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Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows

Originally prepared for publication as part of Bright Sparcs by the Australian Science Archives Project.

Harold George Raggatt 1900-1968

By J.M. Rayner and I.W. Wark

Harold George Raggatt was born at North Sydney on 25 January 1900. He had an elder brother and three younger sisters. Though the family lived at Lindfield, Harold Raggatt went to the Gordon State School where the headmaster, known as 'Cocky' Fry, had a particular enthusiasm for English expression which laid the foundation for Raggatt's continued emphasis on the value of speaking and writing good English.

Raggatt's mother was born in Swansea, Wales, and came to Australia with her parents; she was married in Australia. Wanting Harold to become a scientist or engineer, she had him enrolled at the Sydney Technical High School, a true secondary school which used by day the facilities that the Sydney Technical College used at night. He thus had access to the best high school facilities in New South Wales, and on matriculation he enrolled for a science course at Sydney University.

Mathematics, physics and chemistry were compulsory subjects: one other subject could be chosen. Raggatt was influenced in selecting geology by the reputation and personality of Professor Edgeworth David, who however was then serving with the AIF in France.

Raggatt was so taken with the optional subject, geology, that he made it his major subject. With one eye on his text books and the other eye on the war news he did well enough in his first year but, having in mind that his brother was fighting in France, Raggatt enlisted in the AIF a few days after his eighteenth birthday in January 1918. He went overseas in March 1918 with his unit, the 13 Field Company Engineers, but by the time his training was finished and he had reached France the war had ended.

In France he came into contact with German prisoners of war and seized the opportunity to improve his already sound knowledge of German. He could have gone on to Cologne with the Army of Occupation or to Cambridge to complete his geology course. Instead he preferred to return to Australia to resume his studies at Sydney University.

Arriving home in the second half of 1919 he was discharged only in time to attend third-term lectures and, like many another soldier, found it hard to settle down to the routine of undergraduate life. However he graduated with First Class Honours in Geology in 1922, and later in that year joined the New South Wales Public Service as a geological surveyor. He was the first university graduate for thirty years to join the Geological Survey of the New South Wales Mines Department, which had a tradition that geologists should be trained more or less on the job; it is not surprising therefore that at first he was regarded with some suspicion as being too academic.

In January 1927 Harold Raggatt married Edith Hellmers, a graduate in geology who had been a fellow student at Sydney University. Though they made their home at Epping, his work took him into the field for long periods, particularly in the Scone, Muswellbrook, Bathurst and Condobolin districts, and during the field season the family accompanied him and lived in those towns. They had one daughter, Marcia (now Mrs J.V. Lindesay), also a science graduate of Sydney University, who has one daughter and one son.

For the Geological Survey of New South Wales Harold Raggatt carried out field assignments in the districts referred to above: these included systematic geological mapping in several areas of the State, particularly in the Hunter Valley, Trunkey-Tuena district, Condobolin, Cadia, Coonabarabran and Bobadah. His maps are amongst the best examples of regional geological mapping within Australia up to that time. It has to be remembered that aerial photographs were not available then, and that geologists had to plot their observations on parish and other maps and necessarily spent a large part of their time in surveying work and in building up their own topographic base map as they went along.

It was in the course of this field work that Raggatt developed the love of field geology and the appreciation of the importance of systematic geological mapping that always influenced his attitude to mineral resources development. Twice during this period he obtained leave from the Geological Survey of New South Wales to carry out field assignments with oil exploration companies. On the first occasion he undertook in 1925 a geological reconnaissance of part of the Aitape district of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea on behalf of the Pacific Islands Investment Company of Sydney. During continuous field work from March to August, with no reliable map of the area on which to base this survey, it was first necessary to draw a reconnaissance map of the entire area. The positions of the more important villages were fixed using theodolite and star observations in conjunction with wireless time signals for the determination of longitude. Intermediate points were fixed by joint time traverses and occasional prismatic compass traverses. Aneroid readings were used for altitude determinations. This was one of the earliest geological surveys for oil in New Guinea, and surveys have been carried on with greater or less intensity ever since.

