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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Donald Victor Selth (1925–2006)

by Philip Alan Selth

Donald Selth, n.d.

Donald Selth, n.d.

photo supplied by Philip Selth

Donald Victor Selth was born in Adelaide on 6 October 1925, son of Victor Poole Selth and Nora Blanche Selth.  He was the eldest of three sons and a daughter (Robert [Bob], Mary and Geoffrey [Geoff]). Sometime before he became ill in 2006 Don began writing his memoirs, where he wrote that his father was ‘an enthusiastic and very good sportsman all his life.’  He was a wicket-keeper-batsman for Sturt and the South Australian State team.  Victor also represented the State in baseball and lacrosse.  He had been a clerk in the pharmaceutical firm F. H. Faulding until he joined as accountant and salesman his brother Jack’s import firm Burfitt Selth & Co., established in 1922.  Nora, who had become an apprentice tailor after her primary education in Snowtown, had undertaken clerical work with Duncan and Fraser when her family moved to Adelaide.  As was common at the time, Nora did not work in paid employment after her marriage. 

Don was educated in Adelaide at Mitcham Primary, Unley High School (1939 - 1940) and, having gained the highest marks in the entrance scholarship examination, Prince Alfred College (1941-1943).  

One of Don’s earliest memories was of watching Don Bradman score 299 not out in a test match against South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in February 1932, a few months after his sixth birthday.  He was in the same front row of seats in front of the now Victor Richardson Gates twelve months later when Harold Larwood felled Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield with fast body-line bowling.  ‘Looking back, it seems strange that a six or seven-year-old should travel alone to spend all day at the Oval, but it was a time when cricket was Australia’s favourite sport.  In addition, Dad was a keen cricketer and cricket topics were a frequent part of the conversation at home.’ 

One of the teachers at Unley who taught English was Clement Semmler, later Deputy General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.  Semmler wrote in his memoirs Pictures on the Margin (1991) that ‘there were a couple of Selth boys who became leading lights in the local Sturt team in the Adelaide [SA] League Football competition; one of them, Donald, was to become a distinguished headmaster, academic and public servant’.

At Prince Alfred College Don was in 1943 President of the debating team, winning the Debating Society’s Best Speaker Prize in that year.  The only inter-school debates he recalled losing were those against the St Peter’s College team led by Don Dunstan, later to become Premier of South Australia.  (The Prince Alfred Chronicle recorded in its September 1942 edition that Don had given a talk on ‘Lacrosse’ and participated in a drawn debate ‘The Arts are more profitable than the Sciences’. Its September 1943 edition records Don unsuccessfully leading a debate to nationalize all schools.)  He also joined the Air Training Corps.  He remembered spending a lot of time filling bags with 200 tons of sand which were then placed around school buildings for protection if bombed.  He participated in athletics, cricket and football (and lacrosse for Sturt’s 'A' Grade team on Saturday afternoons).  He was a School Prefect and the Librarian in 1943 and an NCO in the Air Training Corps. When he matriculated Don was No. 2 in the State Honour List for Modern History.  (He had been one of a small group of school students who were invited to attend a weekly seminar held each week at the University by Professor G. V. Portus, the author of the school text Australia Since 1606 (1932), which Don had studied for Intermediate History.)  In 1943 Don was editor of the PAC Chronicle.  In his first editorial (June) he wrote that money needed to be spent on education.  Money spent on education is not expenditure; it is an investment’ and that the cost of providing education for everyone made it clear that federal control of education ‘is not far distant’.  As it turned out, this process began 20 years later.  In the second, he wrote that Princes’ was not doing enough to prepare its students to enter the wider world.  However, the Headmaster, John Frederick Ward, did not take kindly to one of his students suggesting how the School should be run, and after telling Don very forcibly what he thought of his presumptuousness, refused to allow the editorial to be printed.  In return, Don refused to write an editorial for the third issue.  (In his unpublished memoirs Don described Ward, who had been his Latin teacher in Fifth Form, as being ‘tall, cold, erect, unbending and reputedly ill-tempered, although his self control concealed it from us’.  He reminded Don ‘of an Old Testament patriarch in a grey suit’.). 

