The landscape architecture community was shocked and saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of John Arthur Foss in January 2012. Originally from Ballycastle in Ireland, Foss had been a significant figure in the Australian landscape architecture community since he arrived here in 1982.
Foss worked at many Sydney firms over his long career, including Place Design Group, Conybeare Morrison and the South Sydney City and Ryde City councils, to name a few. He left an indelible mark on many private and large-scale public projects, such as Rhodes Corporate Park, RMOQ Courtyard, Putney Park, Hyde Park and Deepwater Park in Sydney, and the Worksop and Mansfield town centres in the UK.
Foss held steadfast to his beliefs, and the integrity he brought to his projects was great. He was highly skilled at documentation and project administration, and was a man of detail and principle who was never swayed by the domineering developer or aggressive contractor. “He was a quality-outcome-driven guy,” says Darrell McLean of Place Design Group.
These qualities were also evident in his personal life, where he loathed pretence and was merciless in ridiculing snobbery. He was a keen consumer of left-leaning media and accessed all manner of current opinion, from the Guardian Weekly through to The Irish Times. He sought fairness in all aspects of life.
Foss was born into a grand Irish family. However, as with almost everything in his life, there was an ironic twist: his actual place of birth was India. His exotic birthplace allowed him distance from both the world of inherited rank and entitlement and the English class system that he so derided.
His vast generosity carried him through some tough times and he was able to lean somewhat heavily on his close friends and colleagues as he struggled with personal issues and inherited battles. While doing so, and after a lengthy ban on driving, he developed one of the great passions of his life – that of motorized cycling. This passion, born of necessity, led Foss to develop an intimate knowledge and love of the back roads of the Byron Shire in northern New South Wales. It was on his favorite stretch of road that his life ended so tragically.
As with so much of what Foss touched, creating motorized bikes became a compelling and all-consuming activity. He developed a bike of magnificent quality; a beautiful riding machine inspired by his love for the Norton motorbikes he had ridden in his student days in Leeds, in the UK. Two models of his bikes bore names inspired by the Byron Shire – the Billinudgel Bullet and the Tyagarah Tiger – both finely crafted and high-performance modes of transport.
Wishing to expand the canvas and seeking appropriate recognition of these excellent machines, John adopted a new persona – that of Giacomo Fosscati, the brilliant son of the legendary Italian cyclist Enzio Fosscati, who was the main protagonist in Foss’s creative writing. Doing nothing in half measure, John was in the midst of writing a novel that tracked the trajectory of Enzio and the invention of the Fosscati bikes themselves. He used his writing skills as a means to express, entertain and heal, all the while ruminating on the prospect that the novel could launch him into comfortable retirement – Giacomo Fosscati, jostling for celebrity status with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.