Chairman of the Board - Richard Boyer

contributed by Michael Hall 

In 1914 an earnest young man with ambitions of obtaining a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford arrived in Canberra as the new city’s first Methodist minister.

Richard Boyer had just completed his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney but decided to spend a year gaining experience working as a minister before heading overseas. He also took the opportunity to write a thesis for his master’s degree.

Initially he boarded with Mrs Bridget Young at her house on Church Lane at the end of Anzac Parade, between Blundell’s Cottage and Murray’s bakehouse. Here he would sit by lamp-light in the kitchen of a former smithy’s shop attempting to jot down his dissertation on the 16th century Dutch theologian Erasmus.

Years later Boyer wrote of his ministry in Canberra that “after the morning parade service at Duntroon, my regular beat was to ride [horse Bess] to the Cotter River where a few people gathered in one of the large tents, and a service of sorts was held at 3pm. In the earlier days the only congregation I could really muster was at the two-up school, where the men very generously gave up their game for a ten minute talk. In the evening I would return to Acton where we had a few Methodist people for a similar sort of service”.

Boyer left Canberra at the end of March 1915 to become the camp secretary for the YMCA in Brisbane where men were in training for the war. His intention was to be commissioned as a chaplain with the AIF but, although he did travel to Egypt with the troops, he did not achieve this aim. Instead, he opted to jump ship and enlist in the AIF, landing at Gallipoli with the 26th Battalion in September 1915. He lasted a little more than a month before being evacuated suffering from enteric fever.

After recovering back in Australia, Boyer returned to Canberra for officer training at Duntroon. He qualified as a 2nd Lieutenant and joined the 1st Battalion in Belgium in July 1917. Whilst in the line at Glencorse Wood near Ypres in September 1917 Boyer was knocked out by a gas shell and wounded by shrapnel which effectively ended his war.

Like many returned soldiers Boyer experienced disillusionment and he found that he couldn’t return to the ministry. Instead, he went jackarooing in Queensland where he eventually settled down, married (his wife had nursed him in hospital) becoming prominent in grazier organisations.

Despite his increasing public profile, he resisted attempts to become involved in party politics but did accept an appointment as a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1940 and became its chairman in 1945, serving in that position until his death on 5 June 1961. In 1956 he was made a KBE and later that year oversaw the introduction of television to the ABC. His time with the ABC is commemorated by an annual lecture that bears his name.

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