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Evelyn Douglas Darby (1910–1985)

by Peter Henderson

This article was published:

Evelyn Douglas Darby (1910-1985), teacher and politician, was born on 24 September 1910 at Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, son of Percy Charles Darby, estate agent, and his wife Jessie, née Ainslie. Douglas attended Portsmouth Council Southern Secondary School. In 1926 he visited Australia while working as a ship’s steward. Returning to New South Wales two years later, he attended Sydney Teachers’ College (1928-29). He taught at Bannister Provisional (1930-33) and Mosman Public (1934-40) schools, and enrolled at the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1938).

Medically unfit for war service, in 1939 Darby founded the British Orphans Adoption Society—which sponsored the formation, in 1940, of the Help the Children of the Allies Campaign—to bring orphans to Australia. He extended this charitable work to include children in Australia and, after the war, from Europe. At Mosman he met Esme Jean McKenzie (1908-1997), a teacher, who helped with the City–Country Holiday Exchange Scheme for children, which he had started while at Bannister. They were married with Salvation Army forms on 30 August 1941 in their home at Mosman. During the war Esme served as secretary of BOAS.

As a Liberal Party candidate, Darby won the State seat of Manly in a by-election in 1945. During a wharf-labourers’ strike in 1947, he encouraged volunteer labour in Sydney to unload a ship carrying potatoes, an episode that became known as the `Potato Blue’. At a rowdy meeting at the Domain, he and some colleagues were assaulted. During transport strikes he arranged for car-pooling to circumvent the effects on his constituents, earning the enmity of the labour movement but the affection of his community. Although an energetic and popular local member, he was less well liked in the party room. He unsuccessfully stood for the leadership of the State parliamentary Liberal Party in August 1954 and in April and July 1959. After losing preselection for Manly in 1961, he resigned from the party. He successfully contested the seat in the 1962 and 1965 elections as an Independent, and was readmitted to the party in August 1966. The split was at times bitter and Darby did not advance past the back-bench when he returned, although he continued to represent Manly until he retired in 1978.

Darby had railed against the `prospects of communist-socialist influence’ from the 1930s. After World War II he made contacts with European émigrés escaping communist regimes. This led to his work for the Captive Nations Council of New South Wales, of which he was president. From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s he was a delegate to World Anti-Communist League conferences. He attended an Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations conference in London in 1982 and a Captive Nations Committee meeting in Washington in the following year. He was sympathetic to the extreme-right activists with whom he worked in these organisations and he published several polemical anti-communist tracts. By 1973 his main focus had changed to support for Taiwan and he formed the Australia—Free China Association.

A Freemason from 1941, and a professed puritan, Darby was prominent in campaigns against gambling and Sunday trading. He was also concerned about mental health, penal reform, pollution and transport. In 1968 he advocated developing Bathurst as the new State capital. Although he was an indefatigable campaigner who believed in his own rectitude, he failed to find wide support for his causes. He died on 22 August 1985 at Wahroonga and was cremated.

Esme had been born on 1 November 1908 at Redfern, Sydney, daughter of James Alexander Oliver McKenzie, carpenter, and his wife Ada Maria, née Daniel, both born in New South Wales. She attended Fort Street Girls’ High School (1922-26), Teachers’ College, Sydney (1927-28) and the University of Sydney (BA, 1934) and worked as a teacher (1928-41, 1943-44). Living with her family in the Manly area, she supported local community groups and children’s charities including the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children.

In 1961 Mrs Darby was unsuccessful in her attempt to gain preselection for the seat of Wakehurst. She represented the Australian Housewives’ Association on the Captive Nations Week committee in the late 1960s and later accompanied her husband on several trips to World Anti-Communist League conferences and to Taiwan. She worked in the office, and on the committee, of the Australia—Free China Association, which effectively offered the services of a consulate. Committed to youth welfare, she was appointed MBE in 1975. A few years after her husband’s death she moved to Adelaide, where she died on 19 November 1997 and was cremated. She was survived by two sons and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Power (ed), Politics in a Suburban Community (1968)
  • S. Moran, Reminiscences of a Rebel (1979)
  • Sydney Morning Herald , 15 Nov 1968, p 6, 23 Mar 1979, p 6, 25 Aug 1985, p 5
  • H. de Berg, interview with E. D. Darby (transcript, 1975, National Library of Australia)
  • Darby family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Peter Henderson, 'Darby, Evelyn Douglas (1910–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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