Dr Fred Morley 1918 - 2001

Veterinary science, animal genetics, plant taxonomy and agricultural systems analysis are just some of the scientific disciplines to which Dr Fred Morley made a lasting contribution.

Dr Fred Morley Dr Morley was honoured with fellowships from five scientific academies. He received the Australian Veterinary Association's highest honour, the Gilruth Prize, and the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science's medal for lasting contributions to research. His doctorate of agricultural science is a rare degree.

The breadth of his intellect, first apparent while he was a pupil at his local one teacher school in Mt Irvine, was reaffirmed at Hawkesbury College where he also captained the rugby team.

Academic success ensured a scholarship to study veterinary science at the University of Sydney where he represented Wesley College in rowing and rugby as its captain.

In 1950 having completed a PhD in animal genetics at Iowa State University he returned to Australia. Working for the NSW Department of Agriculture at their field station at Trangie he published a series of pioneering scientific papers still relevant today to Merino sheep breeding and which formed the foundation for genetic improvement in other animal industries.

With rudimentary scientific support, much of this pioneering research was undertaken after hours at the local butcher shop using the cash register as a calculator. A recent research project using modern genetic techniques confirmed the accuracy of his initial estimates.

In 1954 he joined the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry to lead a team on the genetics and improvements of pasture plants, especially clover and lucerne. It was a shift that marked him as an agricultural scientist of the highest order and demonstrated his remarkable ability to cross disciplines. He made similar shifts of discipline with contributions to veterinary science and agricultural systems analysis.

He became chief research scientist at CSIRO in 1963. His career involved an enormous body of research, through the publication of more than 120 scientific papers, breathtaking not only in the range of topics studied but also in their intrinsic quality and importance.

At 59, when most people are thinking of retirement, he resigned from the CSIRO to take up a position as senior research fellow at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne.

There Dr Morley initiated the Mackinnon Project, a highly successful initiative in improving farm productivity and profitability and supervised 55 postgraduates with his characteristic vigour. He stimulated research activity in his younger colleagues and his approach to postgraduate education and science in general was unrelenting; near enough was never good enough. He was a stickler for concise writing and the correct use of grammar.

The intellectual demands were high but the rewards for his students were greater. His scientific rigour and pursuit of excellence are renowned. He welcomed new ideas, saw how they could be effectively tested and played a leading role in ensuring they were communicated clearly.

The creation and naming of the Fred Morley Unit at Charles Sturt University honours the legacy of Dr Morley. The founders of the Fred Morley Unit, Drs David Sackett, Geoff Daniel, Kym Abbott and Bruce Allworth were among a number of Mackinnon graduates who considered Dr Morley as a mentor, guide and professional role model. Time at Mackinnon in the 1980s studying under Fred's guidance had a dramatic effect on the careers and scientific interests of these veterinarians, and the creation of the Fred Morley Unit is a fitting monument to the memory and the impact of this outstanding Australian scientist.

Dr Morley's contribution to agriculture was not limited to Australia. He worked in Africa (on dry-land farming) and Asia (evaluating multiple cropping and animal production) and taught extensively in Latin America becoming fluent in Spanish along the way. He travelled widely for work and leisure and saw at first hand, and had great compassion for, people living under the blight of poverty.

Apart from his outstanding contribution as an individual scientist, Dr Morley was a true and inspirational leader. He led Australian agricultural research on a broad national and international front that had an economic as well as a scientific basis holding the world stage in this area for decades.

Fred Morley is fondly and respectfully remembered by those in the agricultural community and all those who were touched by his humanity, warmth and generosity.


We acknowledge the source of this information from the obituary to Dr Morley written by David Jellie, Andrew Vizard and John Donnelly.