Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Julius, Sir George Alfred (1873–1946)

by Arthur Corbett

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

Sir George Alfred Julius (1873-1946), mechanical engineer and inventor, was born on 29 April 1873 at Norwich, England, eldest son of Churchill Julius, clerk in holy orders, and his wife Alice Frances, née Rowlandson. His father was mechanically minded and encouraged George to spend many hours in his workshop. Appointed archdeacon of Ballarat in 1884, Churchill Julius took his family to Victoria and in 1890 to New Zealand when he became bishop of Christchurch and later primate. George was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and at Canterbury College (B.Sc. (mechanical engineering), N.Z., 1896).

Employed as an assistant engineer by the Western Australian railways in 1896-1907, Julius married Eva Droughsia Odieuna, daughter of C. Y. O'Connor, on 7 December 1898 at St John's Church, Fremantle. In 1906-07 he published three important works on the physical characteristics and economic uses of Australian hardwoods, and in 1907 moved to Sydney as consulting engineer to Allen Taylor & Co. Ltd, timber merchants, at a salary of £550 and the right of private practice. Next year he invented the racecourse totalizator; it was first used at Auckland, New Zealand, in 1913. He continually improved the keyboard machine that printed tickets and recorded issues; by 1929 it showed dividends after the deduction of tax. An expert craftsman in his home workshop, he built a model railway with steam locomotives for his sons, and a model city which was later exhibited for charity and presented to a technical museum.

Julius was president of the Engineering Association of New South Wales for three terms in 1910-13 and of the Electrical Association of Australia in 1917-18. A founder of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1919, he was on the preliminary committee, a council-member in 1919-40 and fifth president in 1925; he was awarded the (Sir) Peter Nicol Russell memorial medal in 1927. Julius fostered the formation of the Australian Commonwealth Engineering Standards Association in 1922; while he was serving as vice-chairman and chairman in 1926, Australia-wide rules were adopted for electrical safety. He was chairman of the Standards Association of Australia in 1929-39 and president of the Australian National Research Council in 1932-37.

About 1914 Julius was joined in partnership by William Poole and in 1922 by A. J. Gibson; he remained senior partner of Julius, Poole & Gibson until his death. The firm's clients included the Commonwealth and State governments. Julius served on a committee to inquire into electricity supplies (1925) and reported upon a water conservation scheme for the northwest of the State (1937) and the break of gauge in the railway (1939). He widely promulgated his personal views on fiscal policy, unemployment during the Depression, industrial standardization and professional qualifications.

The prime minister, S. M. (Viscount) Bruce, in 1926 sought his advice on the bill to establish the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and appointed Julius chairman — a position he held until 1945. He quickly appreciated that the most pressing problems facing the council related to primary production. With (Sir) David Rivett and A. E. V. Richardson, he helped to fight prickly pear, to investigate diseases affecting sheep, dairy cattle and food supplies, and set up a division of forest products. He could quickly assess a proposed course of action and 'form a shrewd estimate of its cost'.

In the 1930s he realized the need for more research work in secondary industry. Despite strong opposition from the Department of Defence to any extension of the activities of C.S.I.R., Julius was appointed chairman of the important Commonwealth Committee on Secondary Industries Testing and Research in 1936. Under his leadership the committee worked fast and in 1937 recommended the establishment of the National Standards Laboratory, a technical information service, and research into aero and automobile engines. During World War II he also served on the Central Inventions Board, the Australian Council for Aeronautics (as chairman) and the Army Inventions Directorate.

Knighted in 1929, Julius was a member of the Commonwealth Board of Trade (1927), president of the Rotary Club of Sydney in 1932, a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales from 1937, a director of Automatic Totalisators Ltd and Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Ltd and a trustee of the Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Co. Ltd. He was a member of the Australian Club, Sydney, and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London. In 1939 he was awarded the Kernot medal, also a D.Sc in 1940 by the University of New Zealand.

Julius died of coronary vascular disease and cancer at his Killara home on 28 June 1946 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and two sons — another son had been killed in an air crash in 1939. A portrait by Norman Carter is held by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Melbourne.

With 'his rather gaunt face, his crop of curly brown hair, and his very luminous blue eyes', Julius was slight in build. He was always mentally alert and spoke in a staccato manner. He 'could be autocratic, impatient, even choleric, but those qualities were disciplined by his sense of fair play, his quick sense of humour, his objectivity in scientific judgement and his keen political sense'.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-50
  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • G. Currie and J. Graham, The Origins of CSIRO (1966)
  • A. H. Corbett, The Institution of Engineers, Australia (Syd, 1973)
  • Institute of Engineers (Australia), Transactions, 1 (1920), 6 (1925), and Quarterly Bulletin, 5 (1928), Journal, 12 (1940), 15 (1943)
  • Engineering Association of New South Wales, Memoirs, 35 (1920)
  • Records of the Australian Academy of Science, 2 (Nov 1970), no 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1946, 6 Dec 1964
  • Allen Taylor & Co. Ltd, letter books (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Arthur Corbett, 'Julius, Sir George Alfred (1873–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/julius-sir-george-alfred-6890/text11945, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

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