Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albert (Bert) Morris (1886–1939)

by B. E. Kennedy

This article was published:

Albert Morris (1886-1939), botanist and assayer, was born on 13 August 1886 at Bridgewater, South Australia, second son of Albert Joseph Morris, stonecutter from England, and his wife Emma Jane, née Smith. The family moved to the new silver-field of Thackaringa, New South Wales, and in 1890 to Broken Hill. From an early age Albert developed a strong interest in the plant life of the arid interior. His lifelong passion for botany may have resulted from an injury to his foot in infancy that left him crippled for life and debarred him from sport. He was educated at Burke Ward Public School and at Broken Hill Technical College, where he obtained a diploma in metallurgy; he grew and sold pepper trees to pay his fees. He was employed by the Central Mine from 1902 and became its chief assayer.

At Broken Hill on 13 April 1909 he married Ellen Margaret Sayce, dressmaker. She was a forceful personality and a staunch member of the Society of Friends; in 1918 Morris also became a Quaker after an Anglican upbringing. They built a tiny cottage in Cornish Street, Railway Town, an area most exposed to soil erosion and drifting sand: trees had been cut for fuel and years of overstocking and the rabbit plague had denuded the land.

Morris cultivated a desert garden and, assisted by Edwin Ashby, experimented with a wide range of plants from dry areas, including Arizona and South Africa. He found that species grown from seed collected locally withstood drought conditions better than others. In 1920 with W. D. K. MacGillivray he helped to found the Barrier Field Naturalists' Club and served as its secretary until his death. Numerous field expeditions in his spare time greatly increased his knowledge and his collection to over 5000 pressed specimens, which his wife later gave to the Waite Institute of South Australia. Strongly practical, he gave away hundreds of trees and shrubs to schools and public bodies and worked to preserve the Aboriginal paintings and rock carvings at Mootwingee from vandalism.

Until 1936 no mining company was willing to control sand drift by implementing Morris's idea of a green belt, which he asserted would 'not only help, but will wholly remove the problem … providing you fence a fairly large area with stock and rabbit-proof fencing, and give some help for the first few years'. W. S. Robinson, managing director of the Zinc Corporation Ltd, decided to support Morris, who showed a remarkable understanding of the three basic principles of natural regeneration: the exclusion of grazing animals and rabbits; careful positioning of fences to protect trees from prevailing winds; and choice of local plants well adapted to the hot, dry conditions.

In May 1936 the company established a twenty-two-acre (9 ha) plantation, later named the Albert Morris Park. Morris provided seedlings and advised the planting of native grasses, gum trees and old man salt bush, a species that had almost disappeared. Within eighteen months the results were so impressive that the North Broken Hill and Broken Hill South companies joined the scheme.

Morris did not live to see the greening of Broken Hill by the regeneration area, parks, bowling greens and recreation areas. Survived by his wife, but childless, he died of a cerebral tumour on 9 January 1939 at Broken Hill and was buried with Anglican rites. A drinking fountain in front of the Technical College commemorates his work. Gentle and a tireless amateur botanist, Morris also enjoyed music and reading. Known simply as 'Uncle Bert', he was a kind host to many nurses sent to Broken Hill to train at the hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Morris, Plantlife of the West Darling, Barrier Field Naturalists Club compiler (Broken Hill, NSW, 1966)
  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • R. H. B. Kearns, Broken Hill, vol 3, 1915-39 and vol 4, 1940-73 (Broken Hill, NSW, 1975 and 1976)
  • Walkabout, 1 Nov 1938, p 33
  • Victorian Naturalist, 55 (1938-39), p 180
  • Barrier Daily Truth, 10 Jan 1939.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

B. E. Kennedy, 'Morris, Albert (Bert) (1886–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 August, 1886
Bridgewater, South Australia, Australia


9 January, 1939 (aged 52)
Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (brain)

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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