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Travis Henry John Harrison (1901–1977)

by D. G. Parbery

This article was published:

Travis Henry John Harrison (1901-1977), agricultural scientist and public servant, was born on 4 January 1901 at Pennant Hills, New South Wales, third of nine children of native-born parents Henry Russell Harrison, fruit-grower, and his wife Lillian Mary, née Fox. Henry's property, Cherrybrook Farm, had been established by his Wesleyan parents who were descended from convict pioneers of the district. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School (1913-17) and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1923; D.Sc.Agr., 1934), Trav was appointed lecturer in botany and entomology at Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1923. At the Methodist Church, Epping, on 15 April 1925 he married Marjorie Powell Holliday.

His research on the fruit-fly and brown-rot diseases of stone fruits won him a (Sir Benjamin) Fuller Trust scholarship; he studied at Imperial College, London, in 1930-32 (diploma in plant pathology, 1934). Back in Sydney, Harrison obtained his doctorate for a thesis on brown rot and in 1935 was awarded a King George V silver jubilee medal. He left Hawkesbury college in 1936 and in the following year joined the Federal Department of Commerce and Agriculture. As fruit inspector and research officer, based in London, he suggested measures to improve the condition of Australian fruit arriving in Britain. When World War II interrupted his work, he was employed as government procurement officer (from 1940).

Returning to Australia in 1945, next year Harrison became executive-member and secretary of the Australian Agricultural Council's irrigation production advisory committee. From February 1947 he was director of plant quarantine, Commonwealth Department of Health, Canberra; he was to be promoted assistant director-general in 1964. He endeavoured to protect Australia's agricultural industries from foreign pests and diseases by strengthening existing procedures and by developing the quarantine service as a co-operative undertaking with the States. In 1963-66 he chaired the National Sirex Campaign which succeeded in saving Australia's pine-wood industries.

Having helped in 1951-54 to achieve the plant protection agreement for the South-East Asia and Pacific region under the auspices of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Harrison fostered it as chairman (1956-60, 1964-67) of the regional international plant protection committee. He conducted special assignments for the F.A.O. in 1966, 1967 and 1970. Elected as an Independent, he was a member (1959-67) and deputy-chairman (1961) of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council; he was also a member (1957-67) and chairman (1963-67) of the Canberra Community Hospital board. In 1965 he was appointed O.B.E.

Of medium build, Harrison was a keen sportsman who had won Blues in Rugby Union football and cricket at university. His distinctive sandy-brown hair earned him the nickname 'Rusty'. As a leader, he was firm and determined, hard working and self-controlled, but these qualities were tempered by his cheerfulness, warmth and humility. For fifty-eight years he was a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. A keen gardener and a lover of natural beauty, he retired in 1966 and two years later moved to Rosedale Farm, near Batehaven, New South Wales. He died on 2 April 1977 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Barker and R. Hawkins, Early Wesleyans of Pennant Hills (Syd, 1983)
  • N. Yeates, Robert Dickie Watt Kt. (Coffs Harbour, NSW, 1987)
  • Journal of Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, 43, nos 3 and 4, Sept/Dec 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

D. G. Parbery, 'Harrison, Travis Henry John (1901–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 June 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

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