In October 1943, Don’s last year of secondary education, he received the usual pro forma enlistment notice from the Manpower authorities, with the advice he could be deferred being called-up if he was ‘engaged in studies’.  He returned the notification with advice that he would be so engaged until the end of the year.  In January 1944 he received another pro forma letter, this time from the Army, requiring to report to the Army enlistment centre.  Don insisted he wanted to join the RAAF because of his ATC training.  He never heard again from the military!

Don enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at Adelaide University in 1944.  He studied Ancient History, French, Economics, Psychology, Medieval History, Ethics, Economic History and Political Science.  Selected to undertake the Honours course, Don studied English and European history in his second year, with Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and R. H. Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism as the texts.  His third year Honours unit was a study of the role of the Public Service in England and several European nations.

His History lecturer was G. V. Portus, a former Rhodes Scholar, England Rugby representative and ordained Anglican, Professor of History and Political Science since 1934; his Psychology lecturer was the Vice Chancellor, then Chancellor, Sir William Mitchell.  Professor J. G. Cornell lectured in French.  His Economics lecturer was B. R. Williams, later Sir Bruce Williams, Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University.  In his Honours year Don was one of only four students, the others being Helen Cashmore; a Catholic nun, Sister Patricia (whose surname he never discovered) and Douglas Pike, later editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  

He assisted with the student newspaper On Dit in 1945 and was editor in 1946.  Don’s editorial in the first issue of On Dit for 1946 was a plea for help.

This issue of ‘On Dit’ has been produced by a staff of three, none of whom have had any previous experience of publishing – so if you think it’s a bit ragtime, be patient, it will improve with time.  But only if we get some help from you.  If there is anything you want to see in ‘On Dit’, come up to our room on the top floor of the George Murray.  The lock’s busted, so just walk in and tell us your wants.  If the girls are too shy to enter the George Murray, they can see me at any time in the Refectory.  If you don’t let us know what you want, you’ve got no kick when you don’t get it, so it’s up to you. 

We would also be glad to see anyone who would like to help publish this rag in the future.  It’s good experience and good fun, and we will be glad to have you. 

That same 22 March 1946 issue of On Dit also carried reports of the activities of the Cricket and Athletics Clubs by their Secretary, D.V. Selth. 

He was a member of the Sports Association and Student Representative Council and President of the University’s International Relations Club. 

Don graduated in 1948 with Honours in Politics and History, having been a full-time student for the first three years, then a part-time student for two years. 

After Don left school he played two matches with Sturt in the ‘A’ Grade District Cricket competition at the end of 1943-1944, but when he began lectures with the University played for the University and was their ‘A’ Grade wicket-keeper for four years.  He played with and against South Australia’s interstate players, including Don Bradman, who in the 1945-46 season was testing his form and fitness in District Cricket.  (Don taught, and coached at cricket, Bradman’s son and Bradman was a referee when Don applied for the position of Headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar School.) 

In 1946 Don played in an Unley High School Old Scholars team captained by ‘Bo’ Morton, better known as a State footballer, against the School cricket team.  One of the Old Scholars team was Geoff Noblet, a South Australian opening bowler, who later represented Australia.  Noblet told Don he wanted him to stand over the stumps, rather than some yards back as he was used to doing for Don Beard, the University’s fast bowler.  Standing over the stumps was both difficult and dangerous.  On the other hand, a bowler’s confidence is greatly increased if he sees his wicket-keeper standing over the stumps.  For Don, 

Noblet’s instruction to stand over the stumps was frightening – partly for fear that I would embarrass myself by missing a number of his deliveries but also that I would be hurt – but I did not want to disobey nor to admit that I was frightened.  As it happened, no harm was done, and I learned a valuable lesson.  The experience taught me how much a wicket-keeper can help a bowler and therefore his team, and it evidently stood me in good stead because I was told that I was added to the State practice squad when Noblet told the selectors that I could take fast-medium bowlers over the stumps.  The incident taught me an even more important lesson – that we are often capable of accomplishing more than we think we can – and ever since that match I have never hesitated to push boys I have taught or coached into taking an extra step beyond what they think is possible. 