The second assignment, in which Raggatt was associated with Eric Rudd and the late Dale Condit, was with Oil Search Ltd. in Western Australia, when in 1934/35 a part of the Carnarvon Basin, then known as the North-West Basin, was mapped. Because his interest in the oil potential of the Carnarvon Basin was then generated, this assignment was to have a far-reaching effect on the development of oil exploration in Australia. This resulted in the selection of this area for the Bureau of Mineral Resources' first programme of systematic geological mapping after World War II. The establishment of additional geological section in this area and also in the Kimberleys, where work was commenced shortly afterwards, played a vital part in influencing the companies which later became associated as West Australian Petroleum Limited to take up prospecting permits over the area and eventually to the drilling of the Rough Range no.  1 bore, Australia's first real oil strike.

From June to August 1937 Harold Raggatt, with Ken Mosher as assistant, made a survey of the geological features of the upper parts of the gorges of the Chandler, Oaky, Styx and George Rivers. This was made primarily to assist the State to choose dam sites and sites for power stations. This was the first time that Raggatt had used aerial photographs in a geological survey: he became most enthusiastic about their usage in geological work, and about the time saved in traversing and in plotting the results. It was also one of the earliest occasions when geologists were able to influence the selection of dam sites before design and construction of structures were undertaken.

During his period with the Geological Survey of New South Wales Raggatt was able to continue postgraduate studies with Sydney University; he was awarded the degree of Master of Science in 1932, and of Doctor of Science in 1939 for a comprehensive stratigraphical and structural study of the evolution of the Permo-Triassic basin of East-Central New South Wales. Though his thesis was not published it is one of the standard works on the geology of the Hunter Valley area, and is very frequently quoted.

Before World War II the geological advice to the Commonwealth Government was provided by the Commonwealth Geological Adviser, a Commonwealth Oil Advisory Committee, and the Commonwealth Palaeontologist. The Commonwealth Geological Adviser, Dr W.G. Woolnough, was also an early pupil of Professor Edgeworth David. In 1939 Raggatt applied for the position of Assistant Commonwealth Geological Adviser and was selected by Woolnough for this post; this involved moving to Canberra. Dr Woolnough himself retired in 1940 and Raggatt became Commonwealth Geological Adviser.

Almost immediately the wartime demand for strategic materials emphasized the need for a comprehensive minerals inventory of Australia, and Raggatt was able to assemble for this purpose a small group consisting mainly of geologists from the New Guinea and Commonwealth Services, geophysicists from the former Aerial, Geological and Geophysical Survey of Northern Australia, some Commonwealth geologists who had been working in the Northern Territory, and the Comrnonwealth Palaeontologists. This group became the Mineral Resources Survey (which eventually developed into the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics), and Raggatt's title was changed from Commonwealth Geological Adviser to Director, Mineral Resources Survey. In 1941 the group moved from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Supply and Development, which later became the Department of Supply and Shipping.

The objectives of the Mineral Resources Survey, as formulated by Raggatt and approved by the Government, were the survey, evaluation and development of the mineral resources of Australia, and, in conjunction with other departments and agencies, to study ways and means of utilizing those resources. Its immediate attention was turned to the development of deposits of minerals required in the Allied War effort, minerals that were in short supply, or materials which formerly had been imported but which no longer could be obtained from overseas. Intensive work was carried out on a no. of deposits which were either being brought into production or on which production was being increased considerably to meet the wartime requirements.

This was important work: projects included the development of Lakes Entrance oil, gas from the Balmain Colliery, the Arcadia oil-bore, Leigh Creek coal, sources of bauxite, sulphur, fertilizer minerals, mica, asbestos, fluorspar wolfram, tin, bismuth, mercury, molybdenum, cobalt, zirconium and titanium minerals, antimony, chromium, manganese, cadmium, and iron ore. The Survey was concerned with the investigation of sources of these minerals to the point where measures for actual production were to be undertaken: production came under the Controller of Minerals Production, who worked closely with the Mineral Resources Survey and indeed shared an office and filing facilities with it in Canberra.

