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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Aston, Ronald Leslie (1901–1969)

by John Curdie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ronald Leslie Aston (1901-1969), engineer and academic, was born on 23 July 1901 at the Salvation Army maternity home, Burwood, Sydney, son of Frances Emma Aston who came from Staffordshire, England. Educated at Newington College (1912-17), Ron won scholarships, was dux of the school and shared the John West medal. Enrolling in engineering at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1921; B.E., 1923), he transferred to science and won the John Coutts scholarship before graduating in civil engineering with first-class honours, the university medal and the Barker graduate scholarship.

A resident at Trinity College, Cambridge (M.Sc., 1925), he worked in the Cavendish Laboratory under (Sir) Geoffrey Taylor on the effect of boundaries on the deformation of single crystals of aluminium. Aston tutored in mathematics and physics at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, in 1926-29, and qualified for a Ph.D. from Cambridge in 1932 (admitted, 1955) for his work while officer-in-charge of the seismic section of the Imperial Geophysical Experimental Survey in Australia.

Having returned in 1930 to the University of Sydney as lecturer in surveying and civil engineering, Aston was to have contact with many students. They respected 'the Doc' (as he was affectionately known) for his ability and understanding; they also enjoyed the annual camps where he taught them not only surveying skills, but also to appreciate native flora and fauna. Appointed associate-professor of geodesy and surveying in 1956, he had great strength, tenacity and general knowledge.

A founder (1946) of the Association of Professional Engineers, Australia, Aston was vice-president (1954-62) of its State branch and a federal councillor for eighteen years. He was a member (1948) of the National Committee on Geodesy and Geophysics, president (1948-49) of the Royal Society of New South Wales, editor (1948-55) of the Australian Journal of Science and a fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. As a hard-working honorary fellow of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia, he advised on establishing the degree-course in surveying at the University of New South Wales in 1958.

Constantly interested in the young, he gave time and substance to many youth organizations, including those of the Methodist Church of Australasia, various orphanages and the Boy Scouts' Association. He adopted an orphan in 1947. Those who knew Ron Aston valued his wisdom, humility and capacity to work for others. On his retirement from the university in 1967, graduates established the annual R. L. Aston prize for the most successful student in fourth-year surveying. He died of a coronary occlusion on 7 September 1969 at Denistone and was cremated. Unmarried, he was survived by his adopted son John.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Surveyor, 22, no 8, 1969
  • Professional Engineer, 23, no 8, 1969, p 10
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar, 1 Apr 1926, 4 July 1932
  • private information.

Citation details

John Curdie, 'Aston, Ronald Leslie (1901–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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