John Alan Gibson

John Alan Gibson (1904-1979)

John Alan Gibson (1904-79), grazier, engineer and lobbyist, was born at Hay, the eldest son of James Robertson Gibson (1868-1941), grazier, and his wife Ada, née Gulson (1876-1943). His grandparents John Gibson (1827-1919) and Marion, née Gemmell (1824-1908), were pioneering closer settlers in the Gunbar district. Together with Alan's uncle, Robert Gibson (1855-1936), they selected land on Gunbar Station, naming their holding 'Narringa'. Robert also was a pioneering irrigator in the Hay district. President of the Hay Municipal Irrigation Trust in 1902-1906 and mayor of Hay in 1892, 1902 and 1903, he unsuccessfully promoted the Murrumbidgee Northern Water Supply and Irrigation bill in 1905 (RW254). Alan Gibson shared his family's interest in irrigation, carrying out extensive irrigation development on his properties, serving as foundation president of the Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users' Association in 1940-45, and sponsoring the Southside Joint Water Supply Scheme (which began operating in 1966). Like his uncle, Alan was mayor of Hay, holding office in 1938 and 1939.

Alan Gibson attended school in Hay and, after winning a University Exhibition and the Gordon S. McLure Scholarship, enrolled in engineering at the University of Sydney in 1923. He was given leave of absence in 1926 to visit Britain and the United States to gain professional experience. He resumed his studies in 1927 and graduated in 1928 with a BE degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. A member of the Sydney University Rifle Club, Gibson was awarded a full Blue in 1927. His jottings suggest that his decision to return to 'Croidon', a family grazing property at Hay, may have had more to do with his personal circumstances than with the availability of employment opportunities for an engineer. In 1930 he married Catherine, née Williams; they had a son, Brough, and a daughter, Elizabeth. During these years Alan Gibson was associated with the Riverina (New State) Movement and its leader Charles Hardy jnr. Along with Hardy, he subsequently was involved in Country Party politics. His diaries (RW3) offer extended commentary on his political activities; his correspondence about these interests is at the Mitchell Library in Sydney (MS2312).

Although Gibson had acquired a large area irrigation farm at Griffith, and won second place in the 1939 Master Farmers' Competition, he apparently found insufficient intellectual challenges in farming and grazing. The demands of a growing family and the onset of drought also seem to have contributed to his restlessness and need to find additional sources of income. In October 1940 he began a consulting engineering practice in Hay. After unsuccessfully attempting to associate it with a larger metropolitan practice, he moved to Sydney with his wife and children and, in February 1942, joined the Ministry of Munitions as an engineer. In November 1945, leaving his family in Mosman, he took up a well-paid appointment in China with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. When UNRRA scaled down its Chinese operations in 1947, he returned to Sydney where he found employment as assistant engineer in the survey and investigations branch of the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission. The work proved congenial, but his health began to deteriorate, prompting him to resign from the Commission's staff in June 1953. The following year he bought 'Keringal', a grazing property on the Murrumbidgee River at Hay. Back on the land, he practised sporadically as a consulting engineer (advising on irrigation and water supply projects) and again became active in community and district affairs. He was a long-standing member of Lodge Murrumbidgee (master, 1939-40), an elder of the Presbyterian Church and a member of the Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users' Association and the Riverine University League (RW64, RW100, RW624, RW953).

Gibson was interested in genealogy, compiling a modest family history with his son in 1974. His records include family papers and other items relating to his forbears. CSU Regional Archives also holds records (RW2128) from Alan's cousin, John Hughes (Jack) Gibson (1895-1971), a grazier who had tin mining interests at Gibsonvale near Ardlethan.

Compiled by : Don Boadle.

Sources : Gibson, Alan & Brough, John and Marion Gibson and their Descendants in Australia 1854-1974, Hay 1974; Atchison, John 'Robert Gibson (1855-1936)' in B. Nairn & G. Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 8, Melbourne, 1981, pp. 653-4; Clark, R., The Family of John and Marion Gibson, of Narringa, Gunbar 1854-1974, [Gibson family tree], Hay, 1974; J. Alan Gibson papers, RW2298; Killen, P. & Merrylees, C., 'The Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users' Association and the Development of the Snowy Mountains Scheme', Australian Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 3(4), 1990; Boadle, D., 'Regional Water Wars: River Leagues and the Origins of the Snowy Scheme', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 80(3/4), 1994, pp. 195-211; Boadle, D., 'Activists, Experts and Intellectuals: a 1950s Rural Network', Rural Society, 10(2), 2000, pp. 153-174.