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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McMahon, Patrick Reginald (Pat) (1912–1978)

by John Kennedy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Patrick Reginald (Pat) McMahon (1912-1978), wool technologist, was born on 11 August 1912 at Havelock, Pelorus Sound, New Zealand, son of New Zealand-born parents John McMahon, farmer, and his wife Eva, née Mills. Pat was educated at Massey Agricultural College (M.Ag.Sc., 1935) and won the Farmers' Union scholarship. Proceeding with his studies in England, he held the McMillan-Brown and Sir James Gunson research scholarships at the University of Leeds (Ph.D., 1937). In 1938 he returned to New Zealand where he was appointed wool metrologist, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. On 17 December that year at the Church of San Antonio, Rona Bay, Wellington, he married with Catholic rites Jean Ellen Fortescue Wright. In 1947 McMahon was appointed lecturer-in-charge of the sheep and wool school, Sydney Technical College. Four years later he was transferred to the New South Wales University of Technology (University of New South Wales from 1959) as head of the school of wool technology and foundation professor.

A pioneer in the application of quantitative genetics to sheep breeding, McMahon had undertaken research to estimate genetic parameters in the New Zealand Romney, which he published in 1943. His active encouragement facilitated the many distinguished contributions in theoretical and applied aspects of sheep breeding made by staff, students and graduates of the school of wool and pastoral sciences. Conscious of the need to assist stud masters to apply sound genetic principles in the sheep industry, he established and promoted the university's flock-testing service.

McMahon initiated research into the objective measurement of wool and its industrial application. His knowledge and experience of the textile industry made him keenly aware that the introduction of measurement of the properties of raw wool offered many benefits to sheep breeders. He enthusiastically expounded his views and encouraged colleagues, students and others in the research which eventually led to the introduction of objective measurement in wool-selling in the early 1970s. In addition, his foresight in establishing university level education in wool technology provided graduates who could implement and develop wool metrology throughout the industry.

During his career Professor McMahon was involved in numerous assignments for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. He investigated wool production in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in 1953; he spent ten months abroad in 1960 when he attended conferences at Harrogate, England, and Venice, Italy, and visited thirty countries, including four behind the Iron Curtain; and he acted as an adviser in Argentina in 1964. He showed a special concern to educate students from developing nations.

Interested in foreign languages, McMahon also enjoyed woodwork, farming, sailing, food and wine. He was elected a member (1947) of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and a fellow of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (1975) and of the Australian Society of Animal Production (1976). In July 1977 he retired. Survived by his son and three daughters, he died of cancer on 15 January 1978 in St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, Dec 1975
  • Proceedings of the Australian Society of Animal Production, 11, 11th biennial conference, Adel, 1976
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 111, 1978
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1951, 13 Dec 1960, 18 July 1978.

Citation details

John Kennedy, 'McMahon, Patrick Reginald (Pat) (1912–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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