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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sherrard, Howard Macoun (1897–1984)

by Robert Freestone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Howard Macoun Sherrard (1897-1984), engineer and town planner, was born on 20 April 1897 at Brighton, Victoria, second of three children of William Henry Sherrard, a surveyor born in Belfast, Ireland, and his Melbourne-born wife Eliza Mary, née Harston.  Howard was educated at public schools and Wesley College, Melbourne.  While articled to an engineer-surveyor, B. A. Smith, in 1914-16 he studied part time—surveying at the Working Men’s College and civil engineering at the University of Melbourne.  In February 1918 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.  He served in England, where he trained as a pilot and was commissioned in the Australian Flying Corps.  Demobilised in Australia in July 1919, he returned to the University of Melbourne (BCE, 1921; MCE, 1923), winning the Argus and Stawell scholarships.  He worked for the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission of Victoria (1921-24), engaged in dam construction, and for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission of Queensland (1924-26).

In 1926 Sherrard was appointed designing engineer with the newly established Main Roads Board of New South Wales in Sydney.  He rose inexorably through what became the Department of Main Roads, as assistant chief engineer (1928-41), chief engineer (1941-46), assistant commissioner (1946-53) and finally commissioner (1953-62).  His career spanned a period of extraordinary growth in road traffic and rising development standards.  In 1930 with Sidney Luker, he represented the board at the Sixth Congress of the Permanent International Association of Road Congresses in Washington, DC, afterwards investigating construction and maintenance in the United States of America and Canada.  American planning, design and implementation methods made a deep impression.  During World War II, he supervised urgent road and aerodrome defence works, mainly in northern Australia.

Sherrard saw roads as a vital means for unlocking access to resources for national development.  A strong advocate of nationally co-ordinated road development and research programs, he chaired the first Australian Road Research Board in 1960.  He prioritised bitumen surfacing of rural main roads, construction of new bridges (including Sydney’s Gladesville Bridge, opened in 1964) and improvements in road-safety standards.  Resuscitating advance road planning, he made a start on rural motorways and a metropolitan expressway system, putting into practice views expressed in his textbook Australian Road Practice: An Introduction to Highway Engineering (1958).  Compulsorily retired at age 65, in 1962-66 he was executive director of the Institute of Highway and Traffic Research at the University of New South Wales.  In the late 1960s he was the Sydney representative of the consultants P. G. Pak-Poy & Associates.

Interested in town planning, Sherrard was a foundation member (1934) and president (1938) of the Town and Country Planning Institute of New South Wales.  He lectured part time on regional planning at the University of Sydney from 1940 to 1948.  In 1943 he was appointed chairman of the New South Wales regional boundaries committee, established to report on the division of the State into regions for planning purposes, reprising that role as a member of the government’s regional boundaries (review) committee in 1966.  He served (1945-53) on the New South Wales Town and Country Planning Advisory Committee.  With A. J. Brown he published Town and Country Planning (1951), a standard text for many years; J. H. Shaw collaborated in a revised edition in 1969.

A foundation member (1919) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, Sherrard served the national council and Sydney division in numerous roles.  He was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Transport, London, and the Royal Institute of Public Administration, London.  In 1962 he was awarded honorary life membership of the Australian Road Federation.  A life fellow of the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute, he won the Sydney division’s inaugural Sidney Luker memorial medal in 1956.  In 1959 he was appointed CBE.

Sherrard refrained from overtly political statements but his writings on postwar reconstruction revealed a radical stance supportive of strong central government that would deliver 'a better social life than in the pas'’, and opposition to the White Australia policy and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  He promoted cultural relations with China; his trips in 1963 and 1967 brought him to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.  In 1979 he donated his impressive collection of books on China to UNSW.  He favoured equal opportunity for women in the workplace.

A tall man, reserved and private, Sherrard was a stickler for protocol and probity.  He was a keen reader, gardener and bushwalker.  In keeping with his socialist leanings, he eschewed a departmental vehicle and caught the tram to his office from his Centennial Park home.  He had married Kathleen McInerny, a geologist, on 20 December 1928 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Kew, Melbourne.  Predeceased by her in 1975 and survived by their two sons, he died on 23 August 1984 at Randwick, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Department of Main Roads, The Roadmakers (1976)
  • Main Roads, vol 27, no 4, 1962, p 108
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1984, p 6
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Freestone, 'Sherrard, Howard Macoun (1897–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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