James Ralph Darling

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Sir James Darling

Born18 June 1899
Died1 November 1995
EducationRepton School
Oriel College, Oxford
Geelong Grammar School
Headmasters' Conference of the Independent Schools of Australia
Australian Broadcasting Commission
Spouse(s)Margaret, née Campbell
ChildrenOne son(John Darling), three daughters
Parent(s)Augustine Major Darling
Jane Baird, née Nimmo

Sir James Ralph Darling, CMG, OBE (18 June 1899 – 1 November 1995) was the English-born Australian Headmaster of Geelong Grammar School (1930–1961), and Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1961–1967).

Early life[edit]

Darling was born in Tonbridge, England, the second child of an Englishman, Augustine Major Darling, and his Scottish wife, Jane Baird, née Nimmo, he was educated at the preparatory school in Tonbridge run by his father, then at Repton School, a boarding school in Derbyshire. He served as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery in France and occupied Germany in 1918 and 1919 before reading history at Oriel College, Oxford, he taught from 1921 to 1924 at Merchant Taylors' School in Liverpool, before joining the staff of Charterhouse in Surrey.


He was appointed as Headmaster of Geelong Grammar School in 1930 and the student population of the school grew from 370 to 1139 at the time of his retirement, he was a founding member of the Headmasters' Conference of the Independent Schools of Australia and was its sixth Chairman. During his time at Geelong Darling set up the Outward Bound campus Timbertop in the foothills of the Australian Alps between Mansfield and Mt Buller where academic work was supplemented by a wide range of physical activity. Notable pupils included future prime minister John Gorton and Charles, Prince of Wales. Darling was a founder and first National President of the Australian College of Educators. Darling served from 1933 to 1971 on the Council of the University of Melbourne and he was a member of the Universities Commission from 1941 to 1951.

Darling believed that it was of primary importance in education to cultivate sensitivity in students, but that toughness was also required for effective leadership,[1] he revolutionised Geelong Grammar School with his educational philosophy, overhauling the curriculum and focusing less on achievement and more on learning. He encouraged selflessness and hard work over competitiveness and idleness.[2]

ABC Chairman[edit]

After his retirement as Headmaster he was for several years Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC); the decision by the Holt Liberal government in 1967 not to re-appoint him was rumoured to be because of the perceived criticism of the government's policies by the ABC. This led to considerable controversy, involving Mike Willesee, an ABC reporter, who was the son of Don Willesee, a Labor Senator.

Later years[edit]

In retirement Darling often wrote for newspapers, and published his own books. In 1988 he was named on a list of 200 great Australians (of whom only 22 were living, he being the only headmaster on the list), he died aged 96 in Melbourne in 1995. In his obituary Darling was referred to as a prophet whose integrity, insight, intelligence and courage gave him great standing in the community.[3]



  • The Education of a Civilized Man: A Selection of Speeches and Sermons (Melb, 1962)
  • Timbertop: An Innovation in Australian Education (Melb, 1967)
  • Richly Rewarding (Melb, 1978)
  • Reflections for the Age (Melb, 1991)


  1. ^ Darling, James R (1963). The Education of a Civilised Man: A Selection of Speeches and Sermons. F W Cheshire, Melbourne.
  2. ^ Bate, Weston (1990). Light Blue Down Under: The history of Geelong Grammar School. Oxford University Press. pp. 176–230. ISBN 0-19-553106-X.
  3. ^ Collins Persse, Michael (3 November 1995). "Geelong's master of Inspiration". The Australian.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gronn, Peter (December 1995). "A 'very superior' man : Sir James Darling 1899-1995". Tribute. Quadrant. 39 (12): 49–50.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Sir Richard Boyer
Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Madgwick