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Alan Walter Sydney May (1916–1966)

by Neil Heather

This article was published:

Alan Walter Sydney May (1916-1966), entomologist, was born on 22 June 1916 at Ipswich, Queensland, third child of Australian-born parents Sydney Lionel May, music teacher, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Williams. Mary's forebears had been among the first settlers in the Brisbane Valley. After attending West Ipswich State and Ipswich Grammar schools, Alan entered Emmanuel College, University of Queensland (B.Sc.Agr., 1939; M.Sc.Agr., 1948; Ph.D., 1961). In 1936 he was granted leave of absence from the faculty to work as a temporary assistant in the entomology section of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock. Returning to the university in 1937 on a (W. B.) Slade scholarship, he graduated with first-class honours and later studied part time.

On 1 April 1939 May was appointed assistant research officer in the Department of Agriculture and Stock (Primary Industries). At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, on 4 April 1942 he married Beryl Eileen Short, a 23-year-old clerk. He served at Normanton, Nambour, Gayndah and (from 1947) at Toowoomba where he was promoted senior entomologist in 1954. Transferred to administrative duties, he was posted to Brisbane in 1961 as assistant to W. J. S. Sloan, the director of plant industry. In January 1966 he became assistant to Dr J. M. Harvey, director-general of primary industries.

May's research on tropical fruit-flies (Tephritidae) won international acclaim for his understanding of the biology of these insects and their native-host relationships. He worked untiringly on the systematic connections of Australian and New Guinea species of the pest, and his taxonomic descriptions remain valid. His extensive knowledge of entomology spanned the bionomics of the newly introduced buffalo-fly, as well as pest-management strategies for citrus and deciduous fruits, cereal crops, cotton and pastures. As sole or senior author, he published fifty-two scientific papers on fruit-flies and other insects of importance in agricultural entomology.

Held in high esteem professionally and in the wider community, May was president (1960) of the Queensland Entomological Society, foundation secretary (1965) of the Australian Entomological Society and a member of the Royal Society of Queensland. In addition, he presided over the Toowoomba Naturalists' Club for some years and was a committee-member of the Queensland branch of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science. He was an excellent companion and a valued mentor of younger entomologists; his ethical standards were exemplary, and he expected his junior and senior colleagues to share them.

May's interests included music, literature and natural science. He also enjoyed propagating native plants and incorporating them in his well-ordered garden. Powerfully built, he had rowed stroke in the university IV; he was a good tennis player and subsequently became an above-average golfer. He died of leukemia on 2 April 1966 at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, South Brisbane, and was cremated; his wife and four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Entomological Society, News Bulletin, 2, pt 2, 1966, p 51
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 4 Apr 1966
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Neil Heather, 'May, Alan Walter Sydney (1916–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 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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