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Morris James Lea (1917–1980)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

Morris James Lea (1917-1980), engineer and surveyor, was born on 19 August 1917 at Northcote, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents James Hugh Lea, soldier, and his wife Sarah Louisa, née Moorhouse. Morrie attended Ripponlea State and Brighton Technical schools, and won a scholarship to Melbourne Technical College where he obtained a diploma of civil engineering in 1933. Deciding against accepting a scholarship to the University of Melbourne because of the Depression, he entered into articles with F. J. Walters, working as an assistant to Donald Macdonald. In 1937 Lea was licensed as a surveyor and won the Victorian Institute of Surveyors' prize. Qualifying as a municipal engineer in 1939, he was elected to the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1940. On 11 December that year at St Paul's Anglican Church, Caulfield, he married Mavis Louise Parsons, a stenographer.

Commissioned in the Citizen Military Forces in August 1940, Lea was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 27 July 1941. Following military-engineering and staff training in Australia, he served in Papua and New Guinea, mostly in staff posts, in 1943-45. He was promoted major (1943) and mentioned in dispatches (1946). His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 26 November 1945. In 1948-54 he was again involved with the C.M.F., commanding No.2 Movement Control Training Group and rising to temporary lieutenant colonel.

When Lea returned to civilian life he and Walters established a company, F. J. Walters & Lea Pty Ltd. Lea conducted an extensive practice in engineering, surveying and planning. Keenly involved in the affairs of his profession, he was a council-member (1947-52) and president (1949-50) of the Victorian Institute of Surveyors, and its nominee (1954-59) on the Surveyors' Board of Victoria. He was largely responsible for forming the Institution of Surveyors, Australia, of which he was foundation member, treasurer, president (1960-62) and honorary fellow (1966).

As one who constantly advocated that surveyors should take an active role in town planning, Lea served on the council of the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute, of which he was treasurer for many years, and on the Melbourne divisional committee (president 1956). In 1958 the National Capital Planning Committee was set up: the Institution of Engineers, with the support of the council of the Institution of Surveyors, chose Lea as its nominee on that body. On his retirement from the committee in 1970, he was appointed O.B.E. He was also a member of the Town and Country Planning Board (1968-71) and the Town Planning Appeals Tribunal (1974-80).

Lea's work was technically sound and he expressed himself well. These qualities, combined with his integrity, forthrightness and humour, made him a valued counsellor. Five ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and of medium build, he was a proficient sportsman, an honorary life member of the Woodlands and Yarra Yarra golf clubs, and a member of Alma Bowling Club; he also belonged to the Rotary Club of Melbourne. A Freemason, he was a past master of the United Service Lodge. He died of cancer on 5 June 1980 at Prahran and was cremated; his wife, son and one of his two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Surveyor, Dec 1960, Sept 1980
  • R. Smith, M. J. Lea (manuscript, no date, privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Lea, Morris James (1917–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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