The Minerals Production Directorate was established in 1941 by the Commonwealth Government which on 21st March of the same year had set up a 'Copper and Bauxite Committee' 'to investigate the copper and bauxite resources of Australia with a view to their development'. Members of that committee were Sir Colin Fraser, Chairman; Dr H.G. Raggatt, Vice-Chairman; A.J. Keast, M.J. Martin, J.M. Newman and H.J. Horsburgh, with M.A. Mawby as Technical Adviser. Under its auspices several reports were prepared, and early in 1942 its title was changed to 'Commonwealth Minerals Committee', with functions ito advise the Government and the Controller of Minerals Production on ways and means by which the output of strategic minerals might be increased in Australia to meet the needs, not only of Australia, but of the United Nations'. G. Lindesay Clark joined the committee and was appointed Deputy Controller of Minerals Production. Julius Kruttschnitt later became a member. This committee appears to have been phased out during 1944, after it became apparent that the Allies' foreseeable needs for strategic minerals were assured.

Of the many activities in which Raggatt was involved as a member of the Minerals Committee and as Director of the Mineral Resources Survey, one that turned out not to be so successful is worthy of special mention- the Lakes Entrance Shaft. During the war the Government paid special attention to Australian sources of petroleum, or petroleum substitutes, and every effort was made to investigate potential local supplies including Lakes Entrance, the only place in Australia up to that time where oil, albeit in small quantity, had actually flowed to the surface. In 1941, on the advice of the United States Bureau of Mines, L. Ranney and C. Fairbanks, who were reputed to have expert knowledge of methods of developing underground liquids by shaft sinking and horizontal drilling were brought to Australia to investigate the possibility of production by this method at Lakes Entrance. They strongly recommended that a shaft be sunk and a series of horizontal drill holes be put out from a chamber at the bottom of the shaft to develop the oil-bearing bed: they estimated that by this means a recovery of 1,160,000 barrels of oil could be obtained, consisting of 15% light oil, 72% lubricating oil, and 13% bitumen. Raggatt, who at that time had perforce to take risks, supported their recommendation, which turned out to be unsoundly based. Not enough oil was present, nor in fact had the technique or horizontal drilling under such conditions been actually demonstrated to be feasible. The shaft was sunk to 1,156 feet-very slowly, for a variety of reasons-but was not carried to completion and no production was achieved. The project was terminated early in 1946, the only tangible benefit being a magnificent geological section through the highly Fossiliferous Miocene sediments that overlie the oil-bearing sand.

After the war J.M. Newman resigned as Controller of Minerals Production and Raggatt took over the position until the Directorate was wound up. Previous to this, on 8th September 1944, a Mining Industry Advisory Panel had been set up. consisting of H.G. Raggatts Chairman; A.J. Keast, I.M. Newman, G. Lindesay Clark, G.B. O'Malley, F.B. Brinsden, A.J.P. Walter, F.C. Smith M.L.A. (W.A.), T.M. Jude (A.W.U.), with F. Canavan as secretary. Later the permanent heads of the State Mines Departments were added to the Panel, whose terms of reference were to examine all phases of prewar mining activities (excluding coal and oil), the wartime developments, the current condition of the industry and its problems, and to present advice leading to a sound Commonwealth post-war mining policy. Amongst its recommendations were that an Australian Mining Council comprising State and Cornmonwealth Ministers should be created, and that a Commonwealth Bureau of Mines should be set up. The first proposal, although it received Ministerial approval, was not actually proceeded with at the time. The second one included a recommendation that Raggatt, together with J.M. Rayner, then Chief Geophysicist of the Mineral Resources Survey, should make a visit to the United States and Canada in 1945, largely to examine the organization of the Geological Surveys and associated agencies of those countries. Their report laid the foundation for the setting up in 1946, instead of the proposed Bureau of Mines. of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, with Raggatt as its first Director. About this time-in May 1946-in accordance with the wishes of his Minister. R.G. Casey, Raggatt moved the headquarters of the Bureau and the Geophysical Sectionto Melboume, while the Geological Section remained in Canberra, to which city Raggatt was to return in 1951 as Permanent Head of the Department of National Development.

