Remembering the Rev’d Malcolm McKenzie, our third Master

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of the third Master of St Mark’s College, the Rev’d Malcolm McKenzie, who had served as Chaplain of the College from 1964 to 1967, and as Master from 1968 to 1977.

Malcolm McKenzie (2 March 1934 – 7 January 2022) is remembered warmly as a “priest, College Master, soldier, and diplomat”, and for guiding St Mark’s through a period of social and economic change with great skills of intellect and personality, as well as for the love of his family and friends.

Born in Geelong in 1934, Malcolm spent much of his childhood during World War II with his parents and two sisters in Dunkeld in the Southern Grampians region of Victoria. He won a scholarship to study at Hamilton and Western District Boys College before going, again on scholarship, to board at Haileybury College in Melbourne. At Haileybury, he was vice-captain of the school, captain of athletics, and a cadet lieutenant. His involvement in the army cadets foreshadowed later interests.

In 1952, Malcolm became a resident student at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne (sister college to St Mark’s), where in 1954 he secured a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in philosophy. He was a member of the inter-varsity athletics team, and the University hurdles champion. Some of the friendships made at Trinity continued for the rest of his life.

Malcolm’s studies continued with two years studying theology at St John’s College, Morpeth, NSW, in his second year serving as the well-respected Senior Student of the College. A contemporary later wrote that “he was a keen scholar, and always interested in helping his fellow students”.

Being ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church in 1957, Malcolm served in 1957 as a curate at St Stephen’s, Portland, in western Victoria, and after being ordained as a priest by the Bishop of Ballarat in 1958, became priest in charge of St John’s, Heywood, near Portland. It was here that he met Mary, a teacher, whom he married in Hamilton in 1961.

Together they went to Perth in 1961, where Malcolm served as Assistant to the Dean and as Precentor of St George’s Cathedral, and where their children, Chad and Genevieve, were born. He also commenced Masters study at the University of Western Australia.

The McKenzie family came to St Mark’s in June 1964 when Malcolm took up the position of Chaplain of the College. He combined this with serving as Anglican Chaplain to the University of Adelaide, as a Chaplain to the CMF (Citizen Military Force) and then as Senior Chaplain to the Central  Command, 4th Military District of the Army (attaining the rank of Major), and as lecturer in philosophy at St Barnabas College (the Anglican theological college in Adelaide). He also undertook post-graduate research that continued his earlier work at the University of Western Australia.

Little over three years after coming to St Mark’s, on the retirement of the Master, Mr Robert (Bob) Lewis, Malcolm was appointed the third Master of the College – from a field of 34 candidates from universities around Australia and overseas. An announcement of his appointment pointed out that, being appointed Master at the age of 33, Malcolm was a few months older than the first Master, Sir Archibald Grenfell Price, had been when he was appointed in 1924.

One of the qualities that commended Malcolm McKenzie to the College Council was that, as Chaplain, “he has already demonstrated his deep interest in the members of the College and their problems”. He had also shown a great interest in wider issues in society, and a capacity for independent thought about them, which continued throughout his life. In 1967, he had promoted the “inter-change of ideas” through a format that became known as “the Senior Common Room Evening”. A fine preacher, in 1966 he arranged a series of sermons on “the needs of the church in contemporary society”, including his own “hesitant exploration of situational ethics”.

Changes in wider society created the context for all of Malcolm McKenzie’s Mastership of the College. He took office in February 1968 as the rebellious student movement throughout the western world was gathering strength, in part driven by discontent over the Vietnam War and connected with other social changes (including attitudes to sex and gender) and challenges to established authority. In 1968, Malcolm himself presented a paper to an SCR Evening on the “Theology of Revolt”.

Malcolm McKenzie has been warmly commended for the skill with which, with great personal warmth, relaxed friendliness, and capacity for rapport with students, he guided St Mark’s through this time of change. Richard Scott Young (who had served as Dean of St Mark’s in 1967) has spoken of the “charm and tolerance” which earned him the respect and affection of very many students as he handled this anti-establishment era “extraordinarily skilfully”.

College traditions were reviewed, innovations made in College life, rules simplified and students given greater responsibility for leadership within the College and for their own conduct and its consequences. This created new responsibilities for, and pressures on, College Club Committees. Successive reports by College Club Presidents and editorials in The Lion reflect both that this was generally welcomed, but also that debate within the College continued for several years on the balance between individual freedom and the needs of “corporate living” within the College community.

At the end of 1968, Malcolm’s first year as Master, the President of the College Club, Julian Disney, wrote that “the rapport which the Master established with the students from early in the year will ensure not only that rapid development continues, but that it takes place in a relatively orderly manner”.

Initially appointed for a three-year term as Master, Malcolm’s position was made permanent by the College Council in 1971, and the Chairman of Council, Gavin Walkley, took “the opportunity to express the Council’s warm appreciation of your devoted and successful service to the College during the first three years of your Mastership”.

The consolidation of the College’s affairs in Malcolm’s early years as Master included the eastern extension of the Memorial Building, and the renovation of various buildings (including, over time, on Kermode Street). It was perhaps best reflected in the purchase of the old Correspondence School on the College’s western border on Pennington Terrace, which became Hawker House in 1970. Its purchase was made possible through the then-anonymous generosity of Mrs Lilias Needham, sister of C.A.S. Hawker (one of the founders of the College). Her death in 1975 saw a further substantial bequest to the College at a time when the College’s finances were extremely difficult.

College enrolments, which under Malcolm’s leadership were buoyant in the late 1960s, were in the early and mid-1970s declining dangerously – as a result of inflation, rural recession, decline in overseas students, and, in the ethos of the changing times, a strong tendency for university students to choose more independent living in flats or shared houses rather than in colleges. These factors severely affected colleges around Australia, and St Mark’s was not immune from them.

