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Fritz Duras (1896–1965)

by Gertrude F. Kentish

This article was published:

Fritz Duras (1896-1965), physical educationist, was born on 19 April 1896 at Bonn, Germany, son of Markus Levi, barrister and councillor-at-law, and his wife Maria Catharina, née Duras. When his father died and his mother remarried, Fritz took her maiden name as his surname in 1914. After receiving a classical education at the Royal Gymnasium, he enlisted in the German Army in 1915; he served with the infantry, was awarded the Iron Cross and was promoted lieutenant (1918).

On returning to civilian life, Duras enrolled at the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau to study medicine; he graduated M.B. in 1922 and subsequently took his M.D. He worked as house physician (1923-27) in the wards of the university hospital, and as clinical assistant (1927-28) at the associated Institute for Sports Medicine where in 1929-33 he was director and senior physician. On 19 June 1933 he married Betty von Klufer, an assistant at the university dental hospital. Shortly afterwards, Duras—whose father was Jewish—was forced to resign his position. The young couple moved to Todtnuauberg, in the Black Forest, before Quaker contacts arranged for him to go to England to improve his competence in English.

In London, Duras was introduced to the Academic Assistance Council which helped German exiles to find suitable posts. Meanwhile educationists in Victoria, led by Professor G. S. Browne, had persuaded the council of the University of Melbourne to establish a one-year course in the faculty of education to train teachers of physical education. Following interviews with (Sir) Keith Hancock and (Sir) Raymond Priestley, and a successful application to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for funding, Duras was appointed director of physical education. He was to offer the first, and, for many years, the only such course in Australia.

Accompanied by his family, Duras arrived in Melbourne on 1 March 1937. The curriculum he offered required students to study the history, principles and methods of physical education, its anatomical and physiological bases, body mechanics, hygiene, diet and first aid. Within seven months the university council approved an extension of the course to two years (as suggested by its director); by 1939 Duras's appointment was renewed with the status of senior lecturer. In 1945 he was granted special admission to the degree of master of education; in 1954 he was promoted associate professor. Professor Alexander Boyce Gibson wrote: 'He is an outstanding human being, vital, energetic, keen, self-sacrificing, disciplined, cultivated and filled with the deepest sense of public duty'.

In 1956, before the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, Duras directed a World Congress in Physical Education for three hundred and fifty participants from thirty countries. In November an amendment to the Medical Act (1928) enabled persons with acceptable foreign qualifications to practise in Victoria: Duras was among the earliest admitted. He was also prominent in having the Beaurepaire Centre for sport and physical education built at the university that year.

A pioneer in his field, Duras had a career studded with 'firsts'. He was a foundation member and first vice-president of the Australian Sports Medicine Association, the first Australian to be elected a fellow of the American Academy of Physical Education, the first president (1954-59) of the Australian Physical Education Association and later of the International Council for Physical Education and Sport. Other organizations with which he was associated included the National Fitness Council, the Marriage Guidance Council, the Playgrounds and Recreation Association of Victoria, the Youth Advisory Council and the Victorian Association of Youth Clubs.

Duras was 'an extremely kind man, deeply interested in people and their problems, never too busy, never too tired to be at the disposal of anyone who sought his help'. He retired in December 1962. Revisiting Europe with Betty, he died on 19 March 1965 while travelling by train to Genoa, Italy, and was buried at Freiburg, Germany. His wife, two daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. F. Kentish, Fritz Duras (Adel, 1984)
  • Australian Journal of Physical Education, no 27, Feb-Mar 1963, no 34, June-July 1965
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Mar 1965
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 Mar 1965
  • Duras papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Gertrude F. Kentish, 'Duras, Fritz (1896–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Levi, Fritz

19 April, 1896
Bonn, Germany


19 March, 1965 (aged 68)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.