Photographer, artist and man with a mission
The beauty of the USC campus was irresistible to Gerard Mills. A man who has devoted much of his life to education, art and photography, the USC campus wildness brought all of these together like preordained alchemy.
Gerard studied art and trained as a teacher at the Catholic College of Education in Sydney in the 1970s. It was there that a De la Salle brother mentored Gerard into photography. Gerard struggled to perfect his final semester painting of a maidenhair fern lyrically pushing through the wheels of an old tram. The brother remarked, “There's an instrument for what you're trying to do – it's called a camera. For God's sake go and buy yourself a bloody camera!” The 21 year old immediately took up his ricoh and wore it out within six months.
Gerard made his first connection between art, photography and a love of nature on his first teaching post in the northern rivers district of NSW. There, he began photographing flowers and the sky and began a camera quest to capture birds in flight. He got very good at it and fell in love with wildlife photography. His work since has been published in text books in the United States and he travelled extensively around Australia in his spare time as a photojournalist for Ansett and Air Queensland in-flight magazines.
In the early 1980s, Gerard left teaching and went back to Sydney to study to be a priest at St Patrick's Seminary. There, he got a classical education, studying philosophy, ancient Greek and latin, as well as theology. The priesthood was not to be and he went on to work for many years for Catholic Education. A sea change in the 1990s saw him become a storekeeper at Woody Point, north of Brisbane.
After he retired, Gerard moved to the Sunshine Coast from the northern rivers district to be near his daughter, Grace, who was a student at USC. Like the classical heroes he read about in the seminary, his own odyssey was to spend years photographing all of the USC campus wildlife. He spent four years taking more than 30,000 photos of wildlife activity, each week walking kilometres of USC's 100-hectare campus to find rare and elusive species. During this time, he worked closely with USC Animal Ecology scientists, Scott Burnett and David Schoeman, to scientifically identify the different animals and their species.
In September 2016, Gerard was awarded the title of Honorary Senior Fellow of the University. He passed away in December 2016. He and his trademark brown hat are greatly missed on campus, but the impact of his work on the future knowledge and protection of campus wildlife will be far reaching.
The Gerard Mills Memorial Prize for Wildlife Photography honours his memory.