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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crowe, Robert (1867–1955)

by L. Lomas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Robert Crowe (1867-1955), dairy expert, was born on 7 June 1867 at Koroit, Victoria, second son of William Crowe, farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Aldworth. Robert was educated to merit certificate standard at Koroit State School.

Crowe's working life spanned the period of the beginning and expansion of the export butter industry in Victoria; he greatly influenced its progress. In 1888 he attended the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne, saw the butter-making machinery at work and spoke with the manager David Wilson. Next year Crowe was appointed to control the new Koroit co-operative butter factory, which was the first to use the Babcock method of measuring the butter-fat content of milk—he had purchased an early model of the testing equipment from Germany. He was first secretary of the Victorian Institute of Dairy Factory Managers and Secretaries and its president in 1895 and 1896.

In the latter year Crowe joined the Department of Agriculture as a dairy expert; he later became officer-in-charge of the Government Cool Stores, Victoria Dock, and from October 1911 exports superintendent. As dairy expert he was responsible for training managers of Victorian butter factories and for providing and distributing information to farmers. Seeking to improve the life-style of dairying families, he urged them to abandon' rule-of-thumb' routines and to adopt 'systematic' techniques, particularly herd-testing. He was a valued speaker at rural gatherings and contributed to farmer's papers and journals. A pioneer in radio broadcasting, he spoke to farmers in their own style about their practical problems. In 1924, after supervising the produce section of the Wembley exhibition, London, he visited Sweden and Denmark, returning home to praise the thoroughness of the Danes and to follow their example. Crowe was in charge of the Produce Division of the Department of Agriculture from 1915. In 1931 he succeeded Dr S. S. Cameron as director of agriculture, retiring in 1932 after two difficult Depression years.

An acutely observant and deep-thinking man, always searching for perfect solutions to problems, Crowe developed a wide range of interests. An amateur photographer, he was also interested in plants, particularly pasture species, and as a young man had been a friend of the botanist (Sir) Ferdinand Mueller. From 1910, during leave, he pioneered two 500-acre (202 ha) blocks of forested land on King Island; after overcoming trace element deficiencies, he spent much of his long, retirement there establishing a farm that exhibited his meticulous detail and systematic methods.

Crowe, who observed his Catholic faith throughout his life, was a tolerant, kindly man remembered familiarly as 'Bob Crowe' by his colleagues. On 10 October 1893 he married Agnes Mary Meagher, a schoolteacher from Camperdown and daughter of another Irish migrant family; they had four sons and two daughters. He died at his home at Preston on 17 June 1955 and was buried in Fawkner cemetery predeceased by his wife and two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Sillcock, Three Lifetimes of Dairying in Victoria (Melb, 1972)
  • Royal Commission on the Butter Industry, Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1905, 2 (10)
  • Journal of Agriculture (Melbourne), 53 (1955)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'Crowe, Robert (1867–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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