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Magoffin, Richard David (1917–1996)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published online in 2021

Richard David Magoffin (1917–1996), stockman, actor, and radio personality, was born on 13 June 1917 at Charters Towers, Queensland, second of four surviving sons of John Magoffin, a Victorian-born selector, and his English-born wife Emily Jane, née Kettle. Magoffin senior owned Chiltern Hills station, in the Boulia district, west of Winton. In David’s early childhood, the family lived well, enjoying long holidays in Australia and England. By 1927, however, drought had reduced the property’s 250,000 acres (101,171 ha) to ‘a dusty waste’ (Queenslander 1927, 40). The family moved to Townsville, where David attended the Christian Brothers’ College, Stanton Hill. He played cricket, football, and tennis; swam; sang in the school choir; acted in plays; and learned the violin. Although he passed the State scholarship examination in 1932, he decided against high school and worked briefly as an apprentice to the pharmacists P. V. Armati & Son.

In 1934 the Magoffins were forced to sell Chiltern Hills. They subsequently held, in turn, Lyrian Downs and Etta Plains, both north of Julia Creek. David worked as a ringer (stockman) on two cattle stations: Kamilaroi, half-way between Cloncurry and Burketown; then, from 1936, the vast Victoria River Downs in the Northern Territory. By 1938 he was head stockman on VRD’s Gordon Creek outstation, in charge of fifteen ringers, most of them Aboriginal men, and a cook. He and his team mustered, branded, and drafted cattle; broke-in horses; and maintained their camp and equipment. The experience left him with an enduring respect for Aboriginal people. Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he served briefly as a sergeant in the Australian Army Veterinary Corps (January–April 1941) in Brisbane, before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 22 June 1941. In December, while training as a pilot, he was slightly injured in an aircraft accident near Tamworth, New South Wales. He had two periods in hospital from May 1942, because of back pain. Assessed as ‘not likely to become an efficient aircrew’ (NAA A9301), he was discharged on 19 July.

Magoffin returned to Brisbane, hoping to become an actor. He obtained parts in stage productions and by 1944 had the male lead in the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society’s production of They Came to a City by J. B. Priestley. To provide a steady income, in that year he joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a radio announcer. In 1945 he moved to Sydney and began announcing with 2CH but left two years later to freelance and develop his acting career. His roles included Oscar Hubbard in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes (1948), with (Dame) Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre company. On 9 September 1950 at the Catholic Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Kirribilli, he married Lorna Jean Vowles, a stenographer with the ABC, whom he had met in Brisbane.

The couple settled in Brisbane in 1952 and David was appointed as an announcer with 4BK and its subsidiary 4AK (Toowoomba), owned by Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd. In the golden age of wireless (radio), successful announcers were stars. Besides reading the news, presenting recorded-music programs, commentating at boxing matches, and interviewing celebrities, Magoffin established himself as a compere. He hosted phone-in quiz shows, concerts in the station’s auditorium, and the popular spectacles of beauty contests, especially the Miss Queensland and—when finals were held in Brisbane—Miss Australia pageants. From 1954 he was also the studio manager, preparing rosters and allocating duties to the junior announcers, to whom he became ‘a father figure’ (Funnell-Young 2020. In 1976 he left radio for the promotions department of Queensland Newspapers, where one of his duties was to assist with the annual Children’s Hospitals Appeal. He retired in 1983.

With his six feet one inch (185 cm) frame, strong build, trim moustache, and ‘beautiful speaking voice’, Magoffin had a ‘stage-like presence’, his fellow radio presenter Malcolm Searle describing him as ‘a poor man’s Laurence Olivier’ (Funnell-Young 2020). A colleague, Natalie Funnell (-Young), remembered him as a clever man, who was attractive in personality as well as appearance. A devout Catholic, he acted as announcer for the Brisbane Corpus Christi procession. He enjoyed gardening, painted in watercolours, and loved fine china. On one occasion, probably in 1980, he was mortified to be stopped when leaving a department store, carrying a piece of china for which he had not paid. He was charged with stealing, but influential friends—including Rod O’Loan, the managing director of David Jones Ltd in Queensland—accepted that Magoffin had made an honest mistake and interceded on his behalf. The prosecutor dropped the charge. In retirement, Magoffin wrote From Ringer to Radio (1996), a lucid and engaging autobiography; he devoted most of the narrative to his early years, providing a valuable record of life in outback Australia in the 1920s and 1930s. He died on 7 October 1996 at Kangaroo Point and was buried in Pinnaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Golden Voice of Radio Days is Silent Now.’ 11 October 1996, 11
  • Dash, Helen. ‘When a Nation Helped Portia to Face Life …’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 28 August 1983, 34
  • Funnell-Young, Natalie. Interview by Darryl Bennet, 13 October 2020
  • Magoffin, David. From Ringer to Radio. Brisbane: D. Magoffin, 1996
  • National Archives of Australia. NAA A9301, 405920
  • Queenslander. ‘Self-Reliant Pioneers. The Fight Against Drought.’ 14 July 1927, 40

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Magoffin, Richard David (1917–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/magoffin-richard-david-31827/text39285, published online 2021, accessed online 4 December 2021.

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