The Crosbie Morrison Building - A Centre for Environmental Education

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What's in a Name? by Bernard Fenessy, Volunteer Guide

This building at the Australian National Botanic Gardens was opened in 1992 to provide classroom facilities for student visitors to the Gardens. It was named to honour Morrison's enormous contribution to natural history education in Australia.

Philip Crosbie Morrison (1900-1958) was born and educated in Melbourne.   In 1918 he was on the staff of Wesley College's preparatory school as a chemistry demonstrator. To raise funds for university study he spent eighteen months on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, with a firm that extracted resin from the local 'grass-tree' Xanthorrhoea tateana. He started zoology at the University of Melbourne and won a scholarship to carry out research on reef organisms, particularly plankton, on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.

He became a competent photographer, a skill he learnt from his father. He was a cadet journalist on the Melbourne Argus and was successively a general reporter, shipping roundsman, leader of the State parliamentary press gallery and a member of the literary staff.  

He was poached from the Argus by Sir Keith Murdoch of the Melbourne Herald who appointed him editor of the new monthly magazine Wild Life. The magazine was published from 1938 to 1954. (It helped to develop my own interest in natural history). To publicise this magazine Morrison began a series of radio broadcasts about natural history at 6 pm on Sunday on Melbourne station 3DB-3LK. This was an unpopular timeslot which lacked a commercial sponsor, but before the program was five years old, a survey found that 78 per cent of all Victorian radios switched on at that time on Sunday evening were tuned to Morrison. (This was pre-TV!). Later the program was relayed throughout Australia and New Zealand, and was extended to South Africa. It ran for over 20 years.  

Morrison's warm and clear speaking style and very wide knowledge guaranteed him an interested and faithful audience. He inspired many to specialise in aspects of natural history study. For example, one young man from Maryborough, Victoria, was inspired by Morrison to supply Red-back Spiders to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the production of antivenene, and in 43 years supplied more than 50,000 spiders.  

Morrison's talents as a speaker were in great demand. He was a popular part-time lecturer in natural history for the Melbourne University Extension Board (Council of Adult Education). In 1942 he was appointed an honorary lecturer in the Australian Army Education Service and visited troops in the Northern Territory and in occupied Japan to show films and to talk about wildlife to Australian servicemen and women.  

He was a trustee, vice-president and later chairman (1955-58) of the National Museum of Victoria.  

He developed a keen interest in Victoria's national parks, and became chairman of the Victorian National Parks Association. He urged the creation of a national parks authority in Victoria, and when the Authority was formed in May 1957, Morrison was appointed its first director - a position he held until his death in March 1958.

This is one of four What's in a Name? articles written by the late Bernard Fennessy about people after whom ANBG buildings and facilities have been named. The others are:

Originally published in the October 2001 Newsletter of the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.