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McInnis, Ronald Alison (1890–1982)

by Stefan Petrow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Ronald Alison McInnis (1890-1982), surveyor and town planner, was born on 20 November 1890 at Te Kowai, near Mackay, Queensland, son of Duncan McInnis, accountant, and his wife Amelia Sophia Elizabeth, née Cunningham. Although both parents had been born in England, Ronald was to take pride in his Scottish ancestry. Educated at Maryborough Grammar School, he started articles in 1909 with the surveyor B. C. Dupuy at Mackay, and three years later became a computing draughtsman in the Brisbane Survey Office, Department of Public Lands. He was registered as an authorised surveyor on 8 October 1912. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 May 1915, he served with the 5th (later 8th) Field Company, Australian Engineers, on Gallipoli, where he surveyed Quinn’s Post, then on the Western Front. In September 1916 he transferred to the 53rd Battalion as a second lieutenant and next year was promoted to lieutenant. His AIF appointment ended in Australia on 21 July 1919.

On 18 June 1919 at St Andrew’s Church of England, South Brisbane, McInnis married Ivy Gertrude Taylor Harris (d.1937). He became a partner in the prosperous surveying firm McInnis & Manning and served as president (1923-25) of the Queensland Institute of Surveyors. Helping to revive the Town Planning Association of Queensland in 1922, he gave evidence in 1925 at the Brisbane City Council’s Cross River Commission and in 1929-35 he represented the association on several groups such as the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland’s traffic committee. He was elected in 1927 to membership of the Town Planning Institute (Great Britain).

Increasingly interested in town planning, in 1929 McInnis designed, surveyed, and zoned the town of Noosa. Three years later he prepared a comprehensive plan for Mackay which, when accepted by the local council in 1934, was the first town plan in Queensland for an existing city. In 1935 the Brisbane City Council engaged him for two years part time to work on a civic survey, and in April 1938 formally appointed him city planner; he submitted his report to the town clerk in February 1940. The council adopted his zoning scheme, which had received strong support from interest groups, in February 1944. In 1932-44 he was active in the Legacy Club of Brisbane. On 7 November 1938 at St John’s Church of England, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, he had married Maysie Hardy, an X-ray technician and sister of Charles Hardy.

Late in 1940 McInnis was seconded to prepare a plan for Darwin. He took suggestions from leading citizens and put them into ‘workable form’, but the escalation of World War II, and especially the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, prevented implementation. In 1942-43 McInnis was Queensland’s deputy-director of camouflage in the Commonwealth Department of Home Security.

Doubting that Brisbane City Council aldermen and the city architect were committed to his zoning scheme, in January 1945 McInnis took up the new post of town and country planning commissioner for Tasmania. He quickly produced a pamphlet, The Application of Planning Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1944 (1945), in which he argued that town planning was the province of local government because ‘local problems, local desires and local prejudices’ can ‘only be appreciated by those living on the spot’. Travelling around Tasmania, he urged municipal councils and citizens’ groups to act together to adopt planning schemes. Progress was slow, but gradually local authorities involved him in their projects. When McInnis retired in March 1956, forty-one of the forty-nine municipalities had adopted the town and country planning acts. Local authorities exercised much tighter control over subdivisions and many had initiated surveys and zoning schemes. The (Royal) Australian Planning Institute awarded him an honorary fellowship in 1959.

In retirement McInnis cultivated his garden at Lindisfarne and enjoyed listening to its birds. He was a council-member (1946-67) of the National Fitness Council of Tasmania and an active parishioner of his local Anglican church until he became blind. Photographs show a tidy, well-dressed man with a thoughtful demeanour. Predeceased by his wife (d.1978) and daughter, he died on 8 May 1982 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Freestone, Model Communities (1989)
  • D. Carment and B. James (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 2 (1992)
  • E. Gibson, Bag-Huts, Bombs and Bureaucrats (1997)
  • S. Petrow, ‘The Diary of a Town and Country Planning Commissioner: R. A. McInnis in Tasmania 1945-1956’, in C. Garnaut and S. Hamnett (eds), Fifth Australian Urban History Planning Conference Proceedings (2000)
  • S. Petrow, ‘Planning Pioneer: R. A. McInnis and Town Planning in Queensland 1922-1944’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol 16, no 7, 1997, p 285
  • Mercury (Hobart), 13 May 1982, p 4
  • Australian Surveyor, June 1983, p 440.

Citation details

Stefan Petrow, 'McInnis, Ronald Alison (1890–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcinnis-ronald-alison-15228/text26434, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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