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Boyer, Sir Richard James Fildes (1891–1961)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Richard James Fildes Boyer (1891-1961), grazier, publicist and broadcasting chief, was born on 24 August 1891 at Taree, New South Wales, third and youngest son of Frederick Cartwright Boyer, a Wesleyan minister, and his wife Marianne, née Pearson, both English born. Educated at Wolaroi Grammar School, Orange, Newington College and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1913; M.A. Hons, 1915), Richard entered the Methodist ministry. In 1914-15 he was a probationer on the new Canberra circuit, preaching at the Cotter Dam to navvies who allowed him ten minutes from their two-up on Sunday mornings.

Hoping for an appointment as a chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force, in March 1915 he became a Young Men's Christian Association camp secretary at Alderley, Brisbane. The appointment did not eventuate and he enlisted on 24 April. Boyer sailed to Egypt with the 26th Battalion and reached Gallipoli in September; he was evacuated next month with enteric fever and repatriated in January 1916. Having obtained a commission in the A.I.F. on 22 January 1917, he joined the 1st Battalion on the Western Front in July. He was gassed in September near Passchendaele, Belgium, and again invalided to Australia where his appointment terminated on 13 October 1919. Too shaken and cynical to return to the ministry, he went jackerooing near Morven, Queensland. In 1920 he took up 38,652 acres (15,642 ha) in the district and named his property Durella. On 22 May that year at Eastwood, Sydney, he married with Methodist forms Eleanor Muriel Underwood who had nursed him during the war.

After an initial struggle, the Boyers succeeded through good management and a timely shift from cattle to sheep. Their achievement earned the respect of fellow pastoralists. Boyer became president of the Warrego Graziers' Association in 1934 and, following a visit to Europe in 1935, increased his involvement in the affairs of the wool industry. He opposed the Commonwealth government's trade diversion policy in 1936, pamphleteered ably for the 'No' case during the 1937 marketing referendum and urged the lowering of tariffs to stimulate exports of primary produce. President of the United Graziers' Association of Queensland (1941-44) and of the Graziers' Federal Council of Australia (1942), he co-operated with the Federal Labor government on marketing and industrial relations matters, gained tax concessions for pastoral improvements and sat on the Australian Meat Industry Commission. He championed the ill-fated Queensland Dried Meats Co-operative Association, formed in 1945 with the aim of establishing an abattoir and freezing works at Winton.

Placing Durella in the hands of a manager, Boyer had moved to Brisbane in 1937 and to Sydney in 1940, seeking opportunities for public service. His interest in foreign affairs grew after he attended the 1938 British Commonwealth Relations Conference at Lapstone, New South Wales, and made a second European tour in 1939. He avoided domestic politics and in 1940 refused Country Party nomination for the Queensland seat of Maranoa in the House of Representatives. That year he was appointed honorary director of the American division of the Department of Information; in 1942 and 1945 he went abroad for conferences of the Institute of Pacific Relations. President (1946-49) of the Commonwealth council of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, he launched the journal, Australian Outlook. In the 1940s and 1950s Boyer devoted his formidable energies to the Australian national committee of the United Nations Appeal for Children, to Sydney Rotary Club's international service committee and to the Good Neighbour movement.

In 1940 he had been appointed a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and on 1 April 1945 became chairman. Amendments to the Broadcasting Act in 1948 added two public servants to the commission's membership, but Boyer resisted further encroachments on its autonomy by persuading J. B. Chifley to maintain its unfettered discretion over political broadcasts. Boyer's 'part-time' job occupied most of his working hours. His relationship with the general manager (Sir) Charles Moses has been summarized as 'never intimate and never had a showdown'. As chairman, Boyer had a style that resembled 'a brotherly pow-wow' and his idealism struck some as ingenuous; yet, he was a shrewd and patient tactician whose judgement was trusted.

As the introduction of television approached, the A.B.C. was given responsibility in 1954 for the national service. Boyer fought off a proposal to replace the serving commissioners with three full-time 'experts' and presided over the inauguration of ABN-2 on 5 November 1956. Appointed K.B.E. that year, he declined the post of high commissioner to Canada. Although he suffered the first of a series of coronary attacks in 1957, he agreed to chair the committee of inquiry into public service recruitment: its 1959 report recommended improved selection procedures, including permanency for married women. The A.B.C. was troubled by staff unrest over pay, conditions and autonomy, but that year Boyer encouraged plans for the programme, 'University of the Air', and initiated the annual lectures that were to bear his name.

Wary of political interference, in 1945 he had secured from John Curtin a public statement recognizing the A.B.C.'s 'special independence of judgement and action'. Politicians, however, continued their meddling and critics claimed that the A.B.C.'s independence would last only if unexercised. Boyer drew on considerable reserves of tact in dealing with governments. His liberalism favoured a hearing for all significant viewpoints; politicians—Labor or otherwise—preferred a consensus which offended nobody. In May 1961 (Sir) Robert Menzies' cabinet quashed a planned A.B.C. documentary (to be scripted by Rohan Rivett) on relations between the United States of America and Canada. Gravely ill, Sir Richard contemplated resigning in protest. He died of coronary thrombosis on 5 June 1961 at his Wahroonga home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His retirement had been scheduled for 30 June.

A man of 'long, spare country frame', Boyer had spoken of himself as a 'bushie', but subscribed all his life to the Hibbert Journal. He was a humorous raconteur who reminded his colleague Sir John Medley of Falstaff's memorable picture: 'O, you shall see him laugh until his face be like a wet cloak ill laid up'. Happy in his family life, Boyer was survived by his wife, daughter and son Richard who was a director (1983-86) of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton, Dick Boyer (Canb, 1967)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • R. S. Kerr, Freedom of Contract (Brisb, 1990)
  • Sir Richard Boyer papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Boyer, Sir Richard James Fildes (1891–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyer-sir-richard-james-fildes-9562/text16845, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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