Although various attempts had been made to establish a Commonwealth Geological Organization ever since Federation, now for the first time the Commonwealth Government had a geological body with Raggatt at its head available for ready consultation on mineral resources and to promote its objectives in developing the mineral industry. The Bureau, which was to become an established part of the Australian scene, has played a major part in the geological mapping of Australia, in the search for oil and mineral deposits, and in the expansion of the mineral industry. It is one of the largest and most efficient organizations of its kind, ranking with some of the major Geological Surveys of the world.

In 1951 Raggatt accepted the post of Secretary of the Department of National Development, though he felt some reluctance at leaving the Bureau of Mineral Resources and direct contact with and participation in geology. However he was not a man to let an opportunity go by, and the possibilities of achieving the national objectives as Secretary of the Department were obviously very much greater than those which had been available to him as Director of the Bureau of Mineral Resources.

Raggatt saw Australia as a country with great natural resources and welcomed the opportunity to assist in the economic development of those resources, particularly mineral resources. He was convinced that geological conditions that were favourable for the deposition of oil existed in some Australian sedimentary basins, a conviction which had been confirmed by what he had seen in the United States and Canada in similar structures. He was optimistic that commercial oil would be discovered in Australia. He was one of the few geologists at that time who held this view, and he held firmly to the belief that the proper way to go about the search for oil was to start with systematic mapping of the sedimentary basins to determine the full stratigraphic sequence and the structures. He was also aware that the search for oil in Australia up to that time had been a somewhat haphazard affair and that drilling had not been based on proper scientific investigation.

By this time the Bureau of Mineral Resources was well established and had embarked upon its systematic surveys. However Raggatt soon found that he had undertaken a still more difficult task in trying to get the comparatively new Department of National Development on its feet: indeed he comments about this period:

The Department had a very inauspicious beginning. Its functions were ill-defined especially in relation to those of other departments. Its possible incursion into the affairs of other departments was viewed by them with considerable suspicion and there were many who thought the department would be short-lived. I was shocked to realise what I had taken on compared with what I had expected Sir William Spooner, the new Minister, was likewise somewhat dismayed. We had to accept that not only was the concept of a Department of National Development rather difficult to fit into the Commonwealth departmental structure, but we also had to recognise the Loan Council procedures and the general financial arrangements between the States, we had to recognise also the sovereign powers of the States and the functions and capacities of their departments and authorities. It is clear however, that there are many aspects of development on which the information available to the Commonwealth was deficient and that if the Department set about establishing itself as an Authority on those matters other departments would be glad to consult it and seek its views. Inevitably also the Government would come to look to the Department for advice on those matters.
The Department was not well equipped even for the limited roles Sir William Spooner and I saw for it. It did of course include the Bureau of Mineral Resources which indeed was the Department's main strength. Some other branches were lopped off and gradually it gathered strength, collecting information about resources and producing specialised maps in an Atlas of Resources. We survived the early days and began to prosper. Because our work in the resources, fuel and power fields had become recognized the Minister was gradually given the responsibility for those Commonwealth authorities concerned with power, fuel and resources.
To its original responsibility for the Snowy Mountains Authority and the Joint Coal Board were added Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Aluminium Production Commission (from the Department of Supply) and the Minister became President of the River Murray Commission. The logical corollary to the recognition of the Department's role was that other agencies concerned with mapping and resources should be transferred to the department and in due course we acquired the Division of National Mapping and the Forestry and Timber Bureau. The Northern Division was formed in 1963.1t was the first section with a new kind of function which fits the pattern from now on. It has a positive responsibility for development.

