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Morrison, John Walsh (1904–1988)

by Brian Maher

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

John Walsh Morrison (1904-1988), Catholic priest, was born on 7 June 1904 at Queanbeyan, New South Wales, second of ten children of New South Wales-born parents John Morrison, grazier, and his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Clowes. After attending Tuggranong (Tuggeranong) Provisional and Queanbeyan Superior Public schools, John stayed home on the family farm for one year, at his father’s insistence, digging out rabbit warrens. He then undertook ecclesiastical training at St Columba’s Seminary, Springwood, and St Patrick’s College, Manly. Ordained priest on 28 December 1930 in Sts Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, Goulburn, ‘Father John’ served the diocese of Goulburn at Temora (1931), Young (1932-40), Moruya (1940-42) and Boorowa (1942-79). His preaching was simple and direct, spoken in a distinctive, loud, shrill and raucous voice; his sermons were interminable, delivered in staccato phrases, and read year after year from recycled notes. He once announced in rough verse: ‘Next Saturdee, there will be, a working bee, at the cemeteree, the rabbits, are eating out your ancestors’. Engaged in rural matters, he drove a 1936 Ford utility, with dogs occupying priority seating.

At Young Morrison played in Group 9 and Maher Cup rugby league football games. He was a referee in 1938-68; he also organised and coached junior teams. In 1946 he led a financial appeal to build St Michael’s Agricultural College at Inveralochy, near Goulburn. For four years he visited thousands of homes, extracting donations from reluctant contributors. Developing a strong interest in sheepdog breeding, Morrison was a leading participant and judge at national sheepdog trials. At Boorowa he was a shire councillor (1965-74), leaving the position when he forgot to renominate. His concerns—’roads and bridges’—stemmed from his regular circuit of six rural churches. He also served on the hospital board, bushfire brigade, the rodeo and swimming baths committees, and the senior citizens and car clubs.

Morrison was tall, erect, physically taut and strong and, in old age, weather-beaten but agile. He usually wore a clerical collar over a woollen vest and dressed in heavy work overalls and boots, with a clerical biretta perched on his head. When a reporter asked why he wore a biretta, he responded with ‘You have to give the Lord’s church some dignity!’ He was a teetotaller, non-smoker and non-swearer and was never afraid of hard physical work. Volatile, he could be authoritarian and irascible in personal dealings, yet compassionate to anyone in difficulty.

Retiring in 1979, Morrison lived in a shed on his family property, The Poplars, Queanbeyan, and used a plank across two wool bales as his altar for Mass. He helped in parishes in the new Canberra suburbs; in 1986 he made a gift of two bells for the tower of St Christopher’s Cathedral, Forrest, as a memorial to his parents. While playing in a parish cricket match in 1987 he fell and broke his hip. He died on 26 June 1988 at Young and was buried in the Queanbeyan Riverside cemetery alongside his parents.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Maher, Planting the Celtic Cross (1997)
  • Canberra Times, 3 Jan 1981, p 2
  • Boorowa News, 30 June 1988, p 1
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Maher, 'Morrison, John Walsh (1904–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morrison-john-walsh-15024/text26220, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 October 2019.

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

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