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He was born in Geraldton, Western Australia. The family moved to Fremantle in 1922, which was to provide the opportunity for Dick and his younger brother Donald to pursue studies in agricultural science at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Don graduated in 1938, completed his MSc in 1944 and a doctorate in 1948. He became a world authority on plant viruses, and chief research scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Division of Tropical Agronomy in Queensland. He died in 1976.
Dick Norris graduated from UWA with first class honours in 1934. This was followed by an MSc in 1938. A science doctorate was awarded by the university in 1969 for a thesis titled History, Bionomics, and Control of Pests of the Australian Pastoral Industry.
He joined the CSIR - later to become the CSIRO - in 1937 as a temporary research officer for Western Australia. Ultimately he moved to Canberra and progressed to become assistant chief of the Division of Entomology in 1965. In recognition of his unique contributions he was honoured with the title of Associate Chief in 1977.
During his long career he undertook important pioneering research on serious pests such as the red-legged earth mite, buffalo fly, lucerne fly, cattle tick, clothes moth and the New Guinea screw-worm fly. However, he was perhaps best known as a leading authority on Australian blowflies. He was often consulted by Australian police and health authorities over forensic matters, and appeared in an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) documentary on the subject a few years ago.
After retirement in 1979 he continued as an honorary research fellow with the CSIRO well into his eighties. His last scientific publication was in 1999 at the appreciable age of 85. It exceeded 100 pages of original research and taxonomic drawings.
Dick had an amazing thirst for knowledge which extended far beyond his discipline. He was regarded as a widely read but unpretentious intellectual with an adaptive sense of humour. He was always held in high esteem by those who knew him.
His fondness for wordpower and dictionaries was legendary. For example, when he "officially" retired from the CSIRO in 1979 he was given a just-released pocket edition of an Australian dictionary. He opened it and immediately found a mistake. For someone who was the guru of Australian fly experts the explanation for the term ‘running around like a blue arsed fly’ had struck a chord. The dictionary had attributed the phrase to the actions of the Australian sheep blowfly following the juicy dags on sheep. He had long known that this was an American term and that it could never be attributed to the Lucilia cuprina, which is a brilliant green. Inspired by the inaccuracy, over the next two months he discovered a thousand more errors before publishing a memorable review.
He died in Canberra, having outlived five siblings from the family of Leonard and Constance Norris (née Wright). His mother, who died in 1955, is still well known in Geraldton for her posthumously-published historical reminiscences of the town.
Dr Norris is survived by his wife of 69 years, and two sons, both scientists. There are six grandchildren, and in 2003 two of these are pursuing scientific careers.