A biography of Crawford Munro: A vision for Australia's water and a survey of twentieth century Australian science biography

Leonard Humphreys (2009). A biography of Crawford Munro: A vision for Australia's water and a survey of twentieth century Australian science biography PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Leonard Humphreys
Thesis Title A biography of Crawford Munro: A vision for Australia's water and a survey of twentieth century Australian science biography
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-05
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Stuart Glover
Gillian Whitlock
Total pages 406
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary 1. The biography of Crawford Munro (1904-76) describes his early life in Toowoomba and Sydney, and his maturation as an engineer, working for Sydney Water, Sydney Technical College and in the production of Cruiser tanks in World War II. He was a large confident man with a big voice and an optimistic, humorous personality. As the Foundation Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of New South Wales Munro was liberal, fostered humanist studies and developed the School of Engineering with a unique emphasis on water engineering. He recruited excellent staff for research and postgraduate education who led the nation across all phases of hydrology and hydraulics. Munro developed a remarkable, rational solution for flood mitigation at Launceston, and actively promoted research, partly through the Australian Water Research Foundation and the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was much involved with predicting flood runoff, developing benefit/cost relations for irrigation schemes, which led him into public controversy, and other hydrological projects. Munro’s attempts to raise social consciousness about water problems, his multi-disciplinary approach to the evaluation of water resources and his campaigns for the collection of stream and rainfall data helped provide a better basis for proper planning. In his later years he undertook the first Australian environmental impact study. The concluding chapter outlines a vision for the current management of Australia’s water. Munro posed necessary questions about measuring the supply of water and bringing the demand of water into synchrony with its supply, while providing water security in terms of its availability and quality. He raised the debate about the balance between sustaining environmental flows, utilizing water for agriculture and secondary industry, and maintaining the health of communities. Munro hoped equitable decision making would emerge from public engagement on these issues. 2. Twentieth century science biography in Australia is the province of a group of elite male scientists, whose interests cover wide disciplinary fields; it is focused on popular imagination: health, food and adventure (Antarctica) accounting for fifteen of the seventeen scientists. Empathy for the subject is a significant feature of the nineteen biographers, of whom five are scientists. This small genre is often supported by institutions in small print runs. A key role of biography is to place through science history a more epistemologically plausible version of events. Public discourses of science treated in the essay include conflict about the attribution of scientific discovery, the vocation of the scientist as a contributor to a wider social polity, the light biography sheds on sources of creativity and the evolution of the research and culture of institutions. The biographer attempts to generate a personal portrait of the scientist which conveys authority about the significance and origins of his or her scientific discoveries and their impact in the wider social context. Daniel Söderqvist’s affirmation of the existential approach which ‘emphasizes the freedom and responsibility of the human individual’ resonates with the candidate as expressing characteristics of the lives of many Australian scientists in their passion for intellectual discovery, their motivation to self-empowerment, and their readiness top step outside their social conditioning. This essay extends Söderqvist’s paradigm to the context of Australian science biography and indicates some constraints on its depiction which arise in the practice of writing science biography. Some epistemological issues are raised in the texts, especially when dealing with oral history and family mythology, and thematic, thematic within a chronological framework or chronological structures of the text are compared. The level of detail and context influence the sustainability of the reader’s interest. Case studies of the biographies written by the candidate (Ian Clunies Ross, Samuel Wadham, Allan Callaghan, Victor Trikojus, Raymond Hoffenberg and Crawford Munro) illustrate issues which arise in the writing of science biography. The dominant question is the relationship of the biographer to the subject, and this determines the voice the reader hears. The motivation of the biographer may arise in varying degrees of empathy felt for the subject. The high affinity the candidate had for Clunies Ross and Hoffenberg causes him to offer a defence against the charge of hagiography, and the selectivity and subjectivity of the biographer is evident in the arrangement and presentation of factual material. The motivation of the biographer is additionally directed to the communication of the subject’s research outputs to the wider Australian community, and in the case of Callaghan, Wadham and Clunies Ross there was a specific programmatic function of advancing the status of agricultural science. It is argued that the description of the public life of the subject needs to be complemented from the private life if the biographer is ‘to view the world through the eyes of the subject’.
Keyword science biography, epistemology, history, science institutions, munro, water, hydrology, environmental sustainability, irrigation, planning

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Created: Thu, 21 Jan 2010, 15:16:43 EST by Prof Leonard Humphreys on behalf of Library - Information Access Service