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Voigt, Emil Robert (1883–1973)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Emil Robert Voigt (1883-1973), athlete, political organizer, engineer and radio-manager, was born on 21 January 1883 at Ardwick, Lancashire, England, son of Emil Robert Voigt, a German-born mantle salesman, and his wife Elizabeth, née Robb. Educated locally at Ross Place school, he joined the Slade Harriers and later Manchester Athletic Club. In 1905-06 he studied in Austria. Very short, fair, wiry (8 st. 3 lb., 53 kg) and a vegetarian, Voigt won the five-mile (8 km) race at the 1908 London Olympic Games. He was British four-mile (6.4 km) (1908-09) and one-mile (1.6 km) (1910) champion, and competed in Europe, including Russia, in 1909.

A master engineer, familiar with German, French, Italian and Spanish, Voigt arrived in Melbourne in June 1911. He became Victorian mile champion in 1912 and started Voigt & King, mechanical engineers, at Armadale. On 5 September 1913 at East Melbourne registry office he married Minnie Boardman, from Salford, England; in October they moved to Sydney, but left for England next April. In World War I he ran a welding and brazing works at Manchester.

In February 1921 Voigt returned to Sydney and controlled the research bureau of the Labor Council of New South Wales. He became one of the 'Trades Hall Reds', favourite bogeymen for conservatives and a target of the Federal secret service. At a March 1922 economic conference he clashed with Billy Hughes, and at Sydney University Union in April he supported revolution in a debate with William Holman and David Hall. In April 1923 he urged communists and Labor to unite. Although he was denounced by his Dee Why neighbours, and linked with Jock Garden and Albert Willis as 'extremists of the extremist kind', he apparently never joined the Communist Party of Australia, but regarded it as part of the nemesis of capitalism. In July 1923 he left for Los Angeles, United States of America.

Returning to Australia in February 1925, with enthusiasm for radio and its nationalization, he chaired the Labor Council's wireless committee and founded 2KY radio in October. From July he was Willis's private secretary. Voigt sat on the 1926 Labor conference's committee which revised party rules, was minutes secretary of the conferences and briefly belonged to the inner group controlling the State executive in 1927-30. From May 1927 he managed United Distributors Ltd. Founding chairman (1927-30) of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations and president (1927-30) of the Radio Manufacturers' Association of New South Wales, in January 1929 he became manager of 2KY (and its boxing commentator) and in April assistant secretary of the Labor Council.

With Jack Lang in the ascendant, from 1930 Voigt's influence waned; in 1934 R. A. King defeated him for the secretaryship of the Labor Council. While Voigt was visiting Europe, Soviet Russia and U.S.A. in 1935, his position at 2KY was challenged. In January 1936 he resigned and in March left for London where he set up Broadcast Enterprises Ltd and recorded radio programmes for the Dominions. In 1940-45 he co-founded H.V.H. Engineering Ltd, Hereford, which made aircraft parts. Moving to New Zealand, he was a partner in Monro Foundries Ltd (1947-52) and James Motors (1956-60). Survived by his wife and three sons, Voigt died at Auckland on 15 October 1973. A restless, contradictory idealist, he had served Australia's early wireless industry and fought in the cockpit of 1920s Sydney Labor politics.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Goot, ‘Radio Lang’, in H. Radi & P. Spearritt (eds), Jack Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Athletic News (Manchester), 1 June, 20 July 1908
  • Referee (Sydney), 2 Sept 1908, 14 June 1911, 1 Oct 1913, 15 Apr 1914
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 6 Mar, 1 Apr 1922, 16 Jan 1929
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1 Feb 1927, 6 Aug 1935
  • Australian Worker, 8 Mar 1922, 11 Apr, 18 July 1923, 4 Feb 1925
  • New South Wales Labor Council minutes (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Voigt, Emil Robert (1883–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/voigt-emil-robert-8930/text15689, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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