Bruce George Draper, known for his quiet commitment to helping others and serving the community, died on May 29, 2020.
Had he lived in a previous era he may have been an explorer, delighting in adventures and having the skills and resolution to accomplish them. A capable sailor, mountain bushman, navigator, sportsman and historian, he was a likeable, humble, and kind leader who looked after all in his care. He was a loving father, principled and good-humoured, overcoming obstacles and leading a fulfilling life through service to his country in the Navy, fair-minded leadership in Industrial Relations, youth mentoring and sponsorship, environmental conservation, and uncovering and documenting the past for the benefit of our shared sense of history and heritage.
A great-grandson of noted horticultural pioneer Charles Draper, he was the fourth child of James Chester Draper, officer-in-charge of the Heyfield Police Station, one of the last mounted police stations in Victoria; and Beatrice Violet Draper (née Jullyan) a gifted singer and tennis player. He was brought up on stories of bushcraft, mountain rescues, pioneers and looking out for others in times of adversity. He believed in the principle of treating other people with the concern and kindness you would like them to show toward you, and brought values such as honesty and open-mindedness to all that he did.
Bruce enthusiastically embraced his father’s keen interest in scouting (James Chester completed an unbroken period of adult service of 69 years with the Scout Association) and joined as a Cub Scout while attending Heyfield Primary School in 1949. He went on to become a Queen’s Scout, the highest youth award in the Commonwealth. A member of 1st Eltham Scouts at the time, he was presented with the Queen’s Scout Certificate by Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor of Victoria, at Government House in Melbourne in 1957.
Bruce entered the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC) as a Cadet Midshipman in 1957, undaunted at being aged only 15. He was self-effacing about his talents for sports and outdoor activities. While at Jervis Bay he gained colours for Athletics in 1957 and Australian Football in 1959. In 1958 he recorded disappointment “that the new turf wicket had prevented a full Rugby pitch being laid out and frustratingly the Captain has forbidden Australian Rules”. His passion for the environment was evident from an early age. Chris Bolton, Commander RAN Rtd said “He was extremely tenacious in what he stood for, [and] was an accomplished sportsman […] his love for the environment was legendary and he used to thrill me with tales of trekking in the bush, especially in the Victorian Alps. He was a wonderful leader with the potential to rise high in Naval ranks”.
Awarded the RANC Shelley Cup for the best exhibition of the art of boxing in 1960, Bruce had a courageousness that stood him in good stead all his life. RANC colleague Ian Pfennigwerth said Bruce “was a fiercely competitive heavy hitting champion in the compulsory boxing tournament we all had to line up for at naval college. So accomplished was he that people would try to lose or gain weight to be outside his class”. He had a naturally gentle disposition and may not have chosen to box, preferring athletics, and rugby union, which he played after leaving the Navy. However, he learned quickly, and his boxing style was described as clean and aggressive. Fellow Cadet Midshipman Derek Marrable recalled being demolished when drawn to fight the hissing Queen’s Scout ‘Bruce Mad Dog Draper’ who made noises with each jab. He described the result as a foregone conclusion.
Chris Bolton remembered that Bruce was known for a sense of fun and adventure, and whilst exploring nearby Hyams Beach “came across a dead seal which he decided to stuff and taxidermize at the rear of Flinders Division. In the process he was caught out by the duty officer Lieutenant Malcolm Baird during rounds. After opening the shed door and seeing the seal, Baird asked scathingly ‘And what have we here Mr Draper?’’ Quick as a flash Bruce saluted and replied, ‘Seal ready for your inspection Sir!’”. Bruce was appointed Cook Division Cadet Captain in 1959 and put his outdoor skills to good use as a member of the RANC Central Australian Expedition. Mike Moore said “Bruce was a very good friend and mentor to me […] the two of us practised cracking a stockwhip outside the accommodation blocks and this was possibly the first and last time one was wielded at the College”. On graduation in 1960 he was awarded the First Prize for History, a precursor to a lifelong pursuit of historical research and writing.
In 1961 he commenced Phase III Midshipman training at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, UK. Fellow Midshipman Aras Arasaratnam from the Royal Malaysian Navy, recollected that Bruce together with other officers from the RAN and RNZN, only joined in mid-‘61, after they had done their initial training in Australia, and “we, of course, welcomed the Australians and Kiwis as the Commonwealth officers now outnumbered the Brits!! Bruce was a most likeable person as he was quiet, gentle and had a good sense of humour”.
