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Durack, Kimberley Michael (Kim) (1917–1968)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Kimberley Michael (Kim) Durack (1917-1968), agricultural scientist, was born on 17 May 1917 at Claremont, Perth, fourth of six children of Michael Patrick Durack, pastoralist, and his wife Bessie Ida Muriel, née Johnstone. Kim's sisters (Dame) Mary Durack Miller and Elizabeth Durack became a noted author and artist respectively. Educated at Christian Brothers' College, Perth, and Muresk Agricultural College, Northam, he moved in 1936 to the family's cattle-stations on the Western Australia-Northern Territory border. The properties were heavily indebted and, after fifty years of open-range grazing, new approaches were needed. Durack, who brought the first plough into East Kimberley, advocated the introduction of irrigation for pasture management, complemented by agricultural crops. His ideas were sharpened by the abortive scheme to establish a Jewish homeland on the Durack properties in 1938-39. He experimented with lucerne at Argyle before establishing an experimental plot at Ivanhoe on the Ord River.

In 1941 the Western Australian government sent the experienced engineer-administrator (Sir) Russell Dumas to accompany Durack in selecting the site for an Ord River dam. Between 1942 and 1945 Kim and his brother William grew successful trials of sorghum and millet at Carlton Reach, publishing their findings in the journal of the Department of Agriculture. Impatient for progress, in March 1947 Kim Durack stood as an Independent for the Legislative Assembly seat of Kimberley, his manifesto, 'A New Deal for Kimberley', urging an integrated irrigation programme for the entire district. Although polling respectably, he failed to shift Labor's hold. About 1948 he visited Rhodesia and was impressed with cattle husbandry there.

To his consternation, in 1949 his father decided to sell the family properties. Kim reacted by accepting overtures from M. E. ('Peter') Farley, a rice-grower from the Murrumbidgee, New South Wales, who was interested in Kimberley potential. Next year the new firm began experiments in rice-growing at Camballin, near Liveringa on the Fitzroy River. Following success with Magnolia and Zenith varieties, Farley wanted to press ahead with commercial rice-growing. Durack thought this intention premature and in 1958 was ousted from the company, Northern Development Ltd, of which he was a director and field-manager. After several months of pamphleteering for planned development of northern irrigation, Durack initially welcomed the return in 1959 of a State Liberal-Country Party government with a dynamic minister for the North-West, (Sir) Charles Court.

Court's zeal to push forward with an Ord River dam dismayed Durack, who considered the project needed further research. Rebuffed by Court, he went to Canberra to put his ideas to (Sir) Robert Menzies' cabinet. Menzies listened sympathetically, others uncomprehendingly, but nothing resulted, except that the Federal government committed no funds to the Ord dam while he remained prime minister. Near the end of his resources, Durack took employment as a government stores clerk, lived simply and devoted himself to the study of philosophy, writing an unpublished refutation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Durack died of staphylococcal pneumonia on 21 May 1968 at Canberra Community Hospital and was buried with Catholic rites in Canberra cemetery. He was unmarried. His estate was sworn for probate at $5209.

One of the 'sandy' Duracks, Kim was tall, with memorably bright blue eyes and a laconic wit. He was widely considered a visionary, but met opposition largely through his caution in insisting—against 'practical' entrepreneurs—that schemes of lavish expenditure on irrigation should follow only the most thoroughgoing research. The failure of several companies at Camballin and the chequered fortunes of the Ord River scheme suggest considerable merit in his attitude.

Select Bibliography

  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 1 Aug 1957
  • West Australian, 30, 31 May 1968
  • K. M. Durack papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Durack, Kimberley Michael (Kim) (1917–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/durack-kimberley-michael-kim-10075/text17775, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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