John Ednie Brown arrived in Adelaide on the 16th September 1878, to take up his employment as Conservator of Forests. By the 23rd he was setting off to inspect Bundaleer and Wirrabara Forests. By April the following year he had made further visits to the northern reserves as well as having sailed to MacDonnell Bay, visited the reserves in the South-east and travelled home by coach.
His voluminous and meticulous reports attest to his energy and abilities as a writer, and before he resigned in 1890 to go to New South Wales as Director-General of Forests, he had published South Australia's first forest flora and treatise on tree planting as well as numerous detailed reports.
He cast his net widely in his search for useful forestry trees for South Australia, trying species from throughout the world. Unfortunately, his arboricultural background could, in hindsight, be seen to have diverted his energies away from large scale afforestation for commercial purposes which his successor, Walter Gill, took up.
The Conservator clashed with Mr. George Goyder, the Chairman of the Forestry Board, on whether trees increased local precipitation. His efforts to plant up the plains north of Quorn to increase rainfall were publicly supported but strongly opposed by Goyder who was trying to confine agricultural development south of Goyder's Line.
Brown's work as Conservator in protecting what woodland and forest was left, discovering trees that could form the basis of a State Forestry enterprise and raising community awareness of the importance of trees had statewide and lasting benefits.
Walter Gill had shown a childhood interest in botany and when he came to Australia from England in 1876, his interests continued while he worked for Mr. John Angas at Mount Remarkable and as Inspector of Crown Lands from 1884. He sent many specimens to Mr. Brown, the Conservator of Forests Eucalyptus gillii being named after him.
When a vacancy occurred in the Department in 1886, Mr Brown remembered the enthusiastic Walter Gill and appointed him forester at Wirrabara.
When J. Ednie Brown moved to New South Wales in 1890, Gill was appointed Conservator. Of radiata, Aleppo and maritime pines Gill believed that 'There is a wide field for creation of forests of these pines on a very extensive scale and every effort is now (1913) being put forth to create a future supply which will be equal to the demand.'
He is remembered for several major influences on South Australian forestry
- the development of extensive radiata pine plantations in the South-east;
- the commencement of sawmilling at Wirrabara in 1903;
- the promotion of Pinus radiata, forestry and the operations of the Department;
- and for his photographic skill, recording for posterity the people, the land, its forests and forestry development.
South Australian forestry became an exciting development during Gill's time as Conservator and he became well known within the community. He retired in December 1923, after 37 years of service.