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The Austins

Oliver Austin, Jr. with Anthony and Timothy Austin and their dog, Yuki

Dr. Oliver L. Austin, Jr. is depicted here in full Navy Blues as a Commander in the US Navy Reserve, standing next to his sons Anthony (Tony) and Timothy (Timmy) in a 1951 photograph taken Stateside in Eastham, Massachusetts at their home on Massasoit Road.  From 1946-1950, he was ranked as a Lieutenant Colonel serving SCAP in the US Occupation of Japan.  Their dog Yuki was rescued from near-starvation in war-devastated Japan after a well-meaning Japanese family fed him much of their rations.  To his great delight, the Austin family servants fed him ample scraps, and his coat quickly grew back to the luxurious fluffiness of his distinguished pedigree.  The two teenaged boys are shown here with their father about a year after their stay in Japan, which appears to have been a positive and memorable experience for all four members of the family.  While the family had returned by ship, Yuki flew by plane, and was picked up by the elder Oliver L. Austin's private chauffeur. 

Dr. Oliver Austin, Sr. (1871-1957)

Oliver L. Austin Senior banding a bird

Dr. Austin served as the private physician of New York elites in Westchester County.  In the summers, he migrated with his clientele to his Cape Cod estatein Wellfleet, Massachusetts.Illustrious visitors, including songwriter Jerome Kern, were commandeered into banding terns during the summer months.  He later donated the house, the Austin Ornithological Research Station, to the Audubon Society, which now controls a research station on the property.  Dr. Austin painstakingly collected all of his son’s letters to him, measuring over eight volumes covering only his time in Korea and Japan.  Father and son collaborated over ornithological matters, and even corresponded on more practical things, such as a request by Oliver for his father to send some of his past season Fifth Avenue custom-made suits to donate to threadbare members of the Japanese nobility.

Dr. Oliver L. Austin, Jr. (1903-1988)

Recipient of the first doctorate in ornithology from Harvard University in 1929, Dr. Austin was a world-renowned authority on birds in the twentieth century.  During his military service with the US Navy in the Western Pacific, he discovered two new bat species following “mopping-up” operations by the Marines.  Military intelligence naturally classified locations for island landings during WWII, but Austin would name species he found on each island in letters to his wife, who would then call up Jim Greenway, the head of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ).  Through categorizing rare bird species, he helped plot her husband’s precise location in the war. 

Dr. Austin’s first postwar posting was as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Naval Reserve in US-occupied Korea near Suwon, where he ran the Central Agricultural Experiment Station on sericulture and cotton, and collected bird specimens in his spare time.  He found a country demoralized by Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), and ravaged by the exigencies of war from Japanese forces that had stripped their colony of natural resources for the conflict in Asia.  Very few bird species of any kind remained since most were netted and eaten by a protein-starved population.  The birds that were left could be found in socially marginalized areas laden with popular superstitions such as graveyards, temple grounds, or deep in the mountains.  As a high-ranking officer, Austin received the aid of a local assistant named Kim, with whom he communicated in Japanese.  A sizable number of the Korean bird specimens in the MCZ were actually prepared by Kim, who had been taught by Austin to skin and preserve them.  Austin’s work in Korea culminated in his 1948 publication for the MCZ Bulletin entitled Birds of Korea

In Korea, Dr. Austin attempted to salvage the remains of colonial Japanese scholarship on ornithology.  Relevant materials were stacked in haphazard fashion in Seoul colonial archives, but he was able to retrieve some key texts on bird populations in northeast Asia.  Here, he first encountered the work of some of the individuals he would later meet and collaborate with in occupied Japan.  They also happened to be the deposed aristocratic elite, many of whom were Japan’s leading ornithologists, such as Yamashina Yoshimaro and Hachisuka Masauji. Austin later published Birds of Japan (1953) with Baron Kuroda Nagahisa (1916-2009).

Connections with Quaker English educator Elizabeth Vining and the Japanese aristocracy enabled Dr. Austin to meet with members of the imperial family, including Crown Prince Akihito, for whom his son Tony served as an English conversation partner.  Hence, Tony lived a charmed life during his four years in Japan, which he spent hunting with Japanese and Italian aristocrats, playing monopoly and bridge with the future Japanese emperor, and visiting various country estates of Japanese nobles with his father, while receiving an expatriate education at the Tokyo American School. 

Before his death, Dr. Austin served as Curator Emeritus of Ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and retired in Gainesville, Florida.

Elizabeth Schling Austin

Elizabeth Austin

Elizabeth Austin played a key role in the success of her husband's endeavors in Japan, but also became an important contributor to ornithological studies back in the United States.  During her stay in Japan,she decided that it would be beneficial to publish a manual for Japanese servants on how to adapt to the domestic needs of American sojourners, and contributed to the book The American Way of Housekeeping (1948).  Her published works on making ornithology accessible to a general audience include Frank M. Chapman in Florida (University of Florida Press, 1967), Penguins, the Birds with Flippers (Golden Press, 1968), The Birds that Stopped Flying (Golden Press, 1969), and Random House Book of Birds (Random House, 1970).  In 1973, Elizabeth Austin and her husband both received the Arthur A. Allen Award for outstanding service to Ornithology.


Anthony Austin

In 2013, Tony Austin graciously donated his father’s photographic slide collection to the Institute on WWII and the Human Experience.  The collection includes shots of Tony as a youth.  Growing up as a teenager in US-Occupied Japan was a formative experience, and he felt culture shock upon return to the United States in 1950.  Tony followed in his father’s footsteps and matriculated at Wesleyan College.  A brief stint at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs was followed by a bachelor’s degree in English and writing at the University of the South in Suwanee, TN, and a master’s degree at the University of Florida.  He then joined the U.S. Navy.  Prior to his current profession as one of the oldest full-time commercial sea bass fishermen in the South Atlantic fleet, he worked on his doctorate in anthropology at University of North Carolina with Louis Dupree, a world-renowned expert on Afghanistan.  Until the mid-sixties, New Year’s greeting cards from the imperial palace still made their way to Tony’s home in North Carolina, and in the 2000s, a Japanese news crew interviewed him about his experience in Japan for the celebration of Emperor Akihito's 75th birthday.