(Shortly before Don’s death a former Launceston Church Grammar School Captain wrote to one of his sons to express his sympathy about Don’s illness.  He added: ‘Your father and I always got on well – he was perhaps the first person who demonstrated any sort of confidence in me, or who actually spelt that out and told me what he thought I was capable of achieving, and I have never forgotten that.’) 

Don represented the University of Adelaide in cricket, lacrosse and athletics.  He was a leading 880 and 440 yards hurdler and captained the Adelaide University athletics team to six premierships.  In 1945 he was elected Secretary of the University Athletics Club and appointed himself ground announcer for the University Championships.  The Sports Editor of The Advertiser wrote after one of the annual championship meetings: 

 … Don Selth did a grand job with the mike at the ‘Varsity sports the other week.  You can easily become bored at an athletics meet, but thanks mainly to Don’s ‘malice towards none’ brand of humour, his running commentaries and his encyclopedic athletic knowledge, it was a pleasure to listen and watch. 

The athletics correspondent in The News wrote that the star of the University annual sports day 

was not on the track, he was at the microphone.  For spontaneous yet informative patter, Don Selth is worthy of a more prominent niche in the radio world.  A man who can rouse interest and even mirth among spectators of a shot put competition could rustle up strawberry ice blocks in Hades. 

These comments were read by Arnold Ewens, the Sporting Supervisor of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who asked Don a year later to broadcast the State Championships for the ABC.  In 1949 he was asked to broadcast the Australian Championships and thus began twelve years of broadcasting track and field events in all parts of Australia for the ABC. 

Don had a weekly sports session on ABC’s radio 5CL.  He concentrated on the less popular sports that otherwise received little media attention – which was much appreciated by officials and competitors. (On one occasion when interviewing Dawn Fraser his tape reorder malfunctioned – he could not repair it [I am not surprised!]; Dawn Fraser did.) 

In June 1946 Don competed in the 880 yards at the Australian Inter-Varsity athletics championships on the North Hobart Oval, Hobart.  As the boat which had brought the team across Bass Strait to Tasmania neared Stevenson’s Bend in the Tamar River a few miles from Launceston Greville Vernon, a team member who lived in Hobart but was studying in Adelaide, pointed out some buildings on the bank of the river and said: ‘That’s Launceston Church Grammar School – one of the best schools in Australia.’  Less than 13 years later Don was headmaster of that school, and Grev Vernon was to join as Senior Science Master the following year. 

In 1948 he completed in the Olympic trials at Sydney University and also represented the Australian Universities in a meet against the Olympic Athletics team, coming 4th in the 880 yards. 

Not all of Don’s sporting endeavours were confined to the University.  In 1944 and 1945 he continued to play lacrosse for Sturt, in 1945 being the club’s A Grade champion and winning the trophy for the best player in that year.  He was selected for the State team in 1944.   He represented the University in the 1946 Inter-Varsity games in Melbourne.  Don also played football for the Fire Brigade and Tramways teams in the Essential Services competition. 

He was twice selected to play cricket for SA but did not play.  On the first occasion the match was cancelled; on the second he had to opt out because he was getting married. ‘I was promised that my place would be there when I came back from my honeymoon, but it never eventuated.’  The man who took his place was Gil Langley, who became one of the best wicketkeepers in the game. 

As a student and for some years while a teacher Don was a casual worker at the cool-drink producers Hall’s and Woodroofe’s, both at Norwood, at the Sanitarium Health Foods factory and as a letter sorter at the mail exchange. 

At the end of 1944 Don and his friend John Jackson, without telling their parents for fear they might worry, rode their bicycles the 1700 kilometres to Melbourne and back, relying on farmers and local police for accommodation. 

