Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Colin William Buchanan Macfarlan (1887–1947)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

This article was published:

Colin William Buchanan Macfarlan (1887-1947), newspaper editor and proprietor, was born on 13 November 1887 at Gourock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, son of Dougal Carlyle Macfarlan, civil servant, and his wife Rosina, née Macintyre. Educated locally, Colin joined a brother in South Africa and worked there as a journalist on the Cape Argus and other newspapers. He returned home in 1910 and toured Europe before emigrating to Australia. Following a stint as a reporter on the Melbourne Argus, he was employed by newspaper proprietors in a number of country towns in New South Wales. In 1917 J. H. Kessell, the owner of the Gladstone Observer, Queensland, appointed him to edit and manage that bi-weekly. At St Saviour's Anglican Church, Gladstone, on 23 December 1919 Macfarlan married Marjorie Lilian Morgan (d.1931); they remained childless. On 9 July 1932 at Holy Rosary Church, Windsor, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites Margaret Ethel Booth, a 28-year-old nurse.

Kessell had offered him a half-share in the Observer. By 1922 Macfarlan was the sole proprietor. A confrontation between Macfarlan and the Gladstone Town Council in 1929 indicated the growing independence of the provincial press. Alderman W. Ferris, the mayor, thought that the Observer was not reporting the council's proceedings impartially. The council invited the Bundaberg Daily Times to cover its meetings, offering some advertising as an incentive. For two months Macfarlan fought the decision in the columns of the Observer until it was reversed. Mayor Ferris 'sustained a signal defeat in his advocacy of sending the ratepayers' money out of the town in order to have reports published in an outside paper'.

In the 1929 State elections the Observer supported F. W. Butler, the Country and Progressive National Party candidate for Port Curtis. At the same time Macfarlan published an attack on Queensland's newspapers by William McCormack, the Labor premier. Macfarlan was not afraid to speak out against the conservatives when they were in power and in April 1930 condemned the Moore government for breaking its contract over the Monto rail-link.

Recognizing the potential of Gladstone's port and hinterland, Macfarlan followed the provincial newspaperman's tradition of tirelessly advancing the material welfare of his town and district. A member (1921-46) and chairman (1943-44) of the Gladstone Harbour Board, he had a breadth of vision which led him to present the case at Rockhampton for a wool-appraisement centre in Central Queensland. His editorial advocacy of Gladstone fuelled the claim that the Observer had accomplished more for the advancement of the town than all the public bodies put together.

Macfarlan retained his Scottish brogue and was an excellent public speaker. His contemporaries regarded him as highly principled, courteous and good natured. He died of cancer on 4 June 1947 at Rockhampton and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Gladstone cemetery. His wife and daughter Carmel survived him. Carmel partnered her mother in running the Observer. Margaret was appointed M.B.E. (1970) for services to journalism and the community.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Kirkpatrick, Sworn to No Master (Toowoomba, Qld, 1984)
  • Gladstone Observer, 9 Mar, 27 Apr, 11 May 1929, 16 Apr 1930, 11 Mar 1931, 16 July 1932, 11 June 1947, 3 Jan 1970
  • private information.

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Macfarlan, Colin William Buchanan (1887–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 November, 1887
Gourock, Renfrewshire, Scotland


4 June, 1947 (aged 59)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

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