During his first years as Secretary of the Department, Raggatt devoted a great deal of his time, energy and patience to the difficult and delicate task of negotiating the Snowy Mountains Agreement for the utilization of the waters impounded by the Snowy scheme. He was Chairman of the Interim Snowy Mountains Advisory Council from its inauguration in 1953. When this was replaced by the Snowy Mountains Council he continued as Chairman until his retirement in 1965. The Snowy Mountains Authority was responsible for the construction of the Scheme, the Snowy Mountains Council was responsible for its operation. He was Deputy Chairman of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission from 1957 to 1965.

In the early 1960s one of his major interests was the establishment of the Australian Water Resources Council, and from 1963 until his retirement he was Chairman of the Standing Committee and ex-officio Chairman of the three technical committees, on surface water, underground water, and research and education respectively. Other posts he held included membership of The Coal Utilization Research Advisory Committee; The Council of the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories and The Export Development Council.

In 1965, when an honour was bestowed upon him by Australian colleagues, he said:

It happened that many things in which I was interested came to fruition in the closing years of my public service - discoveries of enormous quantities of bauxite and iron ore, large quantities of manganese, the discovery of the first commercial oilfield in Australia, the promise of large scale development of natural gas, the setting up of the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories, the Australian Water Resources and Forestry Councils and the National Coal Research Advisory Council.
There have been generous references to my contribution to these events. I am pleased to have had a hand in working out policies and procedures which have led to some of them.
In the Department of National Development we have urged that the Government contribution to discovery and the measurement of natural resources should be basic and systematic; and I think we can say we have been successful in convincing Governments that this is the right approach. As a result we now have a complete air photo cover of Australia, a nearly completed series of base maps at 1 :250,000 scale, a steadily growing series of geological maps at the same scale, mineral statistics equal to those of any other country; a plan, with finance guaranteed, to establish a basic network of stream gauging throughout AustraIia in 10 years and to increase the rate of assessment of underground water resources. In all these undertakings I arn glad to say that the states are our friendly partners.

Throughout all his demanding and wide-ranging activities Raggatt retained a close interest in geology-both in its application and in the teaching. He was a co-opted member of the Council of the Canberra University College and in 1960 was elected to the Council of the Australian National University.

Harold Raggatt was a member of the Geological Society of Australia; Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: the Royal Society of New South Wales; Linnean Society of New South Wales; Society of Economic Geologists; American Association of Petroleum Geologists; Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Institute of Public Administration.

With a small group of interested stratigraphers in Melbourne he was responsible for setting up the Australian Code of Stratigraphic Nomenclature, and remained Convenor of the Committee established first under ANZAAS, later under the Geological Society of Australia, to administer the Code, until its use by Australian geologists became firmly established. As part of this project he initiated a scheme for establishing a stratigraphical index of Australian geology. He always had some special geological interest and was an active member of the Commonwealth Territories Division of the Geological Society.

In the years 1946 to 1951 when he was living in Melbourne he spent a considerable amount of time at weekends and on vacation studying the Tertiary stratigraphy of southern Victoria and demonstrated the importance of careful sampling of strata as a basis for the determination of the stratigraphic ranges of fossil genera and species.

After his retirement from the Commonwealth Public Service in January 1965 Raggatt continued to play a very active part in the mineral industry. He accepted advisory positions with those Australian companies and organizations where he felt he could continue to make contributions in mineral exploration. These included the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. (mineral exploration), the A.M.P. Society (mining investment), Ampol Exploration Ltd. (director), and the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (consultant). When the Australian Mining Industry Council was formed he was elected its first Vice-President. He made two visits to Africa in a consultative capacity on behalf of the United Nations, one to Botswana in 1967 advising on the Shashi River Development project and mineral development, and the other to Ethiopia in 1968, advising the Government on its minerals policy and the setting up of a Geological Survey. The report he presented to the United Nations on his mission to Botswana is regarded as something of a masterpiece. It was drawn up on the spot. In 1965, at the invitation of the Chase Manhattan Bank, he visited the U.S.A. to take part in a seminar on Australian Development: many of the 200-odd American bankers and businessmen assembled were frankly incredulous when they heard his account of Australia's mineral resources.