At Dartmouth Bruce was invited by friends into the Raleigh Society of explorers and relished the challenge of the Royal Naval Colleges ‘Norped ’61’ four-day ski and climbing expedition to Jostedalsbreen, Norway. This was a formative experience of learning to love another culture’s food, language, music, and landscape. He gained colours for athletics and was described as a fine sportsman especially in discus, javelin, and shotput. He was runner-up in light middle weight boxing and had fun competing in the 1st Inter-Services Colleges Ski-Race at St Moritz Switzerland in 1962. Nick Franks, Captain of the ’62 Dartmouth ski team competing against Sandhurst and Cranwell, joked that the “quiet, dull resort of St Moritz was chosen and as you can imagine we had an amazing time”.
Appointed to the minesweeper HMAS Snipe in 1964, he carried out patrol and surveillance duties on waters infested with gun running communist insurgents engaged in war tactics in Malaysian waters during the Indonesian Konfrontasi. “It was a fully-fledged regional conflict” said BRNC graduate John Ingram. Snipe came under fire, and the constant vigilance in the non-airconditioned tropical climate with humidity levels hovering above 80% tested the mettle of all. Colleagues from this time described Bruce as a capable and fair-minded officer of principle.
In 1965 he was appointed to the Daring Class destroyer HMAS Duchess and demonstrated commitment and duty in two voyages as escort for Australian Army personnel and equipment transport to Vung Tau, Vietnam, and further patrol and surveillance duties in the Singapore area and Tawau area of Sabah. John Ingram said, “Bruce and I would wave to each other when refuelling at sea while Bruce was serving in the Duchess and I was serving in the Sydney on passage to and from South Vietnam”. The Navy was short of escort ships because of dockyard industrial action and were forced to make unpalatable decisions to ensure protection. Bruce was always reticent about his wartime experiences, but there are snippets that provide a glimpse into some of the strains he and others must have felt. The Duchess, then on loan from the Royal Navy, had a defective seal on one of her two thrust blocks. Nevertheless, she accompanied HMAS Sydney to Vietnam and back functioning on one shaft only, an unnerving situation in a war zone. Among the medals awarded for his Naval service was the Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 with Clasps ‘Malaysia’ and ‘Vietnam’ and the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal by a grateful Malaysia.
He married Mary Joyce Tyler in 1966 in The Welch Regiment Chapel, Llandaff Cathedral, Wales, and they went on to have three children. When staying with his parents-in-law at Windsor Castle, where Mary’s father Brigadier A.C. Tyler D.L., C.B.E., M.C. had been appointed Military Knight, he was offered a ride on a rare Cleveland Bay horse from the Royal Mews, a story he enjoyed telling his children along with his Naval anecdote about being invited to ride a Malaysian royal’s prized racehorse at the Sarawak Turf and Equestrian Club in Kuching.
On retirement from the Navy, he joined McPherson’s Limited, completing a four Year Post Graduate Diploma of Business Administration at RMIT. He was International Harvester’s Director of Human Resources during the wage breakouts in the ’70s and ’80s, as powerful unions negotiated wage rises above award rates. The award system struggled to deal with inflationary effects of over-award payments, a fact which often put the likeable and quiet Bruce in the frontline of conflict, despite considerable efforts at compromise. Bruce chuckled when he recalled being irrationally confronted by a union organiser, and instinctively ducking to avoid the punch. He then assumed a trained boxing stance and referenced his years of boxing experience, something he would not normally have mentioned. This had the effect of deescalating the situation.
During this period, he was implementing the new equal pay decision and the 1979 unpaid maternity leave federal award, and as Corporate Manager Human Resources at BF Goodrich was responsible for applying the 1983 Prices and Incomes Accord, with many of the negotiations protracted and complex. In regular talks with the ACTU, he played a role in the development of enterprise bargaining, a process occasionally leading to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. He was regarded as an even-handed and fearlessly honest straight talker by both sides. He shared his expertise with several companies when in 1996 Victoria moved into the national workplace relations system.
