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Morris, Ivor Gray (1911–1995)

by Les Henning

This article was published online in 2019

Ivor Gray Morris (1911–1995), woollen manufacturer, philanthropist, and community leader, was born on 14 March 1911 at Ipswich, Queensland, younger son of Welsh-born John Morris, engineer and later woollen manufacturer, and his Victorian-born wife Anna, née Gray. Following their mother’s death in 1913, the boys lived with relatives in Melbourne. Ivor attended Errol Street State School, North Melbourne, and Scotch College (1923), Hawthorn. Having returned to Queensland, he continued his education at Ipswich Grammar School (1924–25) and Scots College, Warwick (1925). He started work with Ipswich Woollen Mills, of which his father was a co-owner. In 1930 Morris senior sold his interest in the firm in order to start a new business. Two years later he took his family to Britain, primarily to purchase textile machinery. While there, Ivor completed (1933) a two-month course in textiles and dyeing at the University of Leeds.

Back home, John established Morris Woollen Mills (Ipswich) Pty Ltd at Redbank in 1933. Ivor assumed management of the firm when his father suffered a stroke the following year. He expanded it from an enterprise of five personnel to over a thousand at its peak in the 1950s; by that time he was the largest private employer in Ipswich. A fully integrated manufacturer, the business processed raw wool through to the production of yarns and the weaving and knitting of fine-apparel fabrics. In World War II the mill had operated around the clock to meet large contracts for supplying uniform materials and blankets to the military. On 19 February 1944 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Ipswich, Morris married Jessie Josephine Halley (d. 1983), a member of the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service.

 After the war, Morris Woollen Mills continued to expand, opening a wool-scouring and carbonising plant at Belmont in Brisbane. Reflecting his strong technical bent, Morris invested heavily in the most modern processing technology; the firm was the first commercial undertaking to adopt the Lo-Flo process developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in 1977 to reduce contaminants in wool-scouring effluent.

The company’s semi-processed carbonised and scoured wools comprised half its product and were exported; its yarns and fabrics—the latter under the brand names Highlander, Harlech, and Cambrian–supplied the local and interstate markets. Morris led or participated in five overseas trade promotion missions and, for six years from 1974, served on the Commonwealth government’s Trade Development Council. The government’s action in cutting protective tariffs in 1973 had adversely affected the domestic textile industry, however, and Morris Mills quickly lost market share to cheaper imports. He sold the business to Primac Holdings Ltd in 1980 and retired. The plant ceased operating in 1983.

Morris was a generous philanthropist. In 1957 his firm became a company member of the University of Sydney’s Nuclear Research Foundation (Science Foundation for Physics from 1966); although granted life membership in 1967 and thus exempted from further fees, the company continued its financial support until 1975. Morris held office as vice-chairman (1971–90) of the Queensland Museum’s board of trustees and in 1973 donated an orrery to the museum to mark the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Nicholas Copernicus. He was the main benefactor in 1993 of the first stage of a new dormitory at the Scots PGC College (formed by the amalgamation in 1970 of his alma mater with the Presbyterian Girls’ College), Warwick; the facility was named the Morris Wing in his honour.

Engaged in the Ipswich community from an early age, Morris was a founder (1938) and president (1941) of the Ipswich Apex Club and district governor of the organisation (1945). He served as sometime president of the East Ipswich Progress Association and as junior (1943–46) and senior (1946–47) vice-president of the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In 1943 he stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for election to the Ipswich City Council. Proud of his heritage, he was patron (1969–94) of the St David’s Welsh Society of Brisbane. From 1970 to 1980 he chaired the trustees of Ipswich Grammar School. In 1974 he was appointed CMG for services to industry and the community.

During his working life, Morris had been fully absorbed in his company’s operations. Living next to the mill at Redbank, he had been prepared to rise at any hour of the night to assist with machinery breakdowns. He prided himself on his good labour relations, recalling: ‘We were a happy family. We went for 46 years without a strike’ (Queensland Times 1990, 17). A journalist attributed to him a `stately demeanour … and robust views of self-worth’ (Lape 1985, 10). Six feet (183 cm) tall and well built, he played grade cricket and enjoyed rowing on the Bremer River until early middle age. In retirement, he visited relatives in Wales annually. He died at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, on 1 August 1995 and, following a Presbyterian service, was cremated. His two daughters survived him.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Jansen, Danni, Pamela Lamb, and Michael Cuthill. Mines, Mills & Shopping Malls: Celebrating the Identity of Ipswich. Ipswich, Qld: University of Queensland Boilerhouse Community Engagement Centre, 2009
  • Lape, Dan. ‘“Life is Great in the Wool Business”.’ Queensland Times (Ipswich), 20 April 1985, 10
  • Prather, Dr Ann. Personal communication
  • Queensland Times (Ipswich). ‘Mill Employees Reunite in Park.’ 3 August 1990, 17

Additional Resources

Citation details

Les Henning, 'Morris, Ivor Gray (1911–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morris-ivor-gray-21460/text31767, published online 2019, accessed online 18 August 2019.

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