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Nivison, Alex Stratford (1894–1965)

by Jillian Oppenheimer

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

Alex Stratford Nivison (1894-1965), grazier and sheep breeder, was born on 4 March 1894 at The Glen, Walcha, New South Wales, ninth of eleven children of native-born parents James Alexander Nivison, grazier, and his wife Mary Maude, née Perry, grand-daughter of S. A. Perry. Educated at Walcha Public School and Barker College, Sydney, he joined (1912) his four brothers in running the family property, Ohio. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 September 1915. While serving on the Western Front with the 5th and 7th Field Artillery brigades, he was wounded (April 1916), commissioned (April 1917), promoted lieutenant (August), and recommended for the Military Cross. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 9 July 1919. Back home, he eschewed politics and never marched on Anzac Day.

In the 1920s, when the family partnership was dissolved, A. S. Nivison received the northern section of Ohio, which he named Mirani. He progressively bought adjoining land until he held 12,500 acres (5060 ha). From 1922 he strove to improve its carrying capacity and to breed bigger-framed, fine-wool sheep by experimenting with pastures, animal health (control of internal parasites) and nutrition. He found that subterranean clover and rye grass did well if superphosphate was added to the soil. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 23 November 1927 he married Grace Gordon ('Nancy'), daughter of Grace and Hugh Munro.

Nivison founded the Mirani merino stud in 1932 from the Ohio bloodlines with additions from Ravensworth and (Sir) Walter Merriman's Merryville studs. He classed the stud and wool himself, and gained four world-record wool prices (1934, 1935, 1948 and 1949). In 1944 he founded a poll Hereford stud: he imported cattle from England and the United States of America, and produced champion steers in carcass competitions. Vice-president of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association and the Armidale Pastures Protection Board, he worked closely with members of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Department of Agriculture. On his travels in New Zealand, Britain, Europe, the Soviet Union, and North and South America he observed various techniques of stock and pasture management.

His attempts to develop broad-scale methods of spreading fertilisers succeeded when he used an aeroplane to drop superphosphate on 1 February 1950. Nivison greatly increased the carrying capacity of Mirani: 17,800 sheep grazing on 4400 acres (1780 ha) produced 672 bales of wool in 1964. The productivity of the New England region doubled and trebled as others followed his methods. He used similar methods to develop both the granite soils of Warrabah, near Barraba, and a mineral-deficient property near Keith, South Australia. Oversowing native pastures with grass seed (and appropriate fertilisers) promoted better results with less environmental disturbance. He delivered a paper on the development of Mirani pastures to a conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Canberra in 1964.

A gentle and humorous man, Nivison was affectionately known as 'Uncle Poss'. He had played in a family polo team in the 1920s, and belonged to the Union, Royal Sydney Golf and Australian Jockey clubs in Sydney. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died on 28 June 1965 at Mirani and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Oppenheimer and B. Mitchell, An Australian Clan (Syd, 1989)
  • Walcha News, 22 Feb 1935, 20 Dec 1956, 17 May 1962, 27 May, 1 July 1965, 4 Nov 1982, 5 Feb 1987
  • Northern Daily Leader, 11 Oct 1961, 28 June 1965
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Jan 1964, 29 June 1965
  • war diaries, 1916-17, and personal papers (privately held).

Citation details

Jillian Oppenheimer, 'Nivison, Alex Stratford (1894–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nivison-alex-stratford-11246/text20059, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 September 2014.

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

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