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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harris, Alfred (1870–1944)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Alfred Harris (1870-1944), journalist, was born on 7 August 1870 in Melbourne, eldest son of Prussian-born parents Henry Harris (d.1923), storekeeper and printer, and his first wife Johanna, née Levy. After his mother's death Alfred and his infant sister Amelia were taken in by a family related to Sir Isaac Isaacs's wife.

In 1881 Alfred, against his will, joined his father and worked in his store at Jerilderie, New South Wales, until, aged 14, he ran away. During the next decade Harris gained experience, largely in newspaper work, in different parts of Australia including Brisbane, where he founded and edited a Masonic journal, the Keystone. Moving to Sydney, he rejoined his father who had established a printery, Harris & Son, at 249 George Street. Alfred became editor of the Sydney Freemason's Chronicle of Australasia, published and printed by Harris & Son until 1909, and helped to found the Country Press Association of New South Wales.

On 1 November 1895 Harris edited and printed the first issue of the Hebrew Standard of Australasia: it failed but was re-established on 23 July 1897; Harris remained editor until May 1908. On 28 October at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, he married Celia Esther Harris (no relation), a Hebrew schoolteacher from a prosperous Anglo-Jewish family. Since neither family approved of the match, Harris and his wife left Sydney for Yerranderie in the Burragorang valley where he became a storekeeper. In 1914, after a brief return to Sydney, they moved to Brisbane where he joined the staff of the Brisbane Courier and published the Keystone. In 1920 he went to Toogoolawah, Queensland; in 1921-24 he owned the Brisbane Valley Advertiser and a printery.

Returning to Sydney, in January 1925 Harris took over management of the printery at Harris & Son and, persuaded by Rabbi F. L. Cohen, resumed editorial control of the Hebrew Standard, now owned by his sister Amelia. Self-educated and an avid reader, Harris was more of a theist than an ultra-orthodox Jew. Throughout his life he was an altruist, helping those in need, but was not adept at business. He became dependent on the moral and financial support of the conservative Anglo-Jewish leadership emanating from the Great Synagogue and was influenced by Cohen, with whom he shared the belief that Jews owed their national allegiance to Australia alone, not to Zionism. His anti-Zionist policies were supported by Isaacs, a close friend. Harris's conviction that Zionism was a negative force brought him into increasing conflict with some fellow Jews, especially refugees from Nazism. He was unable to attract their support, and the Standard declined towards the end of his life.

During World War II, Harris continued to publish the Standard, almost single-handed. He died from coronary occlusion on 25 January 1944 at his residence at Darling Point and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, and by two sons and a daughter, all of whom became medical practitioners.

Select Bibliography

  • S. D. Rutland, Seventy-Five Years
  • the History of a Jewish Newspaper (Syd, 1970)
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 2 (July 1944), pt 1, p 52
  • Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 1 Nov, 6 Dec 1895, 23 July 1897, 23 Jan, 27 Feb 1925, 22 Sept 1938, 27 Jan, 3 Feb 1944, 4 July 1952
  • S. D. Rutland, The Jewish Community in New South Wales, 1914-1939 (M.A. Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 1978)
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Harris, Alfred (1870–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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