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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McMillan, Robert (1848–1929)

by Marion Consandine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Robert McMillan (1848?-1929), journalist and author, was born in Edinburgh, son of Robert McMillan and his wife Margaret, née York. At 14 Robert ran away to sea, and some of his experiences are told in his adventure story, Voyage of the 'Monsoon' (1900). For a time he lived in the United States of America, working on a Boston newspaper. Later he moved to England, joined the staff of the Liverpool Mercury, and married Chrissie Walker or Ingle.

Ill health took McMillan to New South Wales about 1890. He lived at Katoomba, becoming editor and proprietor of the Blue Mountains Express. In 1892 he was approached by William Brooks, owner of the Stock and Station Journal, to relieve the 'array of trade matter' by writing a weekly article. McMillan accepted, and soon became editor and a shareholder. He remained in Sydney with the journal until 1917.

McMillan wrote bright and informative columns and features, often under the pseudonyms, 'Gossip' and 'Globe Trotter'. He discussed 'in simple language, but with the highest regard for accuracy' such topics as the earth's motion and the law of gravitation. Selections were published in Australian Gossip and Story (1895), There and Back (1903), No Breakfast (1905), The Origin of the World (1913) and Story of a Microscope (1914). His books were often dedicated to children (especially boys), and his beloved Stock and Station Journal readers.

Representing the New South Wales Country Press Association, in 1902 McMillan went to Melbourne to protest against Federal taxes on paper, ink and type. In 1908 he published a pamphlet, An Infamous Monopoly, vigorously attacking the United Cable (Australian Press) Association's monopoly of press cables. Next year he gave evidence to the Senate select committee on press cable service and, as a director of the Independent Cable Association of Australasia Ltd, continued his campaign at the first Imperial Press Conference in London in 1909. The monopoly was broken in 1910 when the Fisher Labor government subsidized an independent cable service. On his way to London in the Pericles, McMillan had been shipwrecked on 31 March: his graphic account of the disaster was published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

Quiet and unobtrusive, with a kind face, luxuriant moustache and Vandyke beard, in 1907 McMillan was a foundation committee-member of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists. He was also a member of the Institute of Journalists, London, and of the Royal Colonial Institute. In 1917 he went to Brisbane to become editor of the Queensland Grazier and in 1920 was a founder and honorary secretary of the Queensland Press Institute. From 1921, back in Sydney and again editor of the Stock and Station Journal (Country Life from 1924), he actively encouraged the foundation of the Country Women's Association of New South Wales.

After several years of failing health McMillan died on 18 February 1929 at Little Bay and was cremated. Childless, he was survived by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Loney, Wrecks in Australian Waters (Melb, no date)
  • Country Women's Association of New South Wales, The Silver Years (Syd, 1947)
  • Cosmos Magazine, 31 Jan 1896
  • British Australasian, 13 Mar 1902, 28 July 1910, 12 Dec 1914
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Apr 1910, 23 July 1926, 20 Feb 1929
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 2 Apr 1910
  • Queenslander, 21 Feb 1929
  • New South Wales Institute of Journalists, Annual Report, 1913, 1917.

Citation details

Marion Consandine, 'McMillan, Robert (1848–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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