After he completed his Honours work Don was asked by the SA Education Department to take up a part-time appointment as Tutor in Charge History in its Technical Correspondence School (1947-1958).  He did not pursue a Rhodes Scholarship application because of the then requirement that scholars be unmarried–he had become engaged in April 1947 and married Betty Francis Downs, only child of Mr William and Mrs Victoria Downs of St Georges, Adelaide, on 18 December 1948.  The ceremony was conducted by G. C. Loan, the Archdeacon of Adelaide, who took the place of one, then the other, of the School Chaplains, when they both became ill at the end of the school year. 

On the day before the wedding one of the Adelaide newspapers reported 

Don Selth, mobile sporting encyclopedia, athlete, and schoolmaster, is going to have a busy weekend. He gets away to a good start today with the announcement of his attainment of honours in history and political science. This means that in March he will have his BA Honours degree conferred upon him. 

Tomorrow he will compete in the 440 yards hurdles [which he won] and the half-mile flat (his pet event) in the interclub amateur athletic contest between University and the Collegians’ teams.  After the 880 he will keep on running–to his home to prepare for his wedding which is to take place at St Peter’s College Chapel at 6 o’clock. 

This was the only time Don saw a wedding announcement in the sporting pages.  Don and Betty were to have four sons: Philip (born 1949), Andrew (1951), David (1954) and Richard (1956). 

Don joined the St Peter’s College teaching staff in February 1947 as a temporary while still undertaking his degree at University of Adelaide.  The headmaster was Colin Gordon, who had competed for England as a high jumper in the 1928 Olympic Games.  When Gordon, the first layman to be appointed headmaster, took office in 1946 the school, of about six hundred pupils was, according to his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘somewhat run down and in need of vigorous leadership’. Gordon gave first priority to the quality of the teachers and ‘progressively recruited a strong staff’.  Don was one of his early appointments. 

Initially Don’s duties included residential duties as assistant housemaster of School House (Housemaster Mr L. R. Vollugi); and coaching and supervision of games, under the direction of the Sports master (Mr Vollugi).  He predominantly taught History and Latin and coached cricket, football and athletics. 

Don continued most of his sport with University during his first two years on the staff at Saints.  He gave up cricket in 1948, primarily because athletics, his ‘first sporting love’, was becoming better organised and therefore more enjoyable, with an inter-club competition on Saturday afternoons.  Inter-club competitions had begun in November 1946.  In 1948 he joined the St Peter’s Collegians Football Club which played in the Amateur League.  After one night of practice he was selected in the Club’s Ist team in the ‘B’ Grade.  (The team was promoted to the ‘A’ Grade in 1950.)  He was a regular member of the team for the next four years. He won awards for the most consistently good player in 1948 and 1951. 

Don was well liked by his students in all his teaching posts.  When his son Philip was born a class wrote a formal note signed by all 33 boys ‘Congratulations on the arrival of your son.  The whole form wishes you, your wife and son the very best wishes.’ A few weeks later he carried Philip to school and instead of teaching Latin to Remove A (first year secondary school) showed his son off to the class.  On Don’s death one of his former students who he had taught Social Studies wrote that he 

was respected by the boys as a teacher … His enthusiasm and ability to motivate inspired us to seek improvement, both in studies and on the track.  He started the Distance Running Club at school and volunteered afternoons after school to coaching. Don competed in Interclub competition running 440 hurdles and 120 yd hurdles.  He was young enough to demonstrate hurdling technique beautifully. He was very precise and you always knew where you stood with him. 

My main inspiration from Don came from his sharing of results and statistics from World athletics contained in the Track & Field Magazine published in California.  He allowed me to read the magazine from cover to cover … 

Don was a casual reporter for The Advertiser, The News and Sunday Mail, mainly on football and athletics at three pence a line.  He became sub editor of the football pages of The Sunday Advertiser.  Don was offered a permanent position on The Advertiser, but chose to pursue his teaching career. 

