The Story of My Life: Ian McKay Milne, AM

A biography, edited and prepared for publication by volunteer biographer Ramsay Gunasekera on behalf of Eastern Palliative Care. Biographer's Note: This biography was as told by Ian Milne using his words while he was a client of Eastern Palliative Care. Unfortunately due to the progress of his illness Ian was unable to complete his biography. There were more stories and people and details he wanted to talk about. It was a great privilege to work on this project with Ian.

My Family

My father James and my brother James, photo taken at my wedding to Beth in 1944 

My father James and my brother James, photo taken at my wedding to Beth in 1944 

Hello there.  My name is Ian Milne and I am the eldest child of James and Annie McKay Milne.  I was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1919. 

My brother James, who was 3 years younger than me, was also born in Scotland.  I have three sisters, Vera and the twins Cecilia and Dorothea, who were born in Australia. 

My father had two fish cannery businesses in Aberdeen, Scotland, which did quite well.  However, in the early 1920s, the British government imposed price controls, which meant that prices were pegged at pre-World War 1 levels.  As a result, a lot of businesses encountered severe financial problems including my fathers and his businesses went broke.  Due to this, Dad lost all his money.  This was a huge blow for my parents, as they were considered wealthy, respected citizens of Aberdeen, where they had a beautiful home.  Their whole world was turned upside down and they were now very poor.  As a result, they decided to migrate to Australia in 1925, even though they did not have much money.

Looking back over my life, I am so glad that my parents decided to migrate to Australia.  It was a big decision for them to leave the country of their birth and loved ones behind, but they made it and I am eternally grateful to them.

Dad spent his lifetime in the food industry, while my Mother was a nurse by profession, but once they started a family, she did not work again in the profession.

Dad went back to Scotland only once on a holiday, as the time it took to travel to England and back by ship was nearly 12 weeks!  My parents are both deceased, so is my brother James, sisters Vera and Cecilia.  My sister Dorothea is alive and lives in Queensland.  We speak regularly on the telephone.  James was in the armed forces and fought in Papua New Guinea during World War 2.

I still have relatives in Aberdeen and the one that comes to mind immediately is my Aunty Agnes.  She was Dad’s sister and wrote to my parents every week!  She has now passed on.  Unfortunately I am not in touch with any of the others and if I met one of them in the street, I would not recognize them. 

BARRABOOL on Sydney Harbour, 1932. P&O liner BARRABOOL was built by Harland & Wolff Ltd in Belfast and launched in November 1921. Image believed to have been taken from the north east pylon of the still uncompleted Sydney Harbour Bridge. The site of the future Sydney Opera House behind and the liner Canberra in the distance.

BARRABOOL on Sydney Harbour, 1932. P&O liner BARRABOOL was built by Harland & Wolff Ltd in Belfast and launched in November 1921. Image believed to have been taken from the north east pylon of the still uncompleted Sydney Harbour Bridge. The site of the future Sydney Opera House behind and the liner Canberra in the distance.

Passenger list showing James Milne, Annie Milne, me (5 years old)  & my brother James (2 years old) embarking at London bound for Australia. Departure date 4th June 1925

Dad, Mum, James and I migrated to Australia in 1925 on the P & O ship Barrabool.  It took the ship about 6 weeks to get to Australia, via Cape Town, South Africa.  I do not recollect much about the voyage, though I did enjoy being on board the ship.

After we arrived in Australia, Dad worked for the food company, Francis Longmoor in Melbourne.  However, after a short while we moved to Mooroopna in the country, where Dad got a job at the Ardmona Cooperative in Mooroopna.  This company was established in 1921, to process locally grown fruit from Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region.  Mooroopna is a rural town approximately 180 kilometers north of Melbourne and located on the banks of the Goulburn River, opposite the larger town of Shepparton.  The weather at Mooroopna was quite different to Scotland, especially in summer when it was quite hot.

By most standards, my parents were poor, but we still got by.

I was brought up in a strong Scottish family, with uncompromising values and beliefs.  One of them was ‘children were seen and not heard’.  That edict was carried out religiously!

We were all devout Christians and members of the Presbyterian Church in Hawthorn, which we attended every week.