In 1972, Malcolm identified these and other pressures as a risk to the College continuing as “a viable economic unit”, and he worked hard – with the College Council led, throughout his time as Master, by Gavin Walkley – to secure its position. Gavin Walkley later wrote that, “with reduced administrative assistance, no task was too small or trivial for him to undertake, even in the midst of dealing with much larger issues”.

Elements of his response to the financial challenge included school visits to promote St Mark’s, the encouragement of conferences at the College, and the promotion of philanthropy. Having helped to bring a major 1960s fundraising appeal to a successful conclusion, Malcolm now worked to encourage endowments to the College, as well as promoting Annual Giving by Old Collegians to support scholarships for St Mark’s students. North House in Kermode Street was sold.

With many single-sex institutions in many countries considering co-education at the time, and some viewing it as “imminent” at St Mark’s, 1972 also saw a College committee to consider St Mark’s becoming co-residential. Malcolm was commended for “his patient canvassing of the views of all sections of the St Mark’s community”. While the College Council decided against this at the time, it helped to prepare the ground for the College’s decision to admit women in 1982 – the 40th anniversary of which we celebrate this year.

As Master, Malcolm McKenzie took a warm and engaged interest in students. He is remembered for his friendliness, for enabling students to come to St Mark’s who could not otherwise have done so, and for wise mentorship and advice to students, including regarding career choices. He attracted and worked with various staff, tutors, and resident academics of high calibre. He took a keen interest in the development of the College library, and naturally continued his keen interest in the College Chapel and its daily as well as special services, with the creation in the mid-1970s of a more “spacious and dignified chapel” in the old Downer stables in place of the more modest Oratory. Many Old Collegians remain grateful to him for baptising their children.

The innumerable College events and activities in which Malcolm took part as Master included, as well as many activities with and for students, extending warm hospitality to many international and inter-state academic and other visitors to the College. A highlight was the celebration in 1975 of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the College, in which three Masters – Sir Archibald Grenfell Price, Mr Bob Lewis, and Malcolm – took part, along with hundreds of Old Collegians and their partners. The College is now preparing to mark its 100th anniversary in 2025.

On Malcolm’s retirement as Master in 1977, in the year in which Sir Archibald Grenfell Price passed away, Malcolm wrote, in expressing gratitude to the St Mark’s community for his own time as Master: “it has been an undeserved privilege to experience at first hand the grand vision of the first Master and to be associated with a community which is also rightly identified as the ongoing expression of his ideals and his commitment to the collegiate system”. He expressed optimism, encouraged by “many thoughtful people in the Oxford and Cambridge colleges”, about the future of collegiate education, including for nurturing “the creative innovators in our society”.

When, in May 1977, it was announced that Malcolm McKenzie was resigning as Master of the College after nearly 10 years in that position, the Chairman of the College Council, Gavin Walkley, said that “the whole College community regretted that Mr McKenzie’s tenure of office was coming to an end”.

“His administration of the affairs of the College, his concern for student welfare and his maintenance of the high standards of College life that have been developed over more than fifty years, had resulted in his being held in the highest regard by the Council, Fellows, Senior members, [Old] Collegians and current undergraduate members of the College”, Gavin Walkley wrote.

The College Club President, Nick Birdseye, wrote of 1977: “It was a significant year in the life of the College, the foremost event of the year being the retirement of the third Master, the Reverend Malcolm McKenzie.

“He took the College from an environment where tradition and hierarchy were more prominent than today, through a period of questioning of the status quo and authority, to a position where I feel that members of College have begun to realise that traditions are important in stimulating a sense of belonging, and that respect for others is the most important characteristic to have.

“I thank Mr. McKenzie for bringing the College through this period, while maintaining an environment which people will respect for what it teaches them from their experience of living here.”

As Senior Chaplain to the Central Command and as a Major, Malcolm McKenzie had regularly visited the secret rocket testing site at Woomera to hold services and offer pastoral care. This may have contributed to his interest in issues of security and intelligence. It is said that he guided a number of St Mark’s students into work in security and intelligence, and this field became an important element of his own future work.

After leaving St Mark’s, Malcolm McKenzie joined Australia’s diplomatic corps and, after what he described as “James Bond-like training” in the UK, he was posted to Australia’s High Commission in Malaysia as First Secretary in the late 1970s. It was during his years working in Malaysia (including dealing with the military and the police special branch both in west Malaysia and in Sabah and Sarawak) that he met Maggie, who became his second wife.

Over subsequent decades, he and Maggie returned often to Malaysia, both for family reasons and as together they pursued various business interests in South-East Asia after Malcolm left Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Amongst his many interests in politics and society in the region was a deep commitment to the wellbeing of West Papuans in Indonesia.

Malcolm passed away peacefully in his sleep on 7 January 2022 after a long period of illness.

The College has expressed its deepest sympathy to the McKenzie family at this sad time, and the flags at the College flew at half-mast for several days as a mark of respect for Malcolm.

The warmth with which he is remembered in the St Mark’s community was well summed up by Professor Graham Zanker (St Mark’s 1969-70), who has written that Malcolm “was a consistently cheerful, considerate and wise Master. My life was enriched by his friendship. My memory of him will always be one of admiration and gratitude.”

Malcolm McKenzie’s portrait, by Robert Hannaford, hangs in the College Dining Hall, behind the High Table where he so often presided.

His funeral was held in Geelong on Friday 14 January. A recording of it can be viewed here.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Photo: Malcolm McKenzie at St Mark’s College in 1975