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Sir Daniel McVey (1892–1972)

by Derek Drinkwater

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Sir Daniel McVey (1892-1972), public servant and industrialist, was born on 24 November 1892 at Carronshore, Stirlingshire, Scotland, son of Daniel McVey, ironmoulder, and his wife Jeanie, née Kay. Educated at Falkirk High School, young Daniel emigrated to Australia with his family in 1910. After working as a jackeroo in rural Queensland, he moved to Brisbane and joined the Commonwealth Public Service on 5 March 1914 as a clerk in the Postmaster-General's Department. On 21 February 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served (1917-18) on the Western Front with the 12th (Army) Brigade, Australian Field Artillery, rose to regimental sergeant major and was mentioned in dispatches. In 1919 he was commissioned and promoted lieutenant. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia in September that year.  

On 5 September 1919 McVey married with Presbyterian forms Margaret (Peggy) Gardiner Packman in her father's house at Yeerongpilly, Brisbane. He completed electrical-engineering training with his department and was employed as a communications engineer. Promoted assistant-superintendent (1930) and superintendent (1933) of mails for New South Wales, he was second assistant-commissioner (1937-38) on the Commonwealth Public Service Board before being appointed a national insurance commissioner. In May-December 1939 he was secretary of the new Department of Supply and Development.

As director-general of posts and telegraphs (from December 1939) and director of war organization of industry (from November 1941), McVey played a key part in marshalling Australia's postal, telecommunication and economic resources for the war effort. When he became secretary of the Department of Aircraft Production in January 1942, the Sydney Morning Herald described him as 'one of the three ablest men in the Commonwealth Public Service'. It was in this post that he made his greatest contribution to national defence and the prosecution of the war. Asked by J. J. Dedman, the minister for war organization of industry, to explain his success in obtaining manpower for his factories, McVey replied half-jokingly that he had broken all the W.O.I. rules and regulations which he had devised as director.

Deputy-chairman of the aircraft advisory committee, McVey visited the United States of America and Britain in January-May 1943, leading a mission charged with deciding on a fighter and a bomber for manufacture in Australia. The 'McVey Mission' chose the Mustang and the Lancaster. His influence as departmental head and as chairman (1942-46) of the Radiophysics Advisory Board proved decisive in facilitating commercial production of radar equipment in Australia. Shortly before Essington Lewis resigned as director-general of aircraft production in May 1945, he recommended McVey as his successor. The appointment was made that month.

From February 1944 McVey had also held the post of director-general of civil aviation. In this role, and as a member (February-June 1946) of the Australian National Airlines Commission, he implemented major reforms which transformed domestic travel. Sir Hudson Fysh regarded J. B. Chifley and McVey as the 'true architects' of immediate postwar developments in air transport. Moreover, as a director (1947-61) of Qantas Empire Airways Ltd, McVey helped to establish Australia as a force in international aviation.

McVey resigned from the public service on 10 June 1946 to enter private industry. He was chairman and managing director of Standard Telephones & Cables Pty Ltd (Australia) in 1946-49, and managing director of Metal Manufactures Ltd and Austral Bronze Co. Pty Ltd in 1949-62. His longest commercial association was with Dunlop Rubber Australia Ltd, of which he was a director (1947-72), chairman of directors (1956-68), and president and deputy-chairman (1968-72).

A resourceful man of energy and determination, and a tiger for work, Dan McVey had an incisive and inventive mind. His geniality and affability made him many friends. As a public servant, he was liked and respected by his colleagues, and by his political masters—both Labor and conservative. His personal qualities and organizing ability ensured his success and popularity as a leader of industry. In recognition of his achievements, the University of Melbourne awarded him the (W. C.) Kernot medal for 1945. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1950 and knighted in 1954. Sir Daniel's chief recreation was golf. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on Christmas Eve 1972 in East Melbourne and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $420,622.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • H. Fysh, Wings to the World (Syd, 1970)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • G. Blainey, Jumping over the Wheel (Syd, 1993)
  • Australian Financial Review, 3 Mar 1960
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Dec 1972
  • private information.

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Citation details

Derek Drinkwater, 'McVey, Sir Daniel (1892–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 July 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]


24 November, 1892
Carronshore, Stirlingshire, Scotland


24 December, 1972 (aged 80)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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