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Dunphy, Milo Kanangra (1929–1996)

by Peter Orlovich

This article was published online in 2020

Milo Kanangra Dunphy (1929–1996), architect and environmentalist, was born on 13 May 1929 at Rockdale, Sydney, elder son of Victorian-born Myles Joseph Dunphy, architect, and his English-born wife Margaret Tinsley, nèe Peet. He was named after Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains. As an infant his parents took him on a fifteen-day trek through the region in a modified perambulator they nicknamed the ‘Kanangra Express.’ Milo was educated at Mortdale and Hurstville public schools and Canterbury Boys’ High School. He attended Sunday school at Mortdale Methodist Church and was actively involved in the church’s Order of Knights.

Dunphy studied architecture at Sydney Technical College, where his father was a lecturer, qualifying in 1952. He was apprenticed to the firm Davey & Brindley during this time. In 1953, while enrolled in a one-year town and country planning course at the University of Sydney, he was awarded a Byera Hadley travelling architectural scholarship. He departed Australia in 1954 with the intention of studying civic architecture (town halls, libraries, and health services) and visiting several European countries. On 17 February 1955, at the register office, Hampstead, London, he married Dorothy Anne Kendall, an Australian-born textile designer. The couple returned to Sydney later that year and Dunphy resumed work with his former employer. In 1957 he formed Loder & Dunphy Architects with Bruce Loder. That year, in a series of articles published in the Methodist, he attacked the church’s failure to embrace contemporary architecture. By the end of the year, Loder & Dunphy had four commissions for Methodist churches. Dunphy served on the council of the New South Wales chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) from 1962 to 1974 and, in 1964, became chairman of its subcommittee on the environment.

When, in 1968, the New South Wales government decided to develop a limestone quarry in the Colong Caves Reserve in the Blue Mountains, and to excise the reserve from the proposed Kanangra–Boyd National Park (established 1969), Dunphy emerged as a leading voice of protest. He was secretary of the Colong Committee (later Colong Foundation for Wilderness), which successfully mounted a public campaign to save the caves, and the experience changed the direction of his life. Anxious not to lose the political momentum created during the dispute, he worked to direct it into other issues, including challenging the Forestry Commission of New South Wales over its logging of the sub-alpine eucalypt forest on the Boyd Plateau, and the Hydro Electric Commission of Tasmania over the flooding of Lake Pedder.

In 1972 Dunphy helped to establish the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre (TEC), becoming its first director. The TEC aimed to ‘cover and co-ordinate action on every ecological issue, from town planning to the establishment of [conservation] areas in the remote outback’ (Jones 1972, 7). Appointed to the Whitlam government’s Task Force on the National Estate in 1973, he worked with the poet Judith Wright and others to build a foundation for the Commonwealth government’s future involvement in nature and heritage. The following year he stood as a candidate for the Australia Party for the Division of Cook in the Federal election, but was unsuccessful. During this period he gradually moved out of architecture, eventually devoting himself full time to community environmental work. However, he continued to insist that architects were ‘in the hot seat’ (Architecture in Australia 1975, 85) of the worldwide environmental debate, and to encourage them to think deeply about the environmental impact of their designs. In 1980 he received a $5,000 general writing grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. That year he published The Rucksack Bushwalker and Camper: A Practical and Environmental Guide to Lightweight Bushgoing for Australians, which included Dorothy’s illustrations.

Standing as an Independent against the Federal treasurer, John Howard, for the seat of Bennelong in 1983, Dunphy received more than eight thousand votes, his profile buoyed by his protest against the proposed Franklin River dam in Tasmania. In recognition of his services to conservation, he was appointed AM in 1986. Other honours followed: the Planning Institute of Australia awarded him its Sidney Luker award in 1988; the journal Architecture Show named him its architect of the decade in 1989; and, in 1996, the University of New South Wales conferred on him an honorary doctorate of science. The previous year a bitter feud had erupted at the TEC over policy differences between Dunphy and his co-director Jeff Angel, and also over concerns about Dunphy’s health, that resulted in Dunphy being forced from his position as director. Suffering from liver cancer, he chose not to reapply for the job, taking up a position as vice-chairman of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

Dunphy believed that the best way to convert politicians to the environmental cause was to take them bushwalking and his companions included the New South Wales premiers Neville Wran and Bob Carr. A charming and witty idealist, he wooed more than politicians; his serial philandering was made public in Peter Meredith’s Myles and Milo, a joint biography of father and son published after Milo’s death. Survived by Dorothy and their son, he died of haemochromatosis on 13 April 1996 at Darlinghurst, and was cremated. That year the New South Wales government created the Dunphy Wilderness Fund to commemorate Myles’s and Milo’s contributions to conservation. The New South Wales chapter of the RAIA and the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales also created annual awards to honour Milo, and Myles and Milo, respectively.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Architecture in Australia. ‘An Interview with Milo Dunphy.’ April 1975, 84–89
  • Jones, Margaret. ‘Watchdog over Pollution: New Centre Expects to “Strike Sparks.”’ Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 1972, 7
  • Meredith, Peter. Myles and Milo. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1999
  • O’Brien, Geraldine. ‘Dunphy Honoured in National Trust Awards.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 1992, 2
  • Prineas, Peter. ‘Long-Time Friend of the Wilderness.’ Australian, 16 April 1996, 18
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Travelling Scholarship for Two Architects.’ 9 June 1953, 10
  • Woodford, James. ‘Brawling Greens Axe Dunphy.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1995, 1

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Orlovich, 'Dunphy, Milo Kanangra (1929–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dunphy-milo-kanangra-25367/text33767, published online 2020, accessed online 25 July 2021.

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