During these very productive years before his death from a heart attack on 2nd November 1968 he produced one book, 'Mountains of Ore', an authoritative description of the history, economics and present state of development of Australia's mineral deposits, was compiling editor of another, 'Fuel and Power in Australia', and worked on various papers and addresses.

In recognition of his work Raggatt received many honours. He was awarded a C.B.E. in 1954 and a Knighthood in 1963. Elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1954, he served as Treasurer in 1956 and Vice-President in 1956-7. The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy elected him to Honorary Membership in 1961 and in 1965 granted him its major award, the Institute Medal, for his outstanding contribution to the exploration and development of Australian mineral resources. He was made an Honorary Member of the Geological Society of Australia in 1964. In 1947 and again in 1958 he was President of Section C (Geology) of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.

Coming to more personal matters, Harold Raggatt was an impressive man physically as well as intellectually, rugged of build, bright of eye, suntanned, and in his later years crowned by a shock of steel grey hair, he was alive and alert, acutely conscious of what was going on, quick to laugh and ever ready to join in a discussion. If there is one phrase to describe him best, it is that he was a man of action: never could he be dull. As a young man he played first grade tennis in Sydney; later he expended incredible energy in geological exploration; and when the move to Canberra came he gave the same detailed attention to his home and garden as had brought success to his outback expeditions. He and his wife had earlier designed their furniture; now they planned and built their Canberra home, with terraces, hedges, gardens and an orchard. Raggatt's powers of concentration carried him through long hours of mental work: these domestic activities he enjoyed - for him they provided the exercise and relaxation that he needed.

Raggatt knew Australia as few know their country. He loved it: his interests went far beyond his chosen subject, overlapping into plant life, the birds and animal life of all kinds. He had to be physically tough in the early years; strength of character guided his later days.

In these later years his canvas broadened, but the inevitable stresses never weakened his sense of values, his sense of justice, his sense of fair play. He had to distinguish between the genuine mining entrepreneur and the charlatan; he encouraged the former and discouraged the latter, and he was so good a judge of character that his decisions were rarely if ever astray. He became as well known to Commonwealth and State Ministers as to geologists, mining executives and bankers: they welcomed his advice, knowing it to be objective and impartial. Naturally he formed and expressed strong views, but his integrity was never in question.

People listened when Raggatt spoke: he could oppose a viewpoint objectively, and with that sense of humour that checks the incipient feud.

Raggatt was not a man to suffer fools gladly. Where praise was due it was given, but where advice or criticism was necessary it was also given, quite forcefully but with that touch of grace that made the recipient grateful. His command of English was excellent: he spoke with unusual clarity, had a flair for the picturesque and the vivid, and could infuse just the right amount of lightness into the serious debate.

One of his colleagues has said of him:

For all his achievements Harold Raggatt was a modest man, notable for his infinite good humour, patience and cheerful companionship, and down-to-earth good sense. He was a man of understanding, of great integrity, and with a deep sense of the national interest.

Despite his heavy responsibilities Raggatt enjoyed life to the full and retained a boyish enthusiasm to the end. He died before he aged. Very few men are willing or able to embrace so many worthwhile activities so effectively and with such enthusiasm and wisdom as did he. Fewer still in any one generation have both the opportunity and the capacity to serve their country so well.

Raggatt's wife and his daughter survive him. To them we extend our sympathy, and hope that they may take comfort from his impressive record of achievements, to which no doubt they contributed.

John Maxwell Rayner, OBE, BSc, was Director of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, Canberra, 1958-69 and Deputy Director, 1952-58.

Sir Ian William Wark, Kt, CMG, CBE, DSc was a member of the Executive of CSIRO, 1961-65 and first Director of the CSIRO Chemical Research Laboratories 1958-60. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1954 and was a Counsellor and Treasurer, 1959-63.

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol. 2, no. 3, Canberra, Australia, 1972.

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 1995
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
© Australian Academy of Science
Prepared by: Victoria Young
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 8 April 1998

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