Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Antcliff, Allan James (1923–1985)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Allan Antcliff, by David Dunstan, 1980

Allan Antcliff, by David Dunstan, 1980

photo supplied by David Dunstan

Allan James Antcliff (1923-1985), vine physiologist and breeder, was born on 21 December 1923 at Salisbury, Brisbane, son of Harry Herbert Antcliff, a Queensland-born public servant, and his English wife Kate Florence, née Filer. Allan was educated at state primary schools, Brisbane Grammar School (dux, 1940) and the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1944). On 19 May 1944 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Although he trained as aircrew, he did not see active service before being discharged in September 1945. He returned to the university to take honours in botany (1947).

After a short period at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, University of Adelaide, Antcliff was appointed in 1947 as a research scientist at the Commonwealth Research Station, Merbein, Victoria, controlled by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (later horticultural research section and then division of horticultural research, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization). Grapevine cultivation in the Sunraysia region was directed mainly towards the production of dried fruit and growers had long sought a research capacity devoted to their needs. Antcliff’s early work on the physiology and yield of vines led to improved productivity and gained him a reputation for his understanding of the process of fruit-bud formation. He spent a year abroad in 1962, studying at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, and visiting vineyards and research institutions in Europe.

On his return Antcliff, as principal research scientist (1963) and senior principal research scientist (1967), took charge of CSIRO’s vine improvement program, which gradually embraced wine as well as dried-fruit production. He supervised thousands of crosses of varieties and hybrids, searched for stock in old Australian vineyards and applied for permits to introduce varieties from abroad. Travelling frequently overseas, he gathered information and compared notes with fellow viticultural researchers. By 1983 more than forty thousand seedlings had been germinated and planted. Improved cloned variants of the Thompson Seedless Sultana were produced and valuable new drying varieties were bred, including the Carina (1975). Of the wine grapes developed, the red Tarrango (1975) and the white Taminga (1985) attracted the most commercial interest. Antcliff wrote Some Wine Grape Varieties for Australia (1976), Major Wine Grape Varieties of Australia (1979) and Minor Wine Grape Varieties of Australia (1983). These books were standard references for a generation and influential in promoting new varieties. In 1984 their author retired from the CSIRO. Illness prevented him from taking up a post-retirement research fellowship.

Antcliff was a mild-mannered but methodical, purposeful and substantially self-taught scientist who worked in often solitary conditions but who also collaborated successfully with his peers. His work proved valuable for an expanding and changing vine-growing industry. The University of Queensland awarded him a doctorate of agricultural science in 1980. Three years later he was appointed AM.

At St Margaret’s Church of England, Mildura, Antcliff served as choirmaster and organist. He was (1979-85) on the council of the Sunraysia College of Technical and Further Education and supported numerous botanical and heritage-preservation projects. On 19 November 1951 at St John’s Church of England, Merbein, he had married Freda Gwendoline Lowe, a teacher. Survived by her, and by their four daughters and son, he died of acute leukemia on 22 April 1985 at his Mildura home and was buried in the city’s cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Collis, Fields of Discovery (2002)
  • CSIRO, Division of Horticultural Research, Report, 1983-85
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Jan 1982, p 13
  • Sunraysia Daily, 24 Apr 1985, p 2
  • CoResearch, June 1985, p 5
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Antcliff, Allan James (1923–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/antcliff-allan-james-12144/text21759, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Allan Antcliff, by David Dunstan, 1980

Allan Antcliff, by David Dunstan, 1980

photo supplied by David Dunstan