Sir Edgeworth David, the eminent geologist, believed that geography was the “best guide to nation-planning.” That was why Associate Professor Thomas Griffith Taylor determined to establish a geographical society. The desirability of founding such a Society in New South Wales was proposed by Taylor during a public lecture at the Royal Colonial Institute in Sydney on 26 April 1927. The first meeting of the new Society was held that year on 10 August, with Taylor elected as its inaugural President. After an acclaimed career in the United States and Canada, Taylor returned to Australia in retirement and again became president of the Society, from 1956-59.
In 1928, the Society launched the first issue of its journal, The Australian Geographer. Its first editors were Dorothy R. Taylor (Griff’s sister) and David G. Stead (President of the Naturalists’ Society of New South Wales). The Geographer has now filled forty-two volumes, and ranks alongside the most eminent geographical research journals in the world. Its subscribers include 1,487 research institutions and it is accessed online by another 7,087 libraries worldwide. Full-text downloads of its articles rose from 11,601 in 2005 to 40,425 in 2010. The Society’s other publications include its Research Papers (dating from 1963), its quarterly Newsletter (from 1981, with Donald S. Biddle, AM, as its editor for twenty years), and several books.
From 1931 until 1977, the Society’s office was in Science House on Gloucester Street, in downtown Sydney. That was where evening lectures were held on the second Tuesday of each month, until Science House was resumed by the penurious State Government, which then evicted the scientific-institutional tenants.
The Society’s program has ramified into mounting conferences and publishing their proceedings. Many have concerned environmental management and urban issues.
Since 1997, the Geographical Society has hosted an annual conference where Fourth Year Honours Students from universities in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory present the findings of their research theses. The Jim Rose Geography Award goes to the best presentation. It is named after a former president of the Society who was foundation Professor of Geography at Macquarie University. The Society sponsored its first conference expressly for post-graduate students in 2007.
Field excursions have been conducted regularly throughout the Society’s history. Popular destinations included the Hawkesbury River, Long Reef, and the Kurnell peninsula. Since the 1960s, the Society has sponsored and led 75 study tours of many overseas countries. Since 1988, no fewer than fifty-two of these study tours have been led by Colin Sale, to virtually every corner of the globe. In just the past two years, Colin’s tours have studied Eastern Canada and New England, countries of the Mekong River, South America, and the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion, Mauritius, and Madagascar.
Participants in these study tours encouraged the Society to establish its convivial Geography Travellers Club. Since 1988, the Club has met on Sunday afternoons at St.Ignatius College (Riverview).
As part of its outreach, the Society has sent delegates to the National Committee for Geography at the National Academy of Science in Canberra since 1995. It has been represented on the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales since its establishment in 1966. The Society’s first representative was Marcel Aurousseau, M.C., who had been the executive officer of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names in London, and served as the Society’s president in 1959-61.
The State Governor of New South Wales has always been the Society’s Patron, from Lord Gowrie in 1935 to Professor Marie Bashir since 2005.
To recognise the achievements of its members, the Society established the Macdonald Holmes Memorial Medal in 1977, honouring by name the only Professor of Geography to be appointed in Australia between 1929 and 1949. The medal is co-sponsored by the Geography Teachers Association of New South Wales, from which half the winners have been drawn. The Society has also awarded its Fellowship biennially since 1969. Prizes to university undergraduates have been awarded by the Society since 1943, at which time only the University of Sydney offered a degree in geography. Over 250 second year students from nine institutions of higher education have now received the Society’s annual prizes.