Colin Ward
by Ian Graham and David French

Colin leading the TSOP post-conference field
trip, Catherine Hill Bay, Australia, 2014.
Photo by A. Drobniak

Colin was born on 31 December 1945 to Rex Alexander Ward (an ambulance officer) and Olive Barbara Ward (nee Miller). The family initially lived in a flat above the Ambulance Station at Marrickville, and moved to Matraville in 1950. Colin attended Matraville Public School (1951-57) and then Sydney Boys High School (1958-62). He went from there to the University of New South Wales, graduating in 1967 with a B.Sc. in Applied Geology with First Class Honours and a University Medal in Applied Geology. It was while doing fieldwork for his Honours Thesis that Colin met Kathie and they married in 1968. 

Colin’s undergraduate studies were supported by a scholarship from the Joint Coal Board, and included vacation work on different aspects of coal exploration and mine geology.
Although his Honours thesis involved mapping the Proterozoic and Devonian strata at Fowlers Gap, north of Broken Hill, and his Ph.D. was on fluvial sedimentology of the Triassic sequence in the southern Sydney Basin, the scholarship and vacation work provided the springboard for much of his subsequent academic career.

After completing his Ph.D., Colin joined the academic staff of the New South Wales Institute of Technology (now the University of Technology, Sydney) as Lecturer in Geology, with responsibility for setting up a teaching program in sedimentary geology and related fields.  This included an undergraduate program in coal geology, which was extended in 1977 to become an external short course for graduates working in the coal industry. The graduate-level course has evolved over the years, and Colin provided programs in different aspects of coal geology for companies and other organisations throughout the world. In collaboration with other industry and academic colleagues, he also developed an internationally-recognised textbook, Coal Geology and Coal Technology, which was published by Blackwells in 1984 and still remains a useful reference at the national and international level.

Drawing on knowledge of clay mineralogy inherited from his Ph.D. supervisor, Fred Loughnan, Colin also began research programs to investigate the mineral matter in coal. These were further developed while on study leave at the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1975. He also spent six months with the Sydney-based consultant group of McElroy Bryan and Associates in 1979, working on a range of coal resource evaluations, followed by a second period of study leave at the University of Kentucky in 1980, supported by a Fulbright Travel Award.

Colin returned to the University of New South Wales in 1984, taking up a position vacated by Fred Loughnan’s retirement. This allowed a greater focus on research activities, including more in-depth work on mineral matter in coal, investigation of methane ignition by rock friction in underground coal mines, and regional studies on different aspects of the Sydney, Gunnedah and Bowen Basins. In conjunction with colleagues from other institutions, he was also involved in compiling a Photographic Guide to Cored Rocks of the Sydney Basin (University of Sydney, 1986), Geology of Australian Coal Basins (GSA Coal Geology Group,
1995), Geology in Longwall Mining (Coalfield Geology Council of NSW, 1996) and the Coal Combustion Products  Handbook (2007 and 2014).

Following promotion to Associate Professor, Colin became Head of the Department of Applied Geology at UNSW in 1993.  He served in that role during a tumultuous period of change at the University until the end of 2001, when geology merged with other disciplines to form the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Colin’s research program was strengthened by study leave in 1998 at CSIRO and the University of Sheffield, with a focus on developing X-ray diffraction as a quantitative tool for mineralogical evaluation. He has published over 135 refereed papers on his various research projects, and a similar number of full-length papers at national and international conferences. 

Colin has served as a member of the Editorial Board for the International Journal of Coal Geology since 1990, and in 2012 was Guest Editor for a Special Issue of that journal on Minerals and Trace Elements in Coal. He has also served as Project Leader in the CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development, working on coal ash characterisation, and as a technical member of the NSW Coal Compensation Review Tribunal.

In the course of his academic career Colin developed a range of teaching and research programs in coal geology and has introduced numerous undergraduate and graduate-level students to different aspects of geology, especially coal geology, both in Australia and overseas. He has also successfully supervised more than 19 postgraduate research student projects, leading to M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees.

During the course of his professional career, Colin has worked in some 25 different countries worldwide, ranging from the jungles of northern Borneo to the back-blocks of western Mongolia, including the development of a major coal mine in northern Thailand.

Colin retired as Professor of Geology at UNSW in July 2006, but continued as a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the University and as a Visiting Scientist with CSIRO Energy Technology. Colin was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of New South Wales in 2016 and was appointed as an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales in 2017. He was appointed as a Distinguished Professor at the China University of Mining and Technology, Xuzhou, China in 2017. In 2010 he was presented with the Gilbert H. Cady Award for Coal Research by the Geological Society of America, becoming the first Australian coal geologist to be recognised in this way. He has also received the Award for Excellence in Coal Geology from the Coalfield Geology Council of NSW (1998), the 2011 Ralph J. Gray Award for the best refereed paper in organic petrology from the Society for Organic Petrology and the 2017 Dalway Swaine Award for the best refereed paper in coal and hydrocarbon source rock geochemistry. Other honours include presentation of the Kenneth Mosher Memorial Lecture in 2000 and the J.J. Frankel Memorial Lecture in 2007.

Colin served as Chairman of GSA’s Coal Geology Group in the early years of its formation (1979-81), and has also as Secretary of the New South Wales Division(1983-84). In addition he has served as Chairman of the Coalfield Geology Council of NSW (1985-87), as Councillor for the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (1991-2000), and as President of The Society for Organic Petrology (2004-2005). He was a Fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, the Geological Society of Australia and the Geological Society of America. He was a member of the International Committee for Coal and Organic Petrology, the Royal Society of New south Wales and an honorary member of the Society for Organic Petrology. In 2012 he was presented with the John Castaño Honorary Member Award from the Society for Organic Petrology, recognising his exemplary commitment to education, excellence in research and service to that Society, as well as to the wider geological community. 

Although geology was his passion, during late High School and early University Colin took up skin diving and he was also instrumental in establishing the UNSW Underwater Cub. On moving to Kareela he became involved in a number of different community activities, mainly in support of the children. These included serving as Group Committee President for 1st Green Point Scouts, as manager of his son David’s cricket team for Sylvania Heights Community and Youth Club and as secretary of the P& C Association and an inaugural member of the School Council at David’s High School.

Colin is survived by his wife Kathie, his son David and his daughter Leanne and his three grandchildren James, Alex and Georgia.