Albert Morris

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For other people named Albert Morris, see Albert Morris (disambiguation).
Memorial to Albert Morris, "Nature's Friend"

Albert Morris (13 August 1886 in Bridgetown, South Australia – January 1939), was an Australian botanist and conservationist.

Early life[edit]

Albert was born in Bridgetown, South Australia. His family was faced with the depression in South Australia in the late 1880s, Morris's father sought work in the new mines of the Barrier ranges and moved his family to Broken Hill to live.

Morris spent much of his life in Broken Hill. Early in life, Albert developed a keen interest in plant life. It is possible that a serious injury to his foot in his early childhood which prevented Morris from taking part in the bustle of childhood activity, contributed to his independence and self-containment, and to an increasing interest in botany. By the time he was undertaking technical school studies in metallurgy and assaying, Morris had developed a small garden and nursery, and contributed to the cost of his fees by selling plants (pepper trees) that he had grown. When he qualified, Morris took up work on the Central Mine at Broken Hill, eventually becoming chief assayer for the mine.

Morris was married at Broken Hill on 13 April 1909 to Ellen Margaret Sayce, a dressmaker. She was a forceful personality and a staunch member of the Society of Friends, (Quakers); in 1918 Morris also became a Quaker after an Anglican upbringing. They built a tiny cottage in Cornish Street, Railway Town (a suburb of Broken Hill). This was 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. Broken Hill was severely affected by drifting sand and dust, which in summer became major dust storms making work and domestic life difficult.

Land reclamation[edit]

Over some sixty years of settlement the landscape around the Barrier Ranges had progressively been denuded by pastoral activity, by exotic animals such as rabbits and feral goats, by mining and its residues, and by the presence of a large settlement of people and their animals.

As early as 1908, newspaper comments indicated that the sheet erosion around Broken Hill had already begun. Morris described the degraded landscape in these terms: "The extending country stretched for miles without a vestige of any green thing and each stone or old tin had a streamer of sand tailing out from it. The fences were piled high with sand, inside and out and it looked as if the intended railway lines would just be buried every dusty day, which was every windy day."

Several failures at establishing a barrier to the wind and sand in his garden inspired Morris to experiment with plants that might be grown in arid regions. In this work, he was assisted by Edwin Ashby, a fellow Quaker and Adelaide naturalist, who had developed a system of watering to optimise survival of plantings in arid regions. He continued his work of propagation, purchasing adjoining land so he could expand his nursery and garden. Morris also started to make field trips into the country around Broken Hill, studying and collecting specimens of the local flora.

He made a collection of about 8000 specimens from Broken Hill and western New South Wales, which was donated to the Waite Institute in South Australia. He was noted for his generosity and hospitality to fellow naturalists and others working at Broken Hill. Among those he helped was the noted botanist and writer Thistle Harris.

In 1920 with W.D.K. McGillivray he helped establish the Field Naturalists' Club and remained its secretary until his death in 1939. One of the members of the field naturalists was Maurice Mawby (a junior member) who was a great supporter of Morris's work and who later managed the Zinc Corporation Mine at Broken Hill. Morris became widely recognised for his work and contributions of plants to residents and civic bodies in Broken Hill, and for his firm belief in the possibility of re-establishing vegetation around the city.

While he trained and worked as an assayer at the Central Mine, it was as a botanist and conservationist that he is best remembered. His enduring legacy at Broken Hill was the 'green belt' of revegetation and regeneration around the city that he conceived and worked to establish.

In 1936 changes in the management of the Zinc Corporation resulted in the appointment of A.J. Keast as manager of the mine. Keast along with W.S. Robinson the Managing Director of the Zinc Corporation was keen to improve working and living conditions for miners at Broken Hill. They saw the need to control the dust and sand which continually moved about the mining area. Mawby introduced Morris to Keast. Morris advised him that he could certainly provide the answer to the problem of the dust that the company wished to solve, for it was something he had advocated for many years -planting indigenous species that would check the wind and control the soil; using strategically placed barriers to shield plants from the winds; and fencing to exclude stock and rabbits.

Recognition[edit]

Based on his experience and consulting with Keast, in 1936 he conceived an initial plantation which the company established at Freemans shaft. Though still working as an assayer for the Central Mine (a rival mining company), Morris provided the honorary advice of his expertise, and helped with organising the collection of seedlings for this planting. This first green area eventually became known as Albert Morris Park.

Other plantings followed, the most significant of which was an ambitious plan that Morris had long advocated to enclose and revegetate the common land on the city's boundary. Such a project would ultimately provide a green belt of vegetation around Broken Hill. In this work, Keast persuaded the other main mining companies on the field to participate. While work on fencing this area began in 1936 it was not completed until 1938 and thus Morris did not see the fruits of this plan. He died early in January 1939 shortly after being diagnosed with a cerebral tumour.

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