He became an Associate of the Institute of Personnel Management in 1971 and a Chartered Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute in 1976, and an Associate Fellow in 1998, sharing knowledge in trade journals throughout his career. He was a lifetime member of the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria, and member and Chair of the National Personnel Conference and VECCI Employee Relations Policy Committee. In industry as in other areas of his life, he devoted time to creating opportunities for local youth, and by a twist of fate, his signature of approval was on the application for funds of his (then totally unknown) future son-in-law to go to the 1989 Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar.
He was a Scout Leader with the 1st Ivanhoe Sea Scouts from 1982 to 1990, a Venturer Leader from 2003 to 2005 and Assistant Leader from 1980. Cathy Daniel said of her Venturer and Rover days that “Bruce was around a lot, quietly supporting and commenting on things when needed, and was a lovely gentle man”. He was remembered at 1st Ivanhoe as a good mentor. To some he was also a father figure who passed on a strong ethical set of beliefs, including that one should ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’. Ross Elliot, a Venturer Leader in the mid ‘80’s, said “each year I took the Venturers on a cross-country and community ski trip and Bruce at the time was Scout Leader, but always volunteered to assist […] always exploring with the Venturers, always adventurous. He was a kind and caring leader. A true Scout and a good man to have around”. While he loved adventure and risk-taking, he lived by the Scout motto ‘Be Prepared’, and always looked after those entrusted to his care.
Bruce’s explorations of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, North America, West Indies, Africa and South-East Asia resulted in an open-minded appreciation for other cultures. As a leader, he believed that Scouts should evolve as society changed, with young people being given more opportunities to lead regardless of their background, and he worked to increase understanding and acceptance between cultural and religious groups. He advocated for and held the Victorian Branch Commissioner for Multicultural Scouting and Venturers role, leading initiatives such as bringing the Organization of Russian Young Scouts into the Victorian Scouts, working with the Vietnamese community to promote culturally appropriate scouting programs, establishing Greek and Coptic Egyptian groups and a cub pack at the King Khalid Islamic School, and advancing the Koori, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Hungarian, Polish and Ukrainian Scout groups.
His bushcraft skills and guidance were remembered twenty-five years later by Malaysian Scout Eric Chee Swee Kit, who wrote “Bruce showed him trick roping such as lassoing and the flat loop and then gave the rope to his friend, Chu” while at the 1984 First Asia Pacific Jamborella. With the arrival of Glasnost, he led an inaugural Australian Scouting expedition to Russia touring in Taimens, or folding kayaks, remarking on the beauty of the natural environment he discovered. He shared in the enthusiasm ex-Soviets felt in having contact with cultures outside the USSR, furthering these connections by learning to speak Russian and working to increase scouting opportunities for all.
In 2003 he volunteered as host for a Russian Scout Leader sponsored by the Memorial Foundation for Scouting in Russia. The visit included attending the 21st Course for Leader Trainers at Gilwell Park, Gembrook, a facility he actively cared for into old age. He was offered the Camp Chief of Gilwell Park role, a job he regretfully declined due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. He was dedicated to establishing a Memorial Foundation in memory of three devoted Scouters (Australian, Russian and English) who died at St Petersburg after the closing of the 1994 First Russian Scout Jamboree, an accident he personally witnessed, when a bus ran out of control while approaching the stop.
As Victorian Branch Commissioner for Water Activities from 1990 to 1998 and Assistant Branch Commissioner until 2004, he “unobtrusively encouraged Venturers towards their Award achievements. His expert knowledge of water activities was never blatantly displayed, he guided both youth and adults in water skills with his long experience and understanding of sailing techniques” said Peter Datson, Collection Manager, Scout Heritage Victoria. Ian ‘Doc’ Sharpe, Yarra Batman Area Rover Commissioner, said Bruce offered “wisdom, historical records, hands-on knowledge, and the shared use of his extensive home Marine library […] and was an inspiration to many, including myself who also was at sea as a Marine Engineer”.
He was awarded the 35-year Long Service Decoration in 2015 and the Silver Koala in 2002 for distinguished service to the Scout Movement, in addition to other awards.
