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Geeves, Philip Leslie (Phil) (1917–1983)

by Carol Liston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Philip Leslie Geeves (1917-1983), radio broadcaster and historian, was born on 26 April 1917 at Bexley, Sydney, fourth child of Sydney-born parents Albert Geeves, postal sorter, and his wife Margaret May, née Canavan. Philip attended Bexley Public and Canterbury Boys’ High schools, where he excelled in languages, especially German. In 1936 he joined Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd as a junior announcer at radio station 2CH; he became involved in short-wave broadcasting at VK2ME, known as the `Voice of Australia’.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Geeves enlisted in the Militia. Commissioned next year, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in March 1941. He served in the Middle East in 1941-42 with the 2/5th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, before returning to Australia. For his technical intelligence work as a staff captain (1943-45) at headquarters, New Guinea Force, he was mentioned in despatches. In September 1945 he was posted to the United States Army’s School of Military Government at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Back in Australia in February 1946, he was attached to the British-Australian Long Range Weapons Project, setting up the range at Woomera, South Australia. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 17 December.

Geeves returned to 2CH as a senior announcer, later becoming program director. Recognising the changing nature of postwar Australia, he introduced foreign-language music programs for European immigrants, working closely with the Department of Immigration and sponsors seeking new customers. Impressed by the passion for history in the USA, Geeves contacted his former science teacher, James Jervis, who was a keen local historian. Together they wrote Rockdale (1954), a history of the suburb where Geeves’s forebears had settled. In response to a request from the Royal Australian Historical Society, Geeves published Local History in Australia (1967) on methods of research. A history of Ryde municipality, A Place of Pioneers (1970), followed. At AWA he started work on a history of the company and radio broadcasting, posthumously published as The Dawn of Australia’s Radio Broadcasting (1993). He wrote 137 historical radio and television features produced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission for school children and adults. On 2CH his `Streets of Sydney’ ran for fifteen years and `Moments in History’ daily for two years.

Because of ill health Geeves retired from AWA in the 1970s, but continued to work on historical commissions, including casual segments for ABC Radio. As the ABC’s `resident historian’ he broadcast, with Caroline Jones, a regular radio program from 1978, answering queries from the scores of letters he received each week, especially about family history. From 1980 he also responded to them through his weekly column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Geeves had married with Methodist forms Leona Phyllis Deane, a radio executive, on 10 July 1942 at Wesley Church, Melbourne. An imposing figure, he was six feet (183 cm) tall with bright, hazel eyes and a well-modulated voice. He was a man of disciplined routine, rising early for a Spartan breakfast, reading the newspapers and completing the crossword before settling to work in his book-lined study. He was a councillor (1954, 1963-71) and fellow (1972) of the Royal Australian Historical Society. In 1980 he was awarded an OAM. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died of a stroke on 16 August 1983 at Kogarah and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 19 Nov 1978, p 27
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1980, p 19, 18 Aug 1983, p 13
  • Newsletter of the Royal Australin Historical Society, Oct 1983, p 7
  • Geeves papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • series B883, item NX70702 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Carol Liston, 'Geeves, Philip Leslie (Phil) (1917–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/geeves-philip-leslie-phil-12530/text22549, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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