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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Munro, Crawford Hugh (1904–1976)

by Julia Horne

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

Crawford Hugh Munro (1904-1976), civil engineer and university professor, was born on 23 March 1904 at Toowoomba, Queensland, second child of Toowoomba-born parents Robert Henry Munro, commission agent, and his wife Grace Agnes, née Nelson. Crawford attended Sydney Technical High School and studied civil engineering at the University of Sydney (B.E., 1926). Joining the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in 1926, he worked as resident engineer and research officer. At Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 26 July 1937 he married with Presbyterian forms Emily Grace Metcalf, a 38-year-old kindergarten teacher.

In 1936 Munro was appointed lecturer-in-charge, department of mechanical and civil engineering, Sydney Technical College. Attached (1941-45) to the Commonwealth Department of Munitions as State supervising engineer, he oversaw the design and production of armoured fighting vehicles and small ships. He was commissioned major, Royal Engineers, in June 1945 and was stationed with the British Army in Burma. Returning to S.T.C. in the following year, he became head of the department of civil engineering and assistant-director of technical education. He contributed to the establishment (1949) of the New South Wales University of Technology (University of New South Wales). There he was promoted to associate-professor in 1951 and to the chair of civil engineering in 1954.

Surrounded by enthusiastic staff and students, Munro was determined to achieve an international reputation for his department. He planned a specially outfitted building at the university's new Kensington site, as well as a water research laboratory at Manly Vale. Convinced that 'research must go hand in hand with teaching', he introduced new courses, encouraged practising engineers to return for further education and helped undergraduates to engage in research. His most enduring contribution was to hydrology. Water was his passion: he saw it as 'the lifeline upon which Australia must depend . . . for survival as a white nation'. He helped to establish (1955) the Water Research Foundation of Australia to raise funds for water engineering, participated in State and national committees, and served as a consultant on numerous projects. Pleading primary industry's need for water, he deplored the large quantities wasted on suburban domestic gardens.

Munro's dominating nature, magnified by an imposing physique and loud voice, meant that some found him overbearing, but his manner was down-to-earth, with larrikin touches. He relished a good argument, enjoyed social occasions and could tell an entertaining story. A number of people remembered him as the professor who, on hot days, wore 'the Bond's singlet of a construction worker'.

A council-member (1962-74) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, Munro was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and the Royal Society of Health. He was also a member of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, and of the Imperial Service and Hunters Hill Tennis clubs. After he retired in 1969, he continued to undertake consultancies and published a textbook, Australian Water Resources and their Development (1974). Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 21 September 1976 at his Hunters Hill home and was cremated. The I.E.A. inaugurated the C. H. Munro memorial oration. At the U.N.S.W. the centre for civil and environmental engineering was named (1992) after him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Hydrology Symposium, 1977
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia (Civil Engineering), Transactions, vol CE26, 1984, p 210
  • University of New South Wales, University News, 1969, p 4
  • E. B. and P. MacDonald, Reminiscences of C. H. Munro (University of New South Wales Archives)
  • R. H. Myers, Memorial address, 15 Oct 1976, BRF-Munro (University of New South Wales Archives)
  • Munro, C. H., personnel file CN968/7 (University of New South Wales Archives).

Citation details

Julia Horne, 'Munro, Crawford Hugh (1904–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 15

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