Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harris, Harold Lark (1889–1975)

by Bruce Mitchell

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

Harold Lark Harris (1889-1975), educationist, historian and public servant, was born on 3 March 1889 at Burwood, Sydney, third son of Joseph Harris, grocer, and his wife Adela Jane, née Wellington, both from Cornwall. Harold was educated at Burwood Superior Public School where he became a pupil-teacher in 1905. He spent 1908 at Teachers' College before attending the University of Sydney (B.A., 1912; M.A., 1916; LL.B., 1925) on a scholarship from the Department of Public Instruction which was preparing teachers for the expanding high-school system. Graduating with first-class honours in history, he was posted to Newcastle High School in February 1912. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Summer Hill, Sydney, on 16 December 1913 he married Elsie Mildred Cavell.

While on the staff of North Sydney Boys' High School (1915-17), Harris resumed his university studies. His first publication, A Source Book of Australasian History (with R. G. Henderson, 1917), was a pioneering compilation of documents designed to suit a new high-school syllabus. In February 1918 Harris was appointed a lecturer in history at Teachers' College, joining C. H. Currey and other highly qualified staff recruited by Alexander Mackie. Harris contributed a chapter on political and social history to volume 5 of James Colwell's The Story of Australia (1925). A member (from 1919) of the Royal Australian Historical Society, he published two articles in its journal in 1926 and 1927. The first was an analysis of the influence of Chartism in Australia; the second was a broad economic history focussed on the 1893 financial crisis in New South Wales.

Harris then began to write for teachers and schools, a field in which, unlike Currey, he had experience. The Teaching of History in Secondary Schools (1930), long used as a text for trainee teachers, was followed in rapid succession by books for students in their senior primary and secondary years: The Story of Australian Industries (1931), British and Imperial History from 1688 (1932), The Economic Resources of Australia (1933), Highlights of History (1933) and Australia in the Making (1936). Most of them ran to several editions.

For many years Harris lectured to tutorial classes run jointly by the university and the Workers' Educational Association. He was a member of the Sydney group of Round Table. His interest in economics led to his secondment to the Bureau of Statistics and Economics in 1935-38. He produced Australia's National Interests and National Policy (Melbourne, 1938) for the Australian Institute of International Affairs; the work was used by delegates to the 1938 British Commonwealth Relations Conference, held at Lapstone.

Having been promoted to senior lecturer, Harris became an inspector of schools in April 1940. Eleven months later he began a career as director of youth welfare in the Department of Labour and Industry and Social Welfare. Responsible for 'youth employment, including vocational guidance, placement and after care', he established advisory committees throughout the State. His new interests were reflected in Doing Our Best for Our Children (1946), a book aimed at parents. He made important contributions on immigration and on decentralization to summer schools of the Australian Institute of Political Science in 1946 and 1948 respectively. In 1948-49 he visited Britain and North America.

In the early 1950s Harris moved from his home at Vaucluse to one at Hornsby. He consistently listed tennis as his sole recreation. Following his retirement in 1953, he served as president of the Marriage Guidance Council of New South Wales and contributed an article on that organization's work to Australian Quarterly (1956). Survived by his two sons, he died on 20 March 1975 at Wahroonga and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. White and B. Wilson (eds), For Your Own Good, special issue of Journal of Australian Studies (Melb, 1991)
  • B. H. Fletcher, Australian History in New South Wales 1888 to 1938 (Syd, 1993)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Harris, Harold Lark (1889–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harris-harold-lark-10435/text18501, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 November 2017.

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

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