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Jensen, Harald Ingemann (1879–1966)

by B. J. McFarlane

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

Harald Ingemann Jensen (1879-1966), geologist and socialist pamphleteer, was born in 1879 at Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark, son of Niels Georg Oscar Jensen, farmer and clerk, and his wife Clara, née Nielsen, who claimed descent from Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862), Denmark's great romantic poet. Migrating with his parents to Queensland at 6, Jensen attended public schools at Irvinebank, North Queensland, and Caboolture, then won a scholarship to the Brisbane Boys' Grammar School. After employment at Clement Wragge's Mount Kosciusko observatory in 1898, he entered the University of Sydney, withdrew to teach in Sydney and North Queensland in 1900-01 and returned in 1902, graduating B.Sc. in 1904 with honours in geology. An assistant demonstrator in geology and chemistry under (Sir) Edgeworth David in 1904-05, he was appointed first Macleay fellow of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1905. Before resigning in 1908 he travelled in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand and published many professional papers. Awarded a D.Sc. and the university medal in 1908, he worked in 1908-11 as a soil scientist with the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and wrote Soils of New South Wales (1914).

A convinced socialist from childhood, Jensen was an active member of the Labor Party and wrote The Rising Tide. An Exposition of Australian Socialism, which extolled New Protection as an historic compromise between capital and labour. Printed serially in the Worker in October 1908–March 1909, it was published separately in 1909. He continued to write regularly for Labor and union journals on politics, economics and mining. In August 1912 he was appointed director of mines in the Northern Territory in order, he believed, 'to carry out the platform and objectives of the Labor movement as far as mining is concerned'. He took with him his wife Jane Elizabeth Ellen, née England, whom he had married in Sydney on 26 September 1906, and their three children.

Soon at loggerheads with the administrator, John Gilruth, Jensen was demoted in March 1915 from his directorship of mines but remained chief geologist. Incensed, he wrote to the minister for external affairs preferring forty-three charges against the administration. The report of the subsequent royal commission in June 1916 found no justification for the allegations. Following assertions that he had made disloyal statements while the country was at war, a public service inquiry found that although the statements were improper Jensen was not disloyal. When Gilruth recommended dismissal, however, the Federal government insisted in September on his resignation.

In 1917-22 Jensen was a government geologist in Queensland. His application in 1919 for the general managership of the Chillagoe smelting plant failed. He recommended consideration of purchase of the nearby Mungana mines by government and, at a later royal commission, revealed that he knew of the private interests held in Mungana by Edward Theodore and William McCormack. (Jensen is 'Dr Jenner' in Frank Hardy's Power without Glory.)

Jensen was defeated as a Labor Party candidate for the Federal seat of Lilley in 1917 and again as a Senate candidate for Queensland in 1922 and 1925. Following his article in Stead's Review in August 1926 attacking the party's neglect of socialism, the Queensland central executive expelled him. A close friend of the elusive Daniel Green, he published a eulogy of him after his death in 1948.

Working as a consultant geologist in 1923-38, Jensen was principally engaged in seeking oil in the Roma basin, Queensland, and in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. In 1938-40 he led the Queensland section of the Aerial Geological and Geophysical Survey of North Australia. An excellent bushman, 6 ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall, he is remembered by team-mates for his ability to live hard off the land on stews brewing continuously for days, and for his love of 'geology, grog and women'.

Jensen returned to his early interest in weather prediction in 1943-56 and worked with Inigo Jones at his Crohamhurst laboratory. His book Seasonal Forecasting (1956) expressed his disappointment that an interesting hypothesis could not be proved. He died after sustaining burns in a grass fire in Brisbane on 13 July 1966 and was cremated. He had been divorced in 1937. Two sons and three daughters survived him.

Jensen did notable pioneering work on the petrology of the Glasshouse, Nandewar and Warrumbungle volcanic regions. He produced a useful series of geological reports on the Northern Territory and played an important part in the oil search of the 1920s. Described as 'a geologist of outstanding ability and quick perception', he was prolific in publication and internationally respected, although his restless mind sometimes jumped to conclusions without sufficient detailed investigation.

Jensen's political and geological 'visions' were combined in his advocacy of a network of state-owned railways bringing a mining surplus and cattle exports out of a North Australia where public ownership and control of land and mining would have been established. To this end, large absentee pastoral holdings would be broken up and reasonable royalties paid to the Crown by graziers as mere custodians of the wealth of the state. Economic development of Australia would then be assured by the formula, 'railways, cattle, minerals, and control of the public estate'.

Select Bibliography

  • K. H. Kennedy, The Mungana Affair (Brisb, 1978)
  • J. H. Kelly, Struggle for the North (Syd, 1966)
  • R. K. Johns (ed), History and Role of Government Geological Surveys in Australia (Adel, 1976)
  • A. Powell, Far Country (Melb, 1982)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 45 (1912)
  • Dansk Geol Foreningen, Meddelelser, 17 (1967)
  • Records of the Australian Academy of Science, 2 (1970), no 1
  • Worker (Sydney), 18 Feb 1909
  • Bulletin, 20 June 1912
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 6 Sept 1916
  • Fisher papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Jensen papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • A2 item 17/2032, A3 items NT 15/1197 16/1305, 3564, CRS A3832 RC 19 item 1 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

B. J. McFarlane, 'Jensen, Harald Ingemann (1879–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jensen-harald-ingemann-6839/text11843, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 November 2014.

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

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