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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macgroarty, Neil Francis (1888–1971)

by K. E. Gill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Neil Francis Macgroarty (1888-1971), barrister and politician, was born on 1 May 1888 at South Brisbane, eleventh child of Daniel Cannon Macgroarty, inspector of schools, and his wife Anna Maria, née Kearney, both Irish born. Educated by the Christian Brothers at Gregory Terrace and Nudgee, Brisbane, he entered into articles of clerkship with Patrick Alban O'Sullivan and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland on 19 August 1911. After practice for eight years in partnership with his former master, Macgroarty transferred to the Bar and was admitted on 6 May 1919; he practised from the old Inns of Court building, Adelaide Street. On 21 December 1929 he married Doreen Mary Joseph at St Mary's Catholic Church, South Brisbane; they had five children.

Macgroarty became interested in politics and as candidate for the Country and Progressive National Party in 1929 was elected to the Legislative Assembly for South Brisbane. He was well known in the area by reason of long residence; moreover he was president of the Queensland Irish Association in 1924-32 and, in his younger days, had been a Rugby player of note and subsequently an executive-member of the Queensland Rugby Union.

He achieved immediate prominence by going straight into the Moore ministry as attorney-general—unprecedented for a newly elected member in Queensland. He shared this distinction with Ernest Albert Atherton, secretary for mines. His three-year term—often in stormy conflict with the Labor Opposition—was filled with action. His maiden speech attracted considerable controversy when, in reply to an interjection, Macgroarty stated that the Queensland Court of Industrial Arbitration would be 'ringbarked' at an early opportunity.

On 30 April 1930 Macgroarty opened the crown submissions to the royal commission into the purchase of the Mungana mines and Chillagoe smelters by the Queensland government from E. G. Theodore, W. McCormack, P. L. Goddard and F. Reid. After the commissioner, J. L. Campbell, found the transaction had been fraudulent, Macgroarty on 22 July 1931 led A. D. McGill and G. Seaman for the Crown, in an attempt to recover the purchase money from the four defendants, before Chief Justice Sir James Blair and a jury of four in a civil action. The jury, however, found in favour of the defendants.

Important legislation introduced by Macgroarty included the Companies Act of 1931. His controversial Judicial Proceedings (Regulations of Reports) Act of 1931, allegedly an attempt to protect public morals, was seen by Labor as a personal vendetta against Brisbane Truth. By the 1932 election Macgroarty had fallen out with important Catholic elements and, bitterly pursued by the Labor Party seeking vengeance, was defeated by V. C. Gair.

Disillusioned by his political experiences, Macgroarty resumed his law practice until retirement. He was a member of the Johnsonian Club and a golfer. He died on 10 August 1971, survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, and was buried in Toowong cemetery after a requiem Mass at St Ignatius' Church, Toowong. An officer of the Queensland Bar Association said of him that he was 'a singular personality. Humorous, warm, intolerant of hypocrisy, he became a legend during a lifetime which covered 60 years in the legal profession'.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • K. H. Kennedy, The Mungana Scandal (Brisb, 1978)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1930, p 589, 1931, p 2331
  • Royal Commission into Mungana, Chillagoe Mines, Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1929-30, 2nd Session, 6, p 1345
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 11 Aug 1971.

Citation details

K. E. Gill, 'Macgroarty, Neil Francis (1888–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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