Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Keith McGarvie (1891–1969)

by L. Lomas

This article was published:

Keith McGarvie (1891-1969), dairy farmer and politician, was born on 13 March 1891 at Colac, Victoria, eldest of three sons of Colac-born parents William McGarvie, grazier, and his wife Jean Keith, née Archer. Keith's paternal grandfather William McGarvie, an illiterate labourer from County Donegal, Ireland, had emigrated to Australia in 1844, worked as a bullock driver at Colac and selected land at Pomborneit. His property, Greenwood, passed to William junior in 1888, and was divided between his two sons, Keith and David, on his death in 1922. The shelter provided by its stone barriers, and the richness of its volcanic soil, made Greenwood an ideal dairy-property.

Keith was educated at Pomborneit State School, Camperdown Church of England Grammar School and Dookie Agricultural College. With his father he founded the Greenwood Jersey Stud in 1908. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1914 and served at Gallipoli in April-May 1915 as a sergeant in the 8th Battalion; afflicted with rheumatism, he was repatriated and discharged in December.

Following his return, McGarvie gradually improved the stud. In 1933 he won an award for the best-producing Jersey cow in Victoria and Australia. He joined the Victorian branch of the Australasian (Australian) Jersey Herd Society in 1934, and was its president (1935 and 1946), vice-president (1936-38) and honorary treasurer (1958-69). In 1964 he was to become patron. Keen to further his understanding of agriculture, he travelled to the United States of America in 1926 and 1937. At the manse of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Colac, on 26 June 1940 he married Evelyn Johnstone, née Burrows (d.1963), a 44-year-old widow.

McGarvie's growing influence in the district stemmed from his forceful personality and firm Presbyterian convictions: although considerate and likeable, he was sometimes colourful in criticizing error or weakness. Having worked (from 1932) to transform the local co-operative dairy-factory into the Camperdown-Glenormiston Dairy Co. Ltd, he chaired its board in 1948-64. He was also chairman of the Western District Co-operative Co. Ltd (1949-64), the Co-operative Insurance Co. of Australia and the Colac Brick Co. Ltd.

Well informed about rural issues, McGarvie was president of the Camperdown Pastoral and Agricultural Society. He was elected a councillor (1940) and life councillor (1960) of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, and served for many years as chairman of the dairy-cattle committee and steward-in-chief of dairy cattle. Calf clubs, the forerunners of the Young Farmers' Movement, benefited from his enthusiasm. In addition, he was president (1941-43) of the Chamber of Agriculture of Victoria and a member of the agricultural committee of the Nuffield Foundation.

McGarvie's prominence in the Camperdown region propelled him into politics. In 1933 he stood as the United Australia Party candidate and won the by-election for the seat of Warrnambool in the Legislative Assembly. Defeated in 1935, he unsuccessfully contested Warrnambool (1937 and 1940), Polwarth (by-election 1940) and Hampden (1952); he was also defeated for South-Western Province in the elections for the Legislative Council in 1952.

Outside politics and agriculture, McGarvie had diverse interests. He maintained his links with former Anzacs, belonged to several Masonic lodges, and served as a magistrate and as a Heytesbury Shire councillor (1933-36). A fine rifle-shot, he competed in England in 1937, winning a Bisley spoon and badge. McGarvie died on 5 October 1969 at Colac and was buried in Camperdown cemetery; he had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Iverson (compiler), The Leaders of Industry and Commerce in Australia (Melb, 1963)
  • G. A. McGarvie (ed), The McGarvie Family History (Horsham, Vic, 1995)
  • Pastoral Review, 16 May 1941, 16 Apr 1942, 15 Apr 1943
  • Camperdown Chronicle, 10, 28 Oct 1933, 8 Oct 1969
  • Colac Herald, 9 Oct 1940, 8 Oct 1969
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'McGarvie, Keith (1891–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 March, 1891
Colac, Victoria, Australia


5 October, 1969 (aged 78)
Colac, Victoria, 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.