Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Valentine McDowall (1881–1957)

by D. J. Robinson

This article was published:

Valentine McDowall (1881-1957), medical practitioner and wireless and television pioneer, was born on 14 February 1881, at Maryborough, Queensland, son of Archibald McDowall, and his wife Ada Sarah, née Coutts. He attended Brisbane Grammar School in 1895-99, then entered the University of Sydney medical school in 1900, graduating M.B. in 1905 before serving as a resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. On 12 January 1906 he married Janet Laurence Crombie, a grazier's daughter, at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane. Moving to Laidley in 1907, McDowall employed a battery-powered X-ray unit in his general practice. In 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as captain, Army Medical Corps, and served in Egypt with the 1st Australian General Hospital, the 2nd and 14th Field Ambulance and from June 1916 with the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital. He returned to Australia in May 1917 and his A.I.F. appointment ended in August.

Having taken his Ch.M. degree in Sydney in 1917, McDowall returned to Brisbane in 1919 and practised as a specialist in radiology and dermatology. After six months study in the United States of America in 1926 at the Rochester Clinic and elsewhere, he was reputedly the first doctor in Queensland to use radium in treatment. In the 1930s he worked as a radiographer and radiotherapist from Wickham Terrace and was senior honorary radiologist at the Brisbane General Hospital in 1919-34.

During World War II McDowall was temporary lieutenant-colonel, A.I.F., commanding the 117th A.G.H. early in 1942. He continued service as a visiting specialist in radiology at Greenslopes Repatriation General and other Brisbane hospitals.

Meanwhile he had been president of the Queensland branch of the British Medical Association in 1925, a founding fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, a fellow of the faculty of Radiologists of England and a foundation fellow of the College of Radiologists of Australasia (president, 1947). He advised on the founding of the Queensland Radium Institute and was a foundation member of the Biophysics Standing Advisory Committee (Queensland). He published in the Medical Journal of Australia and the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

From 1921 McDowall (with Thomas Elliot) pioneered regular programmes of recorded music on 4CM, his radio station at Preston House, Brisbane; they claimed the first live broadcast in Queensland from the stage of His Majesty's Theatre. In the 1930s they shifted 4CM to the old windmill on Wickham Terrace to experiment with low-resolution television broadcasting, and in October 1935 transmitted a legible page of the Courier Mail. Experiments continued until the war. Part of the equipment is preserved in the collection of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, of which McDowall was a member. He also belonged to the Royal Society of Queensland and the Queensland Club.

Kind and courteous to his patients, McDowall was always a keen sportsman who had been captain of his school's cricket team and a Sydney university rowing Blue; in later life he went shooting with his brother Dr Sandy McDowall and took his family yachting and deep-sea fishing. Enthusiastic about machinery, he had one of the first cars at Laidley and served on the committee of the Royal Queensland Aero Club in 1935-41, while securing a private pilot's licence. He was a competent woodworker and manufactured and demonstrated excellent fireworks.

McDowall died at Ascot of cardiac disease on 22 October 1957, survived by his son and daughter. He was cremated after a Presbyterian service.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 Dec 1957, p 920
  • Journal (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), 6 (1961-62), no 4, p 750
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 23 Oct 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

D. J. Robinson, 'McDowall, Valentine (1881–1957)', 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]


14 February, 1881
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia


22 October, 1957 (aged 76)
Ascot, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

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