By Peter Stuart
On April 22 2011 Arthur Richard Bentley (BEM) passed away at the age of 95 years. Arthur or AB as he was affectionally called by his friends left an incredible legacy of contribution to not only the deer scene here in Australia but also internationally. A humble and modest man but with great skills as a poet, sculptor, writer, and raconteur of note at many deer related events.
Family History and Background
Arthur was one of three children born in England to his mother Jessie, with a brother Ernest, and sister Vera making up the family unit, as Arthur’s father had left home for Canada when Arthur was three years old and never returned. Arthur had no recollection of him at all. Things were tough in England so Ernest came out to Australia and later convinced the rest of the family to join him. They arrived aboard the Jervis Bay, a steamer of 14,000 tons at Port Melbourne in 1926 when Arthur was ten years old. The family settled in Port Melbourne initially but over the years lived in various suburbs. One can only imagine how tough things were for him, a ‘Pommy’ boy living in Port Melbourne, attending a state school, wearing knickerbockers and speaking with his English accent in that day and age. He recalled the regular fights at school during playtime and on the way home after school with the ‘Aussie’ kids. This was part of life for him during these tough times but no doubt served him well in later life.
Life was tough for the family during the depression years and Arthur took whatever job was available and worked in many and varied occupations over his life time. He worked on a dairy farm at Warragul, in the airplane industry but found his calling in the book selling business when he landed a job with A.H. Spencer’s The Hill of Content Bookshop in Melbourne. Arthur wrote in his memoirs ‘For me, a state school boy of fourteen years with no prospect of higher education, The Hill of Content Bookshop was to become my Alma Mater. Untrammelled by the narrow disciplines of a trade apprenticeship, the world of books opened an unlimited vista. Albert Henry Spencer, a kindly man of infinite charm and erudition became my mentor, and glimpses of the world’s treasures, tangible and intangible, were given to me.’
In August 1938 Arthur married his only love, Jean, and they had one child, a daughter Janet. They had not been married long when the second war broke out and Arthur went off to fight in the Middle East and later in New Guinea where he served twice. He rose through the ranks and was made a commissioned officer, Lieutenant A.R. Bentley in 1943. In his second tour in New Guinea he was severely wounded just two months before the Japanese surrender and returned to Australia where he was finally discharged from the military in November 1945. Apart from a brief try at private enterprise by transporting books between Melbourne and Sydney on a contract basis, which proved disastrous, Arthur remained selling books until he took a position as a proof reader at The Herald & Weekly Times newspaper and continued in that employment until his retirement from paid work.
Mentoring and Contributing
In 1957 I attended a meeting of the Australian Crocodile & Big Game Hunters Club and met AB who was the club’s secretary at the time. I was fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time and AB took me under his wing and our friendship and his mentoring continued for the next 54 years up until his death. The club had a small conservation sub-committee which later became the Victorian Deer Conservation Committee. In 1962 that organization was registered as The Victorian Deer Conservation Co-Operative Ltd. With the establishment of this Community Advancement Society it was the first time since the days of The Royal Victorian Acclimatization Society, an organization with legal status that was primarily concerned with the welfare of Australia’s wild deer had been established. The idea and driving force behind this initiative was AB and illustrates his foresight and understanding of the need to conserve and manage wildlife before the word conservation was trendy and hijacked by today’s protectionists.
The Co-Operative intended to establish a management project based on the ‘The Michigan Square Mile Project’ which AB had been communicating about with Professor Raymond Dasmann in the USA. This project consisted of a square mile of fenced range in which such things as management techniques and hunter success could be measured and evaluated on a known population of deer. This particular idea progressed to Koetong Pine Forest Project in Northern Victoria where a small population of the Co-operative’s fallow deer were donated to the then Victorian Forest Commission for a management project based on the Michigan criteria. With a change of government the Forest Commission was broken up and the project never realised its potential.
In 1957 on the initiative of Professor Dasmann AB produced a paper that was published in the influential Journal of Wildlife Management a significant acknowledgement for a non-academic to be invited to contribute to this prestigious journal. In 1967 another milestone was reached with the publishing of his book An Introduction to the Deer of Australia which was a result of painstaking research over many years in all parts of Australia, and many hours spent reading early shipping manifests in The Melbourne Argus newspaper to find out what deer species had been transported to Australia. This book is now a collector’s item and has had three printings.