My schooling started at a primary school in Hawthorn and when the family moved to Mooroopna, I attended the local primary school, which was located in the main business area of Mooroopna.  Dad and Mum then moved to a larger house in Shepparton, where I attended Shepparton High School in the early 1930’s.  My interest in school was more in academia than sports.  I did not have too many friends was not very interested in football, but enjoyed my cricket, where I concentrated on spin bowling.  After I left school in Melbourne, I played club cricket with the Presbyterian Church team in the eastern suburbs competition.  There was not too much to record with regard to my prowess at cricket, but later on I became a keen football supporter.

Dad and Mum moved back to Melbourne in the mid 1930s, where he got a job with Cottee’s.  I joined Melbourne High School (MHS) when we came back to Melbourne.  MHS taught me how to learn and this love of learning has been with me throughout my life.  I finished my secondary schooling and matriculated from MHS.

We lived in Hawthorn and my parents got heavily involved with activities in the Presbyterian Church.  The church had a Boy Scouts troop, which I joined.  The troop meetings were usually held in one of the church halls and I thoroughly enjoyed my time and activities in the Boy Scouts.

After my matriculation I joined a firm of customs agents in Melbourne called Wathen & Curnow.  This company then merged with another company and was known as Wathen, Curnow & Cocks Pty Ltd.  As we were still poor, I had to start contributing monetarily to the running of the family home.  I attended the Austral Coaching College in Collins Street, Melbourne and studied at night for my cost accountancy qualification.  I was very pleased when I finished at the top of the class.  Attending lectures in the evening was not easy and I was usually hungry, but couldn’t afford to go to a restaurant for a meal.  As a result, I usually bought a hot meat pie and ate it in the street, before attending lectures!

When I passed out as a Cost Accountant, I joined the Australian Association of Cost Accountants, which merged a few months later with the Australian Institute of Accountants.  I undertook further study for my accountancy qualification and was successful.  In 1938 I joined Kraft Foods, when I was 19 years of age.  It was an American company and was originally known as Kraft Walker Cheese Company Ltd, but it changed its name to Kraft Foods in 1950.  It markets many groceries and snack food brands which is sold in over 170 countries.

I joined them as an office boy and worked with the company for the next 46 years.

Kraft Foods

The first significant regulation introduced during World War 2, was to reserve certain occupations from military service.  Occupations reserved were those which were essential for the production of equipment and supplies for the war effort.  Thus Kraft Foods was designated as a protected industry, as we made food for the troops, fighting in the war.  As a result, none of its employees were allowed to be called up or volunteer for active service.

I spent a few years in the Costing Department as a clerk and was then promoted to the position of Cost Accountant.  From there I moved into general accountancy, as one of the accountants and in a few years was made the Financial Director for the company.  After some time in this role, I was made Managing Director of the company, a position I held till I retired in 1984.  When I joined Kraft Foods, the office was located at Riverside Avenue, South Melbourne.  Its current location is at Port Melbourne.

Kraft was a wonderful to work for, as it encouraged the intertwining of talents and gifts in the company and had a lot of opportunities.  Kraft was in its infancy regarding its manufacturing operations in Australia and my fellow directors and myself worked very hard to expand the business, profitably.

I am not a technical person, but was very interested in management and leadership principles and read quite extensively on the subject.  Having attended the intensive Harvard Summer School in Hawaii for 6 weeks, I found it quite beneficial and challenging.  As a result, I implemented management education at Kraft Foods in Australia.  The chairman of Kraft Foods in Chicago was a gentleman from Switzerland, who subscribed quite heavily to management education and he gave me all the encouragement.  Due to his efforts, my staff and I attended many management training sessions around the world.

Kraft Foods is the company where I spent the majority of my working life.  A few years after I was promoted to the position of Managing Director, the Head Office in Chicago started a big thrust into developing the international business in the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.  As a result I travelled to Chicago at least once every year and really enjoyed the experience of working with the Americans, plus growing the Australian business.  They were very demanding, had high standards, but were fair.  I got along very well with the senior executives at Head Office and became personal friends with a few of them.

It was a big help that the Australian operation was doing quite well.  We increased profit every year in real terms.  We made more profit than the United Kingdom and German operations while I was head of Kraft Australia, except for one year.  This helped our credentials enormously.

I was humbled and pleased to be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).  The Order of Australia is the principal and most prestigious means of recognising members of the community at a national level, for outstanding service.  The medal of the Member of the Order of Australia is a badge with a gold-plated silver insignia of the Order in the centre.  The medal is hung from the ribbon of the Order, which is royal blue in colour, with a central band of mimosa blossoms.  I received my award from the Governor of Victoria, The Honourable Sir James Gobbo on the 8th of June, 1998.

