Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Stephen McDonald (1891–1955)

by Murray Goot

This article was published:

Arthur Stephen McDonald (1891-1955), radio engineer, was born on 6 March 1891 at Swan Hill, Victoria, son of Victorian-born parents John McDonald, bootmaker, and his wife Eliza Mary, née Stevenson. Educated at Swan Hill until 8 and later at primary and secondary schools at Ararat where he boarded with relations, McDonald worked without any formal training as a general mechanical engineer for three years before joining the Postmaster-General's Department in 1910 as a junior instrument setter in the engineering branch. Erection engineer for the Coastal Radio Service from 1911, he transferred with the radio service to the Department of the Navy in 1916 where he was appointed assistant engineer for equipment and in 1918 radio engineer. In 1920 he returned to the P.M.G.'s department.

In 1922, when many of the Commonwealth government's radio activities were taken over by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd, McDonald left to become A.W.A.'s radio engineer. He became chief engineer, assistant general manager to (Sir) Ernest Fisk in 1930, and in 1945-46 assistant general manager (engineering) to Fisk's successor.

McDonald was prominent in establishing broadcasting; as an engineer he was soon to become 'as well known as the AWA tower'. He helped to construct radio stations, including 2FC, and was responsible for experiments carried out with the Marconi company. These resulted in the opening, in 1927, of the beam wireless service between Australia and Britain and, in 1930, of the first commercial use of two-way radio telephone links with other countries. In 1946, when the Overseas Telecommunications Commission was established, McDonald became chief engineer.

He was a foundation member of the Institution of Radio Engineers, Australia, in 1932 serving on its council and as president in 1943-45; he wrote a paper, '1913-1938: A Quarter Century of Radio Engineering in Australia', for the World Radio Convention in Sydney in 1938. In 1922 McDonald became a fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers, United States of America, and was elected vice-president in 1949. He was also a member of the Acoustical Society of America, an associate member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, sometime vice-president of the Radio & Telephone Manufacturers Association and a member of the electrical section committee of the Standards Association of Australia.

A big man 'both in stature and mind', McDonald was also described in 1924 as 'a typical constructional engineer—somewhat sparing in words but abundant in action'. His recreations were shooting and motor yachting; in 1939-46 he was commodore of the Royal Motor Yacht Club of New South Wales.

McDonald had married Edith Roseina Ethell on 27 January 1915 at Geraldton, Western Australia; in the late 1930s and early 1940s she worked as a milliner, opening a shop in Rowe Street, Sydney. McDonald died of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease on 23 April 1955 at Longueville and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He was survived by his wife, son and daughter Patricia Ethell, a radio and television actress. Most of his estate, valued for probate at £31,498, was left to his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • Wireless Weekly, 27 June 1924
  • Institute of Radio Engineers, Proceedings, Aug 1955
  • Bulletin, 4 May 1955.

Citation details

Murray Goot, 'McDonald, Arthur Stephen (1891–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 March, 1891
Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia


23 April, 1955 (aged 64)
Longueville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.