In 1956 Don broadcast track and field at the Melbourne Olympics with Keith Donald, a Sydney lawyer who had been the Athletics Manager for the 1952 Helsinki team and Noel Bailey, a permanent ABC employee.  The other two members of the broadcast team, although not heard on the air, were Bernie Cecins, who had come to Australia as a refugee and could speak five or six European languages and Joy Burdett, a fellow-South Australian who had held the Australian Women’s 80 yards record.  The ABC Olympic broadcasts went to nearly all the English-speaking countries in the world. When his appointment as Olympic broadcaster was announced, an Adelaide newspaper reported that English newspapers had acclaimed his broadcast of John Landy’s record mile run of 3:58.6 ‘the best athletics broadcast ever made’.  After the Olympics he co-authored with Keith Donald The Olympic Saga: The Track and Field Story (1956), to raise funds for amateur athletics in Australia.  

Don was one of only three Australian members of the International Association of Track and Field Statisticians which recorded every noteworthy performance in every country affiliated to the International Amateur Athletic Federation.  Thus, when ‘introducing’ the competitors to his radio audience before an event Don could tell them what times each competitor had recorded in the past few years, and where, and against what other athletes.  When the three Hungarians, Laszlo Tabori, Sandor Iharos and Istvan Rozsavolgyi, came to Australia to compete in 1955, for example, the ABC was the only network which had ever heard of them, ‘and we gained a status we never lost’. 

He was a qualified Senior Coach of the South Australian Amateur Athletics Association.  In 1950 Don introduced the Schoolboys Track and Field Championships to South Australia, and in 1951 was appointed Manager-Coach of the South Australian Schools team by the State Government’s Jubilee Committee.  The team competed in the Australian Schools Championship in Hobart that year; one of the South Australian members was Norma Austin, later Norma Thrower, women’s 80 metres hurdles bronze medalist in the 1956 Olympic Games.  

 He was Vice Chairman of the South Australian Amateur Athletic Association and a member of the Australian Amateur Union of Athletics 1956-1958.  He wrote for the South Australian Amateur Athletics Association A ranking list of the outstanding athletes of the first fifty years 1905 – 1955.  (Don’s name appears once – with a time of 57.2 seconds for the 400 metres hurdles in 1951.)  John Landy, Herb Elliott and Percy Cerutty (Elliott’s coach) were frequent visitors to his home: the latter two often staying for periods. 

On the announcement in 1958 of his appointment as Headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar School an Adelaide newspaper noted: 

He is probably Australia’s top athletics statistician, is a member of the Australian Union Conference, the governing body of Australian athletics, and has held 20 different posts with the SA Amateur Athletic Association.  At present he is a State selector. 

After twelve years on the staff of St Peter’s College, the last two as a Senior Master, Don was appointed headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar from the beginning of 1959.  When Don was appointed to LCGS, the longest continuously operating school in Australia, he was 33, one of the youngest headmasters in the Australian private school system. 

The official Grammar history, Alison Alexander’s Blue, Black and White:  the history of the Launceston Church Grammar School, 1846 – 1996 (1996), records in some detail Don’s time at LCGS. 

Selth inherited a well-run school; the main immediate problem was academic standard.  Parents were worried.  Don was dissatisfied with the performance of many staff members.  He told the Board that ‘to run a good school he needed three things: staff, staff and staff’, and set about finding them.  A Board member later described Don as ‘professionally good, a good teacher, he worked hard, and he picked good staff’.  He went headhunting, recruiting staff from, among other places, St Peter’s College and having jumped the fence at the state athletics champions to talk to a prospective new teacher, from between two rounds of a shot put competition.  By recruiting good staff, Don ‘brought not only a higher teaching standard but also stability to the school’.  Classes were kept small.  He emphasised the importance of academic work, ‘"trying to create a feeling in the School that they were there do their schoolwork"’.  In 1969 he stated that the professional abilities of Grammar’s staff were ‘without parallel in Tasmania’. 

Don also widened the curriculum, introducing subjects such as Art, Agriculture, Drama, spoken English, Geology, Surveying, Business Principles and Academic Physical Education.  The recruitment of an excellent musician greatly improved the music in the chapel.  School trips, which had died out in the early 1960s, were revived.  In 1967 five boys (including Don’s eldest son) went to New Guinea to assist mission stations. 

