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Learmonth, Noel Fulford (1880–1970)

by Jennifer Strauss

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Noel Fulford Learmonth (1880-1970), farmer, naturalist and local historian, was born on 22 February 1880 at Ettrick, the family property near Tyrendarra, Victoria, son of Tasmanian-born John Ralston Learmonth, grazier, and his wife Mary Jane Marshall, née Fulford, from South Australia. William Learmonth was his grandfather. Noel completed his education (1895-98) at Geelong Church of England Grammar School. He worked for the Victorian Railways (notably on the Mildura survey), served (1902-03) as private secretary to M. K. McKenzie, the commissioner of crown lands, and took up a pastoral block near Gayndah, Queensland. After his father's death in 1911, he returned to Victoria, named the land he inherited Carramar and began farming there. On 26 August 1914 at St Alban's Anglican Church, Armadale, Melbourne, he married Edith Mary Salter (d.1964); they were to have four children.

Throughout his life Learmonth developed his skills as a naturalist and local historian. While working on the Mildura survey, he had sent paragraphs to the Bulletin which were published under the pen-name, 'Leo'. In 1910-11 the Geelong Grammar School Quarterly included two of his articles. Learmonth's contributions to the ornithology of south-west Victoria, especially its seabirds, continued in articles in the Emu, the Victorian Naturalist and the Bird Observers' Club Notes, culminating in The Birds of the Portland District (1966). In this work, and in activities such as the campaigns for national parks at Mount Richmond (proclaimed 1960) and Lower Glenelg (proclaimed 1969), he was assisted by members of the Portland Field Naturalists' Club which he had helped to found in 1945. His interest in bird-life earned him an associate-fellowship of the National Museum of Victoria.

Learmonth's first full-scale historical project had been The Portland Bay Settlement (1934), prepared to mark Portland's centenary. Following his retirement to that city in 1952, his responses to various requests for local histories included The Story of St Stephens (1956), The Story of a Port (1960) and Portland 1800 to 1920 (1966). His final book, Four Towns and a Survey (1970), included studies of several local towns, first published in the Portland Guardian, and an account of his time on the Mildura railway survey. His pioneering work, meticulously detailed and lucidly written, was recognized by life membership of the Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Historical Society and a fellowship (1962) of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

Colleagues found Learmonth a stimulating companion, 'his forthrightness . . . tempered with courtesy, his knowledge with wit'. He was a member of the Bread and Cheese Club, and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Survived by his daughter, he died on 9 September 1970 at Portland and was cremated. One of his sons had died in infancy, the other two in World War II. The elder was the subject of John Manifold's poem, 'The Tomb of Lt. John Learmonth, A.I.F.'; the younger, Wing Commander Charles Cuthbertson Learmonth, D.F.C., had an air force base in Western Australia named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Serle, 'Foreword' in N. Learmonth, Four Towns and a Survey (Melb, 1970)
  • Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Corian, Dec 1970, p 538
  • Victorian Naturalist, 88, no 2, Feb 1971, p 39
  • Emu, 71, pt 2, Apr 1971, p 88
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 43, no 4, Nov 1972, p 956
  • Portland Observer, 11 Sept 1970.

Citation details

Jennifer Strauss, 'Learmonth, Noel Fulford (1880–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/learmonth-noel-fulford-10802/text19157, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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