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David William Magill (1940–1998)

by Ken R. Manley

This article was published online in 2023

David William Magill (1940–1998), banker and Baptist activist, was born on 26 January 1940 at Trundle, New South Wales, eldest of five children of New South Wales-born parents William Ervin Magill, farmer, and his wife Ruth, née Argall. Growing up in the area of Bogan Gate, David was educated at a local primary school and then at Parkes High School. In his early life he was active in the Parkes Baptist Church. Joining the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 1957, he worked in several regional locations and also helped in the South Western District Baptist Association. At the Baptist Church at Wagga Wagga on 3 October 1964 he married Judith Anne Tutty, a schoolteacher and Baptist deaconess.

Transferred to the bank’s head office in Sydney in 1965, Magill joined the Guildford Baptist Church, where he became a deacon and church secretary. He was also active on various committees of the Baptist Union of New South Wales: secretary of the Central Cumberland Baptist Association (1970–74); treasurer of the Youth Department; a member of the Home Work Council and the executive committee of the Baptist Union (1973–81); and a founding director of the Baptist Foundation of New South Wales from 1971 until his death. In 1975 he joined the Baulkham Hills Baptist Church, where he acted as treasurer from 1985 to 1991.

Magill’s most significant contribution was in the inauguration and rapid development of the Christian Community Schools movement. He became concerned about the secular education his children were receiving, and he challenged his Guildford pastor, Peter Hester, a former teacher and a student at the Baptist Theological College, to remedy the matter. Hester joined with Robert Frisken, another former high school teacher and student minister, to form what became the first of the Christian Community high schools, meeting in the Lidcombe and Regent’s Park Baptist church buildings from February 1976. Thus began a movement of church schools, especially among New South Wales Baptist churches, although that denomination had in earlier years rejected the possibility of establishing church schools, such as Baptists in Victoria and South Australia had founded. Denominational leaders, however, gave strong support to the initiative despite some regretting the potential weakening of the influence of Christian teachers and students within the public system. In a short time, many schools were founded, covering several denominations, all seeking to help students ‘grow up into Christ’ (Frisken 2011, 13).

While Frisken gave a firm theological and educational basis for a system of schools based on the Bible and Christian values, Magill developed strong administrative structures for the movement. Appointed the first chairman of the Regent’s Park school board, where he served for twenty-one years, he also helped to establish Christian Community Schools Limited in 1976, and became its founding president. CCSL developed schools in which values and beliefs perceived as biblical were integrated into the whole curriculum. He resigned from the bank in 1980 to become executive director of CCSL, a position he held until 1993. The role involved extensive travel around Australia to assist churches and schools, and he gave special attention to encouraging Indigenous Australian communities to establish schools. At the time of his death around ninety schools in Australia, serving some twenty thousand students, had become affiliated, along with another thirty-five in the Pacific. In 1987 he became the inaugural executive officer of the Association of Australian Christian Schools.

An exacting administrator, Magill was a hard-working perfectionist with a prodigious memory, who at times could frustrate some who worked with him. All recognised his pivotal leadership in the movement, however. The Christian schools movement benefited from the policies of Prime Minister John Howard’s government, with significant levels of funding, which attracted some criticisms. Marion Maddox suggested that these schools ‘tend to be associated with political conservatism, particularly on the sexuality, family and national security issues so central to Howard’s version of culture wars, and a damning view of non-Christian religions’ (Maddox 2005, 191). Magill’s legacy is evident in the success of the Christian schools movement. He died in a motor vehicle accident on 10 February 1998 at Northmead, and was buried in the Castlebrook cemetery, Rouse Hill. His wife and their daughter and three sons survived him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT. Handbook 1999. Sydney: Baptist Union of NSW, 1999
  • Frisken, Bob. It Only Takes a Spark: The Story of Christian Community Schools. Macquarie Park, NSW: Morling Press, 2011
  • Maddox, Marion. God under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2005
  • Manley, Ken R. From Woolloomooloo to ‘Eternity’: A History of Australian Baptists. Vol. 2, A National Church in a Global Community (1914–2005). Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘David Magill.’ 18 February 1998, 32
  • Thornton, Bruce, comp. and ed. Making Their Mark: NSW/ACT Baptist Biographies. Macquarie Park, NSW: Greenwood Press, in association with the Baptist Historical Society of New South Wales, 2012

Citation details

Ken R. Manley, 'Magill, David William (1940–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/magill-david-william-32361/text40110, published online 2023, accessed online 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

26 January, 1940
Trundle, New South Wales, Australia

Death

10 February, 1998 (aged 58)
Northmead, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

motor vehicle accident

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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