In 1965 Para Park Co-Operative Game Reserve Ltd. was founded and AB was a member of the original committee that put the project together before the final establishment. By far his proudest involvement was the founding of the Australian Deer Association in Melbourne in 1969. AB took over the presidency in the first year and guided the fledgling organization through its formative years and was President from 1969 until 1977. He, in company with National Secretary, Geoff Moore at the time, travelled widely establishing new ADA branches during his term as President. He was granted life membership of the ADA in 1978 for his contribution and was the first recipient of this prestigious award. He set a high benchmark!
In 1975 AB was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honour List for long and valuable services to the deer. The citation reads, in part - ‘His work in deer preservation has been an inspiration to all those who have come in contact with him’.
In 1979 the Victorian government established the Deer Advisory Council of Victoria which was suggested by AB as the best way to bring all parties in the deer scene together to hopefully develop a deer management strategy for Victoria’s wild deer species. This body ran for some years but became ineffective due to lack of government commitment and was finally disbanded by the after ADA resigned its membership.
The Australian Deer Research Foundation Ltd. was founded in 1978 as publishers of books related to deer and deer hunting. Arthur Bentley was the founding chairman and served in that capacity until 1992.
In 1979 AB was invited to Papua New Guinea by consultant biologist Max Downes to assist in developing a plan and building a deer trap so locals could be trained in trapping and handling techniques for deer and take advantage of the large rusa population which would provide work and income for the indigenous people by utilising this wildlife resource. He enjoyed his third visit to Papua New Guinea in a much safer and enjoyable environment.
AB was a passionate hunter from early childhood and like any young lad pursued every opportunity he could to hunt any game that was available but once he discovered deer he was hooked for life. While he was Secretary of the Crocodile & Big Game Hunters Club in 1960 AB organised a group of members to visit New Zealand’s South-Westland. This party of six visiting hunters enjoyed wonderful hunting in those early days and split up into small groups to effectively cover the country. AB’s hunting partner was long-time friend, Jack Clark, from Keith in South Australia. Jack Clark’s service in later years to ADA was recognised when he was granted ADA Life Membership in 1997.
Over his lifetime AB hunted deer in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. I was privileged to have accompanied him on some of those trips and was impressed by the reception he received from hunters in those states and the genuine warmth they showed towards him. In the hunting camp there was always great mirth and joy with AB entertaining us with his tales and experiences of life in his jocular style. Warm memories remain for those hunters who were present and experienced these camp stories.
Arthur had made many contacts outside Australia due to his research and vast knowledge of our deer species and was sought out by many researchers and academics seeking information from time to time. One of his close friends and a world-authority on deer was Kenneth Whitehead. Arthur hosted a visit to Australia by Kenneth in the early seventies and in response he invited Arthur and Jean to visit him in Britain. They visited the UK in 1975 where Arthur took a roebuck on Kenneth’s hunting lands. AB also corresponded with Norma Chapman, an expert on fallow deer who also lived in England but unfortunately he was unable to find her during the visit. This was rectified some years later when Norma visited Australia and spent time with both the Bentleys and Geoff and Joy Moore.
AB was a talented artist and sculptor and enjoyed creating works of art depicting the wild deer species of this country. His many contributions were mainly sambar or fallow deer trophies and he produced the current Fraser McLay Award trophy for best fallow deer taken each year by an ADA member. He also designed the original ADA national logo. The attached photographs show some of his art work and people who are in possession of these items are indeed fortunate. AB spent a lot of his time moulding and filing small gifts for people he believed were making a significant contribution to the deer scene and in particular ADA. ‘The Encounter’ is a limited edition of 28 pieces which shows his skill and appreciation of a sambar hind with calf under threat. These pieces of art were produced by Arthur to raise funds through the ADRF for promotion of responsible hunting and the sustainable management of our wild deer.
Poetry was one of his great loves and he challenged hunters to write about their love and experiences of hunting. This resulted in a book being published Hunters Verses from the High Country in 1988 which had two printings. The poems contained within this book are outstanding and show the true feelings of hunters for their quarry and the essence of the hunt.
Arthur Bentley was a truly remarkable man who came along at the right time and mentored and guided a lot of today’s leaders in the deer scene. He was ahead of his time but lived to see the seeds of his endeavours bear fruit with the people he had mentored over the years carrying the fight forward today for our wild deer’s acceptance and sustainable management in the future. His contribution to the wild deer scene in Australia will never be equalled but his legacy is the leadership provided and the instilled essence of what is the Australian Deer Association today and which continues to drive us forward. Today’s urban society has lost touch with the realities of managing wildlife and believe that the natural world looks after itself so the fight must go on to bring about change and educate society to the need for human intervention in keeping wildlife populations safe, balanced and secure in our landscape but also providing recreational benefits for those that seek them.