Owen Carter, Transitioneer

Agricultural scientist; Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Hawkesbury Agricultural College and University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury.  

Carter was born at Quirindi, NSW, on 26 December 1932, and educated at Farrer Memorial High School, Tamworth. In 1950, he entered the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Sydney at the very young age of 16 years, graduating in 1954 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours I). His first appointment was as a Research Agronomist with the combined University of Sydney/NSW Department of Agriculture Pasture Research Team at Lismore, NSW (1954-56). It was here where he met Graham Swain, with whom he would share a room, and later share the responsibilities of leadership at Hawkesbury. In 1956 he obtained a Rotary Exchange Scholarship to study at Cornell University, USA. There he gained Masters and Ph.D degrees (1956-60), experience which (like that of Swain, Maling, Barr and others) contributed significantly to the acceptance of the ‘network university’ idea when this was proposed in the late 1980s.

On returning to Australia, he was progressively appointed Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in Agronomy in the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Sydney (1960-1975). During this period he developed a national and international reputation for his research into the agronomy of soya-beans.  As he noted to the first Australian Farm Management conference in 1974, while many oilseeds faced overproduction, there had never been a case of overproduction of soybeans. They were, and remained, a central food source, making his work essential reading throughout Asia in particular. Other areas of research and publication included the tissue culture of oats, the effect of conditions on corn phosphate uptake and the potassium supplying power of Mardin soil. Students like Terry Launders (future state agronomist), and Peter Quail (later Professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at Berkeley, and a pioneer in the study of phytochromes) would attribute to Carter their love for plants and agricultural science. Owen was awarded a Fellowship by the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (FAIAS) in 1982 for an outstanding contribution to agricultural research and education. On joining Hawkesbury, he brought that combination of academic and practical experience which made the institution (in the first decade of UWS’s existence) the powerhouse of research in the region.

At Hawkesbury, Carter functioned as Deputy CEO of the network member ‘in the full sense of the word’. Not only did he deputise for Swain in his absence, but he carried executive responsibility over periods of time for staff development and promotion; student welfare; the Resources and Information Centre; the Computer Centre; Chairmanship of the Academic Board (HAQ and Academic Committee (UWS, Hawkesbury); Director of Equal Opportunity in Employment; Foundation Managing Director of HAWKAID; and various aspects of general administration.

Carter also demonstrated that combination of entrepreneurial drive and industry connection which helped Hawkesbury survive in a period when the university did not yet have the research strength to contend for the larger pool of public grants (eg. ARC, NHMRC etc). As Hawkesbury was permanently in a state of new start-ups in the period from 1985 onwards, Carter often carried out ad hoc tasks when an experienced person was needed at short notice, e.g. Interim Dean of the new Faculty of Horticulture and Acting Dean, Faculty of Food and Environmental Sciences (1988). At the time of his death, Owen Carter had special executive responsibilities for the establishment of the new Centre of Commerce, the ongoing development of the Faculty of Business and Land Economy, and student welfare.

In addition to these attainments, Carter served on a number of external commissions. He was a member of the Governing Council of Orange Agricultural College; the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies; the Science Advisory Council ABC; and Deputy Chairman of the CLANN Board, to name a few.

When Hawkesbury became a member of the federated University of Western Sydney on January 1, 1989, Carter was one of the key network member administrators (along with Brian Lindsay, Geoff Alcorn, and others) who played important roles in ensuring the successful establishment of the University. He served as Foundation Chairman of the Post-Graduate Studies Committee of the University's Academic board, and absorbed increased responsibility for the day to day management of UWS Hawkesbury to free Swain for duties as a member of the Corporate Management Team of the University as a whole.

Like Alcorn at Macarthur, Carter is remembered by staff and students as the essential ‘number two’ behind a driving leader: a compassionate person who assisted many with helpful advice and his preparedness to listen. He had a dry sense of humour and was remembered ‘for the "faces" he would make when things were not going as he thought they should’ (Swain).

He died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday 15 July, 1990. In 1991, as a result of the Hawkesbury centenary celebrations, a Chapel named after Owen Carter was opened in the Hawkesbury Centennial Centre.  


Carter, Owen, ‘Oilseeds - Making the Most From Recent Developments’, www.agwine.adelaide.edu.au/agribus/agribus/resources..., accessed 8 December 2011.

Yun, Oliver, ‘Biography of Peter Quail’, http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16088.full, accessed 8 December 2011.

Honan, Kim, 'Handing back the quadrat and shears', http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2008/s2541159.htm, accessed 8 December 2011.

Swain, F. Graham, 'Obituary: Owen Graham Carter', Jumbunna, August 1990.