in the School of Geography and Environmental Science and to the wider community of scholars, passed away on 23 January 2012 aged seventy-three.
Peterson undertook his undergraduate degree at the University of Tasmania (1957-1960) and began publishing on the glaciation of Frenchmans Cap (the subject of his Honours thesis) and other geomorphic topics in the mid 1960s. He subsequently undertook summer field seasons in northern Canada, extending his knowledge of cirques and cirque glaciers, and completing an MSc thesis on the Whitegull Lake area in Labrador at McGill University in 1964. Having returned from Canada, Peterson joined the then Department of Geography at Monash to undertake his PhD research.
His seminal thesis, “The cirques of southeastern Australia”, in two large volumes, was submitted on 1 February 1969. Subsequently, Peterson faced the issue of just what a glacial specialist would teach in an Australian university, on a mainland lacking even permanent snow. With his usual enthusiasm and wise scholarship Peterson developed popular and influential courses dealing with coastal geomorphology, with the volcanic landforms of western Victoria, and began training students in fieldwork and sound scientific observation.
Always keen on new approaches and new methods, he was quick to embrace new methods of remote sensing and satellite observation that were in their infancy in the early 1970s. With his graduate students, Peterson built up facilities to support the use of these new research tools and extended these in stages as rudimentary remote sensing gave way to increasingly sophisticated geospatial mapping and modelling. He was the foundation Director of the geographical information systems laboratory in the School and this stands as one of the notable legacies of Peterson's time at Monash University; it reflects his belief that, for the School to succeed, it needed to embrace new methods and remain at the leading edge of innovative teaching and research.
Peterson's legacy also includes the many thousands of undergraduate students whom he taught and inspired and a substantial cohort of research students, many of whom are now in significant academic or Governmental positions. His colleagues will greatly miss a man of wisdom and integrity, ever cheerful, and with a unique and stimulating view of how academic life can and should be lived.