Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

McKellar, Gerald Colin (1903–1970)

by Russell Schneider

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Gerald Colin McKellar (1903-1970), by unknown photographer

Gerald Colin McKellar (1903-1970), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, COL/66/1008/VN

Gerald Colin McKellar (1903-1970), farmer and politician, was born on 29 May 1903 at Gulgong, New South Wales, second child of native-born parents Gerald Murdoch McKellar, a carrier who turned his hand to farming, and his wife Margaret Jane, née Travis. Educated at Gilgandra, young Gerald farmed a succession of wheat- and sheep-properties in the district. At the Presbyterian Church, Dulwich Hill, Sydney, on 24 July 1926 he married Florence Emily Smith, a 27-year-old schoolteacher.

Commissioned lieutenant in the Militia in 1936, McKellar commanded the Gilgandra troop of the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He gained a part as an extra in Charles Chauvel's film, Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), and rode in the dramatic cavalry charge. After serving full time with the 6th Motor Regiment (from October 1941), he was appointed major in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1942. He was posted to the 26th Motor Regiment before being placed in command (June 1945) of the 1st Australian Ordnance Vehicle Park. On 4 April 1946 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Prominent in farming organizations, McKellar was a director (1951-59) of the Dubbo Pastures Protection Board and a councillor (1960-64) of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association. He also chaired Gilgandra Newspapers Pty Ltd for two years. Committed to the Country Party, he led its Lawson and Castlereagh electorate councils for two decades before becoming chairman (1957) of the New South Wales division. In 1958 he was elected to the Senate. He chaired the federal party's rural finance committee until his appointment as minister for repatriation on 22 December 1964.

McKellar's military experience influenced his administration of the portfolio. He insisted on travelling to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) to spend Christmas with Australian servicemen in 1966 and 1967, and regularly visited repatriation hospitals to discuss veterans' needs. Forced to reconcile the demands of the Returned Services League of Australia with cabinet's efforts to curtail costs, he found himself at times in heated conflict with the R.S.L. In July 1968 Bruce Ruxton accused McKellar of intimidating members of independent tribunals into reducing pension entitlements for ex-servicemen. The Victorian State conference of the R.S.L. carried a vote of no confidence in the minister. By October, however, the row appeared to have subsided: the Victorian branch president Sir William Hall moved a vote of thanks to McKellar at the R.S.L. national congress.

As minister representing the minister for air (Peter Howson) in the Senate, McKellar was subjected in 1967 to increasing Opposition pressure that stemmed from the 'V.I.P. flights affair'. Unlike other ministers, he was never accused of dishonesty throughout the controversy. Labor's Lionel Murphy later recalled that all senators had been 'convinced of one thing, the complete integrity of Senator McKellar'.

Frank and straightforward, sometimes brutally so in parliamentary or party debates, McKellar was committed to integrity and fairness. For twenty-five years he was an elder of the Presbyterian Church. Senator Frank McManus, his regular opponent at billiards, described him as one 'who would do you a good turn if he could and who would never try to do you a bad turn'. He was at his best 'when he took up a cause in which he believed and in relation to which he felt there was a fight that had to be fought'. Gifted with a sense of humour, he was a keen sportsman who played cricket, tennis and polo in his youth and turned to bowls in later life.

McKellar relinquished his portfolio on 12 November 1969 because of illness. On 13 April 1970 he dined at the Australia Hotel, Sydney, with members of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales. He told friends that his health had improved and that he was looking forward to returning to parliament, but he collapsed at 8.30 p.m. and died of coronary vascular disease. Survived by his wife and three sons, he was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $101,380.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Sekuless and J. Rees, Lest We Forget (Syd, 1986)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth, Senate), 14 Apr 1970, p 741
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Dec 1967, 25, 30 July 1968, 14 Apr 1970.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Russell Schneider, 'McKellar, Gerald Colin (1903–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mckellar-gerald-colin-10983/text19525, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018