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Wilfred David (Mick) Borrie (1913–2000)

by Charles A. Price

Wilfred Borrie, by Barry York, 1989

Wilfred Borrie, by Barry York, 1989

National Library of Australia, 24447519

Wilfred David (Mick) Borrie was Australia's first full-time academic researcher in population studies (Demography). He, and the team he built up at The Australian National University from 1951, made Australia's name well known throughout the world for high-quality work on population trends and policies in Australia, the Pacific, Asia, Europe, North America and other parts of the world. Borrie himself wrote on most of these areas, including an important book in 1970, The Growth and Control of World Population.

Born in New Zealand in 1913 and educated at Otago and Cambridge (UK) universities, Borrie came to Sydney in 1941. After teaching Social History in Sydney University, he joined the very new ANU in 1948 as staff member in charge of population studies. He remained Professor of Demography until his retirement in 1978, his being the first Chair of Demography anywhere in the world.

Later, keen to extend population studies throughout Australia, he encouraged the formation of the Australian Population Association (1980). He remained its patron until he died.

Steadily becoming better known round the world, Borrie was active in the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) 1949-81. He also chaired the UNESCO conference on international migration, 1956, and later the UN Population Commission (1965-69).

Borrie's interests were much wider than demography, and he did much to foster the social sciences generally. He was director of the ANU's Department of Sociology, and was very active in Australia's Social Science Research Council, later the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He was executive director of the academy (1979-85) and represented Australia at several international social-science conferences.

Borrie's activities went much further than academia, he being very willing to help Australian and other governments when he could. He served on the Australian government's immigration planning councils (1965-81), helping to formulate immigration policy and to write reports. From 1970-78 he directed the government's National Population Inquiry, he and his team producing two major reports on Australia' s population history and future.

Borrie also chaired the Australian government's Ethnicity Committee of the early 1980s. This recommended the invaluable "ancestry" question of the 1986 census. This gave excellent information about Australia's ethnic make-up in 1986 and will be repeated in the census of 2001.

Borrie's good rapport with the official world led the Australian government to appoint him its official representative at five World Population Conferences (1954-72). As reward for his services to Australia he was made a member of the OBE in 1969 and CBE in 1979.

Borrie's remarkable energy, together with his gift for choosing competent colleagues and assistants, led to a great output of publications. Either alone, or as principal author, he produced 15 books and 163 articles or reports. Australia's academic world acknowledged this achievement by awarding him honorary doctorates (Tasmania, Sydney, ANU) while overseas universities such as Princeton, US, gave him Visiting Professorships while he was on study leave from ANU.

All in all, Mick Borrie was a very great scholar and gentleman, giving a great deal to his adopted country. He will be greatly missed by many, especially his widow Alice, his daughter Catherine and her husband and two children.

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Charles A. Price, 'Borrie, Wilfred David (Mick) (1913–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

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