A questioning mind is a beautiful thing and as Albert Einstein said: The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.
by Jacqui Hensel
Ted Gardner is a man who has spent his life asking questions. This natural lean to his personality would direct him to a life of work in the natural sciences, where he has been recognised for his work with the Public Service Medal in 2005.
Working in the Water and Waste-Water Management field meant he has spent a great deal of his time addressing questions as to how the natural world and the man-made world can better work together to solve problems sustainably, leaving the world a better place for all.
“When I get together with my old mates from school, which doesn’t happen all that frequently these days, they remind me that I was the kid who was always asking questions.
“In those days you were expected to just sit there and take in the knowledge your teacher was passing on to you. But I always had a burning question to ask.
“I always wanted to know why and how things worked. I found out that there were lots of things that weren’t known about, and that set me on a path to find out,” Ted remembers.
“I wasn’t the most gifted student in the classroom, in fact I was a bit of an also ran. It wasn’t until I went to university and put myself through the first year on my own savings that I figured out I was pretty good at quite a few subjects.
“That was so important for developing confidence in myself, and I think it stood me in good stead for the niche I carved out in the science world,” Ted says.
“I found that my work with the DPI and other government departments ticked a lot of boxes for me. There was enough chemistry, engineering and environmental physics that I found it very rewarding.”
A major part of Ted’s work during his time with the DPI was developing a software tool called MEDLI that was an acclaimed effluent irrigation design model.
“My career focused on working with farmers and developers to improve waste-water management,” Ted explains.
“I went on to focus on urban water issues and alternatives to the traditional urban water cycle. It’s still a focus of my work, as I am fortunate enough now to supervise PHD students in their work, and I have supervised a few international students who have gone on to work in high level careers in their own country’s governments.
“It’s very special to know that you have had a hand in supporting the next generation of scientists.”
One of Ted’s favourite aspects of the job was talking to everyone, and taking in the view from all sides of an argument and finding solutions.
“Whether it was talking to generational farmers who had always done things a certain way, or the full range of scientists like chemists, microbiologists, and nuclear scientists, who often had a very different view and an insight that previous farming generations would have appreciated.
“I have a mind that likes the broad overview of things, which leads to the synthesis of more holistic solutions,” explains Ted.
“Government departments were like silos back then. I think my role was to cross those silos and bring all those views together, make sense of them, and then bring all the parties to the table and try to reach a consensus solution.”
Ted also found tapping into the potential of those around him to be extremely rewarding.
“I found a few ‘science gems’ in the science world who, if asked a question and then left to their own devices, would come up with brilliant work.
“Sometimes a simple solution to a problem would require a very sophisticated engineered solution. How do we take a developed world attitude to problem solving and make simple things reliable?
“We took traditional science and engineering to make something simple, reliable and fit for purpose. That meant we could then take that solution into countries with few technical resources, and make it work there,” Ted shares, with satisfaction.
The ultimate question Ted asks now is ‘are we doing enough of the right things for the environment and sustainability, and how do we know we’re on the right track?’
“These days,” Ted explains, “we hear a lot about sustainability, and it is an important consideration when talking about the environment.
“It is always important to strive to do things better, and part of doing things better is to assess and audit what is currently happening and compare it to its claimed performance.
“I would like to see the tools developed that will allow that kind of assessment to be carried out on a routine basis to allow “greenwashing” to be clearly separated from genuinely “green solutions”.
After a working life in the public service, Ted and his wife Kaye moved to Maleny in 2011 to retire. Here they enjoy a beautiful property bursting with birdlife. Ted’s quest for answers goes on, even in retirement, as he is a man who lives with his eyes open to all around him.
Ted has co-edited three books and written chapters for all of them, and during his retirement he co-edited a book on Water Sensitive Urban Design with Don Begbie and Ashok Sharma . This book was published by Elsevier in 2019 and launched at the World Science Fair in Brisbane.
He also finds joy in singing with a choir. “I’m not the best singer and I don’t get the Zen Meditation feeling that some others do, but I enjoy it enough to try to get back to it.
“It was something I couldn’t do during Covid. So, along with watching my grandkids grow up, I’m looking forward to getting back to the choir.”