Many visitors to the School addressed boys, including a member of the Billy Graham Crusade, and lecturers on the contemporary topics of Vietnam, drugs, safe driving, computers and pollution.  The aim was to bring as much variety into the School as possible, so that each boy could discover where his ability lay. 

He oversaw a major building program, including new science laboratories and a junior boarding house.  He introduced Biology as a separate discipline, pioneered a new subject to Tasmania in 1968 with the introduction of Indonesian and established the Mount Arthur outdoor training program along the lines of Geelong Grammar’s ‘Timbertop’.  He hosted visits to the school by Prime Minister Menzies in 1961 when he officially opened the Gordon Rolph Sports Pavilion and by the Minister for Education and Science, Senator The Hon John Gorton, to open the new science laboratories in April 1976. 

These changes lead to a ‘noticeably different atmosphere.  Boys recognised that the new breed of staff knew more about their subjects, were more effective, more “straightforward” and more human.’  The School history goes on to record one boy saying that the School changed from a staid Launceston institution ‘towards a progressive educational establishment’.  The new atmosphere led to a much improved pass rate.  The huge increase in the pass rate was, Don believed, ‘by far the most important improvement he brought to the School’. 

Don is described in Blue, Black and White as managing ‘in the traditional manner’.  He was ‘authoritarian and firm’ and ‘did not hesitate to give his own son the cane if he thought it deserved’.  (Don was not a great enthusiast for the cane.  He preferred to have students to be disciplined stand outside his office in full view of their peers during recess and lunch, then be sent on their way.  Many students would have chosen the temporary, but quick, ‘fame’ of being given the cane.)  His ‘authoritarianism meant that he was not popular with all boys, although many found him more approachable as they moved up the school’.  The school history records typical comments from Old Boys being 

‘intimidating, but I liked him’; ‘had the interest of the boys at heart … very much an individual’; ‘far less aloof and more approachable than [his predecessor ‘Jika’ Travers] ‘; ‘not as well liked as he deserved – I was very happy with him as headmaster’: ‘put a lot of energy into the job and earned respect ... provoked thought and gave praise where due’. 

Many of Don’s kindness to the boys were long remembered by them, such as how he told a young boarder of his father’s death in a road accident and another who he took into his own home for a few days on the death of that pupil’s father.  When the new racing eight had a  5 metre gash torn in its hull two days after it was launched in 1963, Don was quickly on the scene to support the crew.  One of Don’s Launceston pupils who he helped enter a teaching career wrote on Don’s death of Don being ‘a very fine man’ who had influenced his life ‘in ways for which I am very grateful’.  Don had made ‘a significant difference’ to his life. Another wrote of Don being 

a man of common-sense energy whose contributions to education, sport and administration will be long remembered in Launceston and Canberra.  I recall him more than once saying with some emphasis at school assembly: ‘Better to do something, and to get it wrong, than to do nothing at all!’ 

A former student told Betty that 

I will always remember Don as the single most influential force in shaping my values in life.  I remain totally indebted to him for ‘setting the standard’ and I am sure that many ex-students from Launceston Grammar and elsewhere would share this belief. 

Others wrote in similar terms.

Blue, Black and White records that under Don there was a strong emphasis on ‘character’ and ‘being a good citizen’.  Leadership was important.  His aim was to ensure that boys left school ‘as pretty good boys and able to make a success of their lives’, and he told teachers and parents that every boy was good at something, and it was up to them to find and encourage it.  After President Kennedy commented in 1963 that every fit man should be able to walk 50 miles in 24 hours, senior students completed three such walks.  Don walked some of the way with them for the first walk.  The students were impressed – and amused when a meeting with the Year 12 students the next day was shifted to a downstairs location. Don insisted on participating, and completing, the second of these walks.  (His eldest son was a member of the support team that prepared breakfast, provided first aid etc.)  When the master who was to lead the third walk went on ahead and left the boys to follow, one boy rang Don who brought out the School Land Rover to assist the boys he found spread out over about 12 kilometres. 

