Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwin Fullarton Borrie (1894–1968)

by Tony Dingle and Carolyn Rasmussen

This article was published:

Edwin Fullarton Borrie (1894-1968), civil engineer and town planner, was born on 17 April 1894 at Brunswick, Melbourne, son of New Zealand-born parents James Borrie, grocer, and his wife Katherine Isabella, née Fullarton. The family later moved to Kew. Educated at local schools and at Scotch College, Edwin graduated from the University of Melbourne with first-class honours in civil engineering (B.C.E., 1915; M.C.E., 1927).

During World War I Borrie was one of ten young Australians nominated for commissions in the British Army's Royal Engineers. He embarked on 29 December 1915 and served with the 229th Field Company for two years in France. In March 1916 he was commissioned and in September 1917 promoted temporary lieutenant. He was wounded in April 1918 and awarded the Military Cross in June. Having been appointed to the staff of the assistant-director of works in Egypt, Borrie was demobilized on 15 July 1919. He married Hilda Lilian Richards on 15 November at Hawthorn Presbyterian Church, Melbourne. After working briefly with a private firm which made concrete houses, he joined the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Department to assist with the design and construction of the Great Lake Dam. Subsequently, he was employed by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria at Yallourn.

In 1924 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works chose Borrie as its first engineer of main drains. As chief engineer of sewerage (1929-50), he managed Melbourne's ever-extending system and supervised the design of a sewage treatment plant at Braeside for the south-eastern suburbs. In 1935 he was invited to prepare a report on the sewerage system at Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1937 toured Britain, Europe and North America to study sewerage practices.

Seconded to the Allied Works Council from 1941 to 1944 as director of engineering, Borrie travelled throughout Australia and was involved in projects vital to the war effort. On returning to the Board of Works, he gave his attention to extending the sewerage system and to planning for growth. Two important reports were prepared: The Future Population of Melbourne (1944) and The Future Urban Boundaries of Melbourne and the Distribution of Population Therein (1948).

In 1950 Borrie successfully applied for the new position of chief planner in the Board of Works. His interest in town planning had long been developing: during his 1937 trip to the United States of America he had been particularly interested in Los Angeles which, he thought, shared similar conditions and planning challenges with those of Melbourne. He co-ordinated a team, which included an architect, an economist, a surveyor and a sociologist, to map, survey and prepare a master plan as a guide for the development of the city. Although he took a course in statistics to extend his skills, he considered 'common sense and judgement' to be the main qualifications for a good town planner. Aware of the need to convince Melburnians of the advantages of his plan, Borrie often spent his evenings at public meetings, explaining and promoting it.

The plan, published in 1954, sought to rationalize the development of Melbourne through land-use zoning and by reserving land for such future public purposes as roads, parks and schools. It was well received and widely acclaimed. In 1955 Borrie was awarded the (Sir James) Barrett medal by the Town and Country Planning Association of Victoria. That year the Board of Works was granted a continuing planning role and Borrie's position as chief planner was made permanent. He continued to refine the plan until 1959 when he retired.

Six feet (183 cm) tall, fair haired, with a small moustache, Borrie was a stern but fair taskmaster who worked extremely hard. He enjoyed sport, gardening, and reading detective stories when it rained. President (1947) of the Melbourne division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, he was also active in the work of Legacy. On retirement, he moved to Mount Eliza, but, finding that his advice as a planner was still valued, he set up as a consultant. In February 1961 he was appointed to prepare a plan for the Melbourne City Council. Completed by 1964, it provided for a new civic centre, for a town hall and plaza, and for open spaces around the city. The council did not act on it. Survived by his wife and son, Borrie died on 27 August 1968 at Kew and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Dingle and C. Rasmussen, Vital Connections (Melb, 1991)
  • MMBW Officers Journal, June 1950, p 25, July 1959, p 17
  • Australian Builder, Sept 1950, pp 473, 518
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12 Dec 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

Tony Dingle and Carolyn Rasmussen, 'Borrie, Edwin Fullarton (1894–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 April, 1894
Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


27 August, 1968 (aged 74)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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