Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Otto Marx (1897–1974)

by Meredith Fletcher

This article was published:

Otto Marx (1897-1974), herd-tester, was born on 3 August 1897 at Hamburg, Germany, son of Carl Marx, businessman, and his wife Lina, née Steinwehr. Otto was of part-Jewish descent. He fought (from 1914) as a sergeant with the German Army and won the Iron Cross before being made a prisoner of war. Released in 1920, he returned to Hamburg. On 5 July 1923 he married Minna Mollnitz-Schier. While working as a merchant banker with a coffee importing company, he realized the imminent danger facing Jews in Nazi Germany. Leaving his Aryan wife behind, he managed to escape to England in August 1939. He was interned in 1940 and shipped to Australia as an enemy alien in the Dunera which reached Sydney on 6 September that year.

Sent to internment camps at Hay, New South Wales, and Tatura, Victoria, Marx was released as a refugee alien with other 'Dunera boys' to supplement the wartime labour shortage. He joined the Militia on 25 April 1942, served with the 8th Employment Company and was discharged on medical grounds on 20 December 1943. Through a Quaker connexion, Marx was hired as a herd-tester by the co-operative at Maffra. With little knowledge of the dairy industry, he was required to visit farms and stay overnight for the evening and morning milking—a potentially difficult situation for a German in 1944. The milk samples he collected were tested to monitor individual cows' production and butter fat content. He soon procured a caravan which also served as a mobile office. On 3 November 1945 he was naturalized.

Maffra became his home, and that of his wife and her sister, with both of whom he was re-united after the war through the efforts of the International Red Cross Society. Marx worked (1950-53) in the laboratory of Nestlés Food Specialties (Australia) Ltd, but in 1953 returned as secretary to the Maffra and District Herd Improvement Association and began to extend the herd-testing services. With help from progressive local farmers and the Department of Agriculture, he established a service in 1956 for inseminating cows with frozen semen from proven bulls to improve genetic stock and boost milk production. Marx devised a method of combining herd-testing and artificial-insemination resources, and offered artificial breeding on a commercial basis. Thorough, meticulous and forceful as an administrator, he used these attributes to overcome many technical difficulties to implement the new service. The system he established at Maffra became the model for other dairying centres throughout Victoria, and led to an immediate boost in milk production and a decline in cattle disease. He was joint vice-president (1960-66 and 1970-71) of the Artificial Breeding Association of Victoria.

Described in a radio broadcast as having a 'searching and dogmatic persistency', Marx capitalized on his chance arrival at Maffra to become an influential figure who helped to shape the direction of the dairy industry and of farmer co-operatives in Victoria. He retired in 1972. Survived by his wife, he died on 24 March 1974 at Sale from injuries he received in a motorcar accident.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Pearce, The History of Herd Testing and Artificial Breeding in the Maffra District (Boisdale, Vic, 1983)
  • R. Broome and T. Dingle, The Victorians (Syd, 1984)
  • M. Fletcher, 'Dairying Personalities: Otto Marx', H. I. Farmer, May 1989, p 17
  • Maffra Spectator, 14 Feb 1956, 12 Nov 1968, 27 Mar 1974
  • Otto Marx Collection, Local History Collection, Maffra Branch, Wellington Shire Library, Victoria
  • naturalisation file, A435/, item 44/4/1705 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Meredith Fletcher, 'Marx, Otto (1897–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 July 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 August, 1897
Hamburg, Germany


24 March, 1974 (aged 76)
Sale, Victoria, Australia

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