Dr William Milne-Home, notable West Indian by Jamaican Products

Dr William (Bill) Milne-Home is the first of two featured as the notable West Indians for April 2016. The stories of those featured will be told in the form of an interview. Bill is an esteemed hydrogeologist with a strong interest in West Indian culture. This is Bill’s story.

William (Bill) Milne-Home
William (Bill) Milne-Home

When did you arrive in Australia and where were you born?
I arrived in Australia in October 1985, but my first visit was in 1970, when I participated in a short course at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). This was when I met an Australian lady, Josephine Grey, who was then a student at UNSW.
I was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

What influenced your decision to live in Australia?
Josephine was a major influence. Josephine is currently the Director of Academic Programs in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University.

Love of his life
Love of his life

How did you get involved in the West Indian community?
I joined the West Indian Association of Australia (WIAA). The WIAA was a community cultural organisation linked to similar groups in other State capital cities.

What feature of West Indian life do you think Australia could adopt?
Well, to be honest, it has been so long since I lived in the West Indies, actually only the West Indian country of Trinidad and Tobago, that I cannot think of an outstanding feature to adopt. In my days I used to enjoy Carnival and the fetes, playing mas’ and so on. I have taken part in the Carnivals in Edmonton and Vancouver, and watched the carnival in Sydney several years ago. But we don’t have the numbers of West Indians here unlike in London, New York, Toronto, etc. for a carnival type festival to develop.

What features of Australian life do you think the West Indies could adopt?
And my long-gone familiarity with West Indian life also applies to this question!

Showcasing the Caribbean
Showcasing the Caribbean

Tell us about a funny cross cultural experience you had in Australia.
When we travelled to Australia in 1985, Josephine had an Australian passport, I had a Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) passport (like our daughter who was born in T & T), and our son had a Canadian passport from being born in Canada. We arrived at Brisbane airport where the immigration officer looked at our various passports and said, “What’s this mate, the bloody United Nations?” My first cross cultural experience was in the form of a humorous Aussie welcome to Oz!

What are some highlights of your achievements and life in Australia?
Being elected secretary of the West Indian Association of Australia. The WIAA was the way in which I engaged with my community and helped to maintain my West Indian identity as part of my gradual assimilation into Australian society through family and friends. When WIAA faded away I continued less formally as a member of CaribOz, the more loosely organised grouping of Caribbean folks which replaced it.

Another aspect of my life in Australia was my academic position as a lecturer in hydrogeology, first at the University of New South Wales and then at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). This work led to involvement in groundwater and environmental management projects both in Australia and in Southeast Asia – Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Although retired since 2010, I am an honorary associate at UTS and do small scale consultancies through the university. It is very satisfying that I have been able to collaborate from time to time with a Jamaican engineering colleague in preparing project proposals . None have been funded yet, but we live in hope!

In Laos
In Laos

Current Projects
My current (and last) PhD student is studying how the rivers interact with groundwater in the context of water resources management in Southern Laos. Here I am in Laos to assist him with field work in his research area. These rainforests certainly reminds me of my days as a field geologist in South Trinidad. I was delighted to find sapodilla, pomerac and topi tambo as well as the majestic samaan trees in Thailand during earlier trips to Esan (northeast Thailand). Similar fruits, roots and trees, just different names.

In the Araluen Valley, NSW
In the Araluen Valley, NSW

Occasionally I undertake studies for the NSW Environment Defenders Office (usually pro bono) to support community groups seeking to safeguard their environment from mining developments. This project in the Araluen Valley, Southeastern New South Wales, was to ensure a gold mine complied more effectively with the environmental requirements of its operations.

How has your family contributed to your success?
As a family we have tried to be a mutually supportive group so that home was generally a happy place. Now that there are grandchildren, we all try to do the same so that their homes can be happy too


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