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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McKinney, Jack Philip (1891–1966)

by Judith Wright McKinney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Jack Philip McKinney (1891-1966), bushman, soldier and author, was born in 1891 at Numurkah, Victoria, son of William Graham McKinney, a Victorian-born journalist, and his wife Lucy Jane, née Burke, who came from England. Educated initially at the local state school, Jack was sent to Scotch College, Melbourne, when his father accepted a senior post with the Argus. Jack subsequently joined that newspaper (as a cadet journalist), but resigned in 1912 to embark on a series of jobs in the bush. He rode a bicycle to Broken Hill, New South Wales, went opal gouging at White Cliffs and in 1915 drove cattle from Charleville, Queensland, to Victoria.

McKinney enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 6 September 1915 and embarked for Egypt in November. Sent to France and promoted sergeant in March 1916, he served with the 1st Anzac Cyclist Battalion (later the Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion). On 2 November 1917 he gained the rank of company sergeant major. Suffering from shell-shock and gastric illness, he returned to Australia in 1919 and was discharged in Melbourne on 10 February 1920. He was mentioned in dispatches.

On 19 February 1921 at the Presbyterian Church, St Kilda, McKinney married 31-year-old Myrtle Sarah Gallagher, a former member of the Australian Army Nursing Service. She accompanied him to Queensland where he had obtained a post as manager of a maize plantation near Kingaroy. Taking up a small soldier-settlement block at Kumbia, he set out to become a dairy farmer and pig-breeder. The hard work of clearing, fencing and building was exacerbated by the anxiety of having to care for four children in the Depression and led to a recurrence of his war-related illness.

Leaving the farm, McKinney took his family to Surfers Paradise. He freelanced as a journalist, and wrote short stories and radio serials. One of his scripts, 'The Noonan Family', about the adventures of Irish-Australian farmers, had a large audience. His war novel, 'Over the Top', later entitled Crucible (Sydney, 1935), was awarded a prize of £150 by the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, allowing him to buy a cottage at Surfers Paradise where he wrote and worked until 1945. He later moved to North Tamborine. His marriage eventually ended in divorce.

From the outbreak of World War II, McKinney reflected on the question of why advances in Western thought failed to prevent further and more deadly wars. Untrained, he read philosophy, beginning with the ancient Greeks and devoting the rest of his life to the task. He contributed articles to major journals, published a preliminary book, The Challenge of Reason (Brisbane, 1950), and completed a more substantial work, The Structure of Modern Thought (London, 1971). Professor J. J. C. Smart praised the latter book for its 'fresh and original' presentation of the 'striking and important idea that knowledge is an interpersonal thing'.

McKinney was helped by his second wife Judith Arundell Wright McKinney whom he married on 13 June 1962 at the general register office, Brisbane. Survived by his wife and their daughter, and by the two sons and two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 6 December 1966 at Greenslopes, Brisbane, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25, 26 Apr 1935
  • Judith Wright McKinney letters (National Library of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Judith Wright McKinney, 'McKinney, Jack Philip (1891–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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