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Raw, Alan Rayson (1902–1964)

by Ian D. Rae

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Alan Rayson Raw (1902-1964), cereal geneticist, was born on 24 August 1902 at St Kilda, Melbourne, youngest of three children of John Thomas Raw, a schoolteacher from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Esther Maria Maud, née Rayson. After attending state schools—including Richmond Central where his father was headmaster—and Wesley College, Alan entered the University of Melbourne (B.Ag.Sc., 1927; M.Ag.Sc., 1931). For his master's degree he wrote a thesis entitled, 'Endosperm Characters in Wheat: Investigations with Free Gallipoli 1928-31'. His work attracted wide attention and the thesis was published in the Journal of the Department of Agriculture of Victoria in 1932.

In 1927 Raw had joined the Victorian Department of Agriculture and begun working with the senior cereal breeder George Gordon at the State Research Farm, Werribee. On 20 January 1932 at St John's Catholic Church, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, he married Nellie Mulrooney, a teacher. Succeeding Gordon in 1946, he continued to develop new cereal varieties for Australian conditions. He produced the Insignia, Olympic, Sherpa, Beacon, Diadem, Stockade and Emblem wheats, Research, Resibee and Anabee barleys, and Algeribee and Orient oats. All these varieties were extensively planted in Victoria. Raw became Australia's leading authority on barley. By 1964 his Research variety comprised 95 per cent of the malting barley grown in southern Victoria, and it had also been important in Tasmania, New Zealand and Kenya.

A geneticist as much as a breeder, Raw took a fundamental approach and frequently employed the genetic modification techniques of his day, which involved irradiation and the use of chemical mutagens such as colchicine. He also sought improvements through the introduction of new germ-plasm. Some of this work led to the production of fertile crosses between wheat and the grass Agropyron, and to the introduction of high-yielding wheats which produced flour with good baking qualities. While his major interest lay in cereal crops, staff working under his direction followed his methods in developing new varieties of flax, linseed, potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes and onions.

The results of Raw's work were published in twenty articles in the Journal of Agriculture, Victoria. The last of these appeared after his death: it was a report on his presentations at three international conferences held in Europe in 1963, and on his visits that year to plant-breeding and research organizations in India, Greece, Italy, France, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain. Described by his colleagues as thoughtful and kind, Raw was a popular lecturer at the annual field-day at the State Research Farm. He was an archetypal member of a family who made its way in the world through education and paid their debt in professional service. By occupation and by inclination he was close to nature, and liked nothing better than to go fishing. He died of a coronary occlusion on 9 September 1964 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, and was buried in Werribee cemetery; his wife, daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. R. Wardle, The Land that Yielded (Melb, 1972)
  • Journal of Agriculture (Victoria), Oct 1964, p 469
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian D. Rae, 'Raw, Alan Rayson (1902–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/raw-alan-rayson-11491/text20493, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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