I met my first wife Beth (nee Robinson) at the Presbyterian Church in Hawthorn, where her family was very involved in church activities.  Due to our mutual belief in Christianity, we were automatically attracted towards each other and spent a lot of time together.  We were married on the 26th of February 1944, at the Surrey Hills Presbyterian Church in Melbourne.

We had four children.  The eldest was Helen, who was born in 1946 and now lives in Auckland.  She married Cliff Miller and has three girls Tanya, Robyn and Carolyn.  Our second child Douglas, was born in 1949 and lives with me.  Peter our third child was born in 1952 and lives in Surrey Hills.  He was married to Rosalie Driver, who unfortunately has passed away, due to cancer.  Peter too has three girls Anna, Sarah and Juliette.  My youngest daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1961 and married Craig Keeler.  They live in Sydney and have one daughter Ruby.  I also have six great grandchildren.  It makes me very happy that they all keep in touch with me regularly.

Beth sadly passed away in 2006 after a heart attack.  In October 2009 I married an old family friend, Wendy Slipper.  Unfortunately Wendy is in an Aged Care Home at present and I don’t see her as often as I would like.  However, we talk on the phone.

I was involved with the Asia Pacific Christian Mission and worked in Papua New Guinea on some projects.  This missionary organisation was set up in 1931 in England, with a vision to initiate the starting of Christianity in unreached people around the world.  As the work spread, churches, schools, medical clinics, literacy and health programs, translation projects and bible schools were established.

In addition I was a member of Ridley College, a theological college attached to Melbourne University, situated at Parkville.  It provides people from many different backgrounds with training and guidance on Christian life

One of my major activities in midlife outside work has been with the Leprosy Mission.  The organisation was founded in 1874 by Wellesley and Alice Bailey and their friends.The Leprosy Mission provides holistic support to people affected by leprosy and is the largest and oldest leprosy focused organisation in the world, operating in over 50 countries, looking after nearly 500,000 patients.  Leprosy attacks the nerves and if not treated quickly, sufferers can lose sensation in their hands and feet, leading to deformity, crippling and blindness.  As a result, victims often face shame and isolation.  The disease is still a problem in the world today, though it is not as big as it was and is curable.  The vision of the organisation is to defeat leprosy and transform lives.  The head office of the organisation is in London, while the local office is in Box Hill.  I was Chairman of the Leprosy Mission in London from 1990 to 1996, after I retired from Kraft and applied the same management principles used at Kraft to this organisation.

As a result, I used to go to London for meetings and also visited the other leprosy impacted countries in Asia and Africa during these travels.  My long involvement with this organisation was personally most rewarding and had a big affect on me.  It certainly has made me a more compassionate person.

I have visited leprosy hospitals and clinics in India, Nepal, Africa and other places.  Visiting these patients made me realise that touching people with leprosy, shows them that they are not reviled, nor are we repulsed.  Further, meeting with the doctors, nurses and care givers involved in the fight against leprosy was a humbling experience.  When one sits back and thinks about these people living in unpleasant places around the world, who cheerfully give their all in the fight against this dreadful disease, it increases a person’s faith in humanity.  The living conditions in some of these places and the squalor are absolutely terrible and one can never forget what one sees.

Some of the actions we took, in addition to raising funds was to publicise the extent and the need of people suffering from leprosy, in churches and schools.  In addition, we had Australian doctors and nurses visit these countries on secondment, to work in hospitals and clinics.

Doug & Ian at Melbourne school of Theology

Doug & Ian at Melbourne school of Theology

I had a variety of interests, but my primary source of relaxation was working in our garden, where I would spend long hours.  I liked the English type of garden and had a deep interest in roses.  There are well over 100 species of roses in the world and the flowers vary in size and shape.  They are grown for their beauty and often are fragrant.  Photography was also a hobby of mine and I enjoy travel.

In recent years I have become a student of the Melbourne School of Theology and have attended classes every year except for this year, due to my ill health.  The Melbourne School of Theology has its campus at Wantirna and is a non-denominational Bible college. I have been attending classes with my son Douglas and here we are pictured at the college.  I was their oldest student!


My life has been heavily involved in the Christian faith.  I started off as a Presbyterian, as I was born in Scotland and my parents followed the religion.  However, in recent years I have been worshipping in the Anglican Church.  I go to church every Sunday and find that it has enriched me.  The whole family is involved which gives me satisfaction.


Order of Australia