MACDONALD, Donald (1857-1932)

MACDONALD, Donald (1857-1932)
son of Daniel Macdonald, was born at Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne on 6 June 1857. His earlier days were spent at Keilor, where he was educated at the state school, and there he developed his love for nature and became a good cricketer and footballer. For a time he was a teacher in the Victorian education department, and then obtained a position on the Corowa Free Press and had a good training as a reporter. In October 1881 he came to Melbourne and joined the staff of the Argus for which he continued to write until more than 50 years later. He first made his mark as a cricket reporter, and for a great many years under the name of "Observer" he reported all the important matches at Melbourne, and many test matches played in other states. Before his time, matches were often reported over by over, but Macdonald dropped much of the detail and yet made the account much more vivid. He completely revolutionized cricket reporting, and was also an able reporter of football matches until increasing age made him unable to face the winter weather. His nature work appeared in both the Australasian and the Argus, and in 1887 an interesting collection of his sketches was published under the title Gum Boughs and Wattle Bloom. When the South African war broke out Macdonald was one of the earliest war correspondents to go to the front. He unfortunately got shut up in Ladysmith, and found it impossible to send his reports through the Boer lines. Like many others of the beseiged, he suffered from dysentery, and returning to Australia after Ladysmith was relieved, was but a shadow of his earlier self. His accounts of the siege were published in the Argus and, in 1900, as a volume, How We Kept the Flag Flying, excellent work of its kind. When Macdonald had recovered he took a year's leave and lectured on his experiences in Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain. After his return he established a column in the Argus, "Nature Notes and Queries", which brought him many letters. Noticing that many of these came from boys, another column "Notes for Boys" was started in February 1909, which became very popular. This column suggested his next book The Bush Boy's Book, first published in 1911. The second edition was much enlarged and by 1933 three other editions had been printed. In 1922 appeared At the End of the Moonpath, stories about Australian birds and animals for children. Towards the end of his life Macdonald became practically bed-ridden, but he continued his writing up to the last day of his life. He died at Black Rock, a seaside suburb of Melbourne, on 23 November 1932, and was survived by a daughter, Mrs Elaine Whittle. In 1933 Mrs Whittle made a selection of his writings from the Argus, The Brooks of Morning Nature and Reflective Essays, with a good portrait of Macdonald in his later days. In addition to the volumes mentioned, Macdonald wrote a novel in collaboration with J. F. Edgar, The Warrigal's Well, a North Australian story published in 1901. He was also responsible for a Tourists' Handbook of Australia published in 1905.
Macdonald was a lovable and attractive man who made many friends and kept them. As a journalist he was always interesting, whether he might be writing about cricket or his kitchen garden, about boys or the Australian countryside. He had a great influence through his "Nature Notes" and "Notes for Boys" on the youth of his own state. Many of the boys he influenced have since carried on his work both as journalists and teachers.
The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 24 November 1932; private information and personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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