A strong and proficient outdoors man who was also quietly knowledgeable, he enjoyed Australian culture and was an unassuming patron of local artists, musicians, and writers. He had an enthusiasm for The Heidelberg School of painters, Australian poets of the 19th century, and classical and folk music. A published author, he gave research and articles to organisations in Australia and the UK and was always available to assist others, sharing cups of tea and humorous stories. His work is in tracts by other Australian authors including Alan Marshall and Mick Woiwod, who said “Bruce will be sadly missed as will the research work he has been involved in over many years”. High Country author Ian Stapleton recounted a recent visit to Heyfield, where living memories of Bruce’s father “are slowly fading. Makes me glad we wrote them all down in a book [‘Weatherbeaten Wisdom’], and without Bruce’s strong support, that would not have happened”.
Uncovering the role his great-great grandfather played in the establishment of Australia’s first School of Horticulture, he was happy to be the go-to person for historical information relating to early horticultural development and settlement of the Nillumbik Shire. Jean Verso, President of the Nillumbik Historical Society said, “his knowledge, gentleness and wisdom will be missed”. He transcribed her great-grandfather’s diaries, “a mammoth task for which her family will be forever grateful”. Neil Brock, pioneer family descendant, and brother of racing legend Peter, said “I looked forward to seeing copies of the Arthurs Creek newspaper essentially to see Bruce’s local history contributions being impressed by his meticulous research and referencing”.
A member of the Heidelberg Historical Society for over 50 years, he made sustained contributions to Nillumbik Historical Society, Eltham District Historical Society, and Heyfield and District Historical Society. Liz Pidgeon, Local and Family History Librarian at the Yarra Plenty Regional Library said “he represented the Arthurs Creek Mechanics Institute (ACMI) at the Mechanics Institute of Victoria and the Yarra Plenty Heritage Group [and] was passionate in his commitment to identify, collate and publish historical information reflecting the heritage story of our district”. He worked on the Ellis Cottage Historical Precinct in Diamond Creek, organised the annual ACMI Garden Walk and was the driving force behind 2016 Arthurs Creek World Wars Honour Roll, a project in conjunction with the War Graves Commission.
His commitment to protect the environment he loved was renowned and his first bushwalk at Wilson’s Promontory took place in 1949 at eight years of age. He cherished all high country and climbed the Matterhorn in 1962 declaring “every inch of it to be a mountaineer’s mountain”. His warm support for Arthurs Creek District Landcare, Australian Garden History Society, Friends of Burnley Gardens, Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria, Ben Cruachan Walking Club, National Trust, Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Prom and Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) was often of both a practical and scholarly nature, providing papers, research, advocacy and hands-on volunteering. Geoff Durham recalled “Bruce was an elected and active member of the VNPA Council and was a member of the Alpine National Park Committee which campaigned for the National Park […] we had some good times together. I particularly remember our kayak trip down the Glenelg River”.
Local historian Ross McDonald in a touching final letter to Bruce said “your work and publications have now become valuable sources of information about the early days [around Arthurs Creek…and] you can relax and think of the magnificent contribution you have made through your work and friendship to so many people”.
Although deeply regretting that his exploring days were cut short by Parkinson’s, he remained likeable, humble and courageous as he faced a long and trying illness. He was surrounded in his last days by those he loved and who loved him. At 79 years of age he was laid to rest among his forebears and friends on the green and familiar hills of Arthurs Creek, an environment he loved. He will be missed and remembered by many.
Draper, B G, (2001), Matterhorn, unpublished
Draper, B G, (2008), The First Ivanhoe Sea Scouts: A Centenary History 1908 – 2008, 1st Ivanhoe Sea Scouts, Victoria.
Draper, B G, (2012), Arthurs Creek Mechanics’ Institute, Arthurs Creek Mechanics Institute Inc., Victoria.
Draper, B G, (2018), Up the Creek: Early Days in the Arthurs Creek District, Tales from The Treehouse, Victoria.
Ingram, J, (2020), The Tumbling Dice of Circumstance: The Memoirs of John Ingram OAM, unpublished
Marrable, D, (2018), In Danger’s Hour, D. Derek Marrable, Queensland
McDonald, R, (2010), From Laggan To Arthur’s Creek: The McDonald Family History and connections with The Draper Family, Charnwood, Ross McDonald, Victoria
Pfennigwerth, I, (2008), Tiger Territory: The Untold Story of the Royal Australian Navy in Southeast Asia from 1948 to 1971, Rosenberg Publishing, NSW
Stapleton, I (2008), Weatherbeaten Wisdom: Colourful Characters of The Victorian High Country, Ligare Book Printer, NSW