The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering mourns the loss of a towering figure in Australian mining, engineering and business with the death on 1 May of Sir Arvi Parbo AC Kt FTSE.
Sir Arvi was appointed managing director of Western Mining Corporation in 1971 and chairman in 1974. He stepped down as MD in 1986, but stayed on as executive chairman until 1990 and chairman thereafter. From 1989 to 1992, he chaired BHP.
He was the inaugural President of the Business Council of Australia from 1983 to 1984.
Sir Arvi was elected to the Academy in 1977 and served a three-year term as our fourth President (1995-1997).
Academy President, Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE, paid tribute to Sir Arvi’s contribution both to the Academy and to Australian industry.
“Sir Arvi is an inspirational example of how talent and hard work can pay off. Born in Estonia, he settled in Australia in 1949, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering with first class honours from the University of Adelaide just six years later.
“His career was stellar. He is credited for discovering and establishing Olympic Dam, one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium and still being worked by BHP today.
“From migrant to chair of Western Mining and then BHP, and on to a knighthood for services to industry in 1978, Sir Arvi was a true leader.
“We benefited from those attributes here at the Academy. Sir Arvi served on our Council from 1988 to 1997 and as a Vice-President from 1989 to 1992, before becoming President. He will be sorely missed.”
Dr John Zillman AO FTSE, the Academy’s sixth President, served, along with Martin Thomas AM FTSE, as a Vice-President through the three years of Sir Arvi’s Presidency.
He said: “I remember Sir Arvi as the finest, most decent man I have ever known. As incoming President, he launched the joint academies’ 1995 report on climate change.
“His insistence on intellectual honesty subsequently drove him to enormous personal lengths trying to understand ‘the truth’ about the science of climate change.
“His modesty saw him always directing credit and thanks to others for his achievement. His courtesy and kindness endeared him to everyone in the Academy and his conduct of Council meetings provided an object lesson in quiet no-nonsense efficiency.
“Serving as Vice-President under Sir Arvi was one of the great privileges of my life.”
Writing in 2005, Sir Arvi reflected on the role the Academy played.
“Looking back over the past 30 years confirms the judgement of the Founding Fathers, that there was a need for an academy of applied sciences and engineering …
Providing a forum for discussion of all views on issues within its competence and encouraging calm and dispassionate consideration of the differences is, in my opinion, one of the most important challenges for the Academy in the future.
“There are many issues involving applied science and engineering awaiting wise decisions on future public policy. None of these are simple or clearcut …
“One of the key objectives of this Academy is ‘fostering informed debate on technological science and engineering issues in support of national goals and aspirations’.
“Fellows of the Academy will not necessarily have a single view on many (or perhaps any) of these but, as scientists, technologists and engineers, we all have the obligation to seek the truth.
“Providing a forum for discussion of all views on issues within its competence and encouraging calm and dispassionate consideration of the differences is, in my opinion, one of the most important challenges for the Academy in the future.”
This description of the role of the Academy is as relevant today as it was when Sir Arvi wrote it and his sentiment continues to guide the Academy.
The Academy expresses its condolences to Sir Arvi’s wife, Lady Saima Parbo, their three children, Ellen, Peter and Martin, and six grandchildren.
The portrait of Sir Arvi is by William Dargie (1993), National Portrait Gallery of Australia.