Don ‘was considerably assisted by his wife, who was friendly but unassuming and well-liked by all, and by the fact that he had four sons at Grammar, so he was involved as a parent in many School activities.  He was also helped by his excellent memory for names, and his considerable energy.’ 

Though Don put prime importance on academic work, ‘sport was not far behind academia’. He wanted every boy to play sport, and every team to play hard and if possible, win. Don was ‘mad keen on athletics’.  After a few bad losses in the Independent Schools Northern and State Championships he took charge and coached the teams that won the State title in 1967 and 1969.  Students recall how Don would jump over hurdles in his suit to show them how it was done.  In Don’s twelve years at Grammar, while the school won fewer northern and state sports championships than under his predecessor (B. H. Travers), there was a greater variety of sports and more boys actively participated.  Under Don several new sports were introduced, including basketball, raising the number available to the boys from six to 11. He was an occasional commentator for ABC TV, e.g. for the state athletic championships. 

Nick Birks, one of Don’s St Peter’s students who had left the school a few years earlier, competed in the Javelin at the National Athletics Championships in Hobart in 1959. On Don’s death he recalled that 

Don was headmaster of Launceston Grammar School then and was appointed Chief Referee for the meeting and roamed around the ground during competition.  As one of my throws was being measured he came over to share my excitement as I thought I had just smashed the Commonwealth Record.  The distance was read out as, ‘240 feet exactly’!  He looked over the shoulder of the official and said, ‘I think you should re measure that throw’. The official looked at him, as if to say, ‘what would you know about this?’  He did remeasure it however. ‘Two hundred and fifty feet exactly’!  It was an improvement of 14 feet on my best throw. 

Birks went on to become a Commonwealth Games bronze (1962) and silver (1966) medalist in the Javelin. 

Don was the Tasmanian representative to the Standing Committee of Headmasters Conference 1963-1971.  He began the process of Grammar’s amalgamation with Broadland House Church of England Girls Grammar School, largely for financial reasons, which came to fruition in 1981.  (Don once scandalized some Broadland teachers when they were discussing supervisory arrangements for a joint school social, telling them that all they had to do was ‘to keep them vertical’!) 

During his time in Launceston, Don played a prominent role in Rotary, being a member of the Club that met at Windmill Hill.  In 1969 he was the Group Study Exchange leader for a group of young professionals chosen by the Rotary District of Southern Victoria and Tasmania to visit Alabama, USA. 

Don did not neglect his own professional development.  In 1965 he was the first Tasmanian to be awarded the University of New England’s Diploma in Educational Administration.  His thesis was entitled An Examination of Some Aspects of the Development of Education in Tasmania in the Period in which G. V. Brooks was Director of Education, 1919–1945.  In 1970 he obtained a Master of Arts degree from the University of Tasmania with a thesis entitled Effect of Poverty and Politics on the Development of Tasmanian State Education 1900-1950.  Don was working full-time in Launceston while undertaking his MA at the University in Hobart.  

In 1970 he published The Trials of WL Neale (1970) (a paper initially given to the Royal Society of Tasmania [Neale was a SA and then Tasmanian educationalist]) and in 1973 Innovation by Accident: Area Schools in Tasmania (Melbourne Studies in Education). 

Don left LCGS for a change and to be near two sons then at the Australian National University in Canberra.  In a press report at the time he is reported as having said that his only criticism of Launceston was its lack of tertiary education.  His most treasured memories were 

the boys who have done well in the community.  But, it was not only the brilliant students that he was proud of.  There was also a boy ‘undoubtedly the dumbest in his class,’ who had made a good citizen. ‘He still sends me a card each Christmas and I really look forward to receiving it, Mr Selth said.  ‘I suppose it doesn’t really matter how grand the student you produce, so long as he takes a responsible position in the community. 

On Don’s death Betty received many letters and calls from former Grammar staff and students who remembered Don with respect and affection.  It had been ‘a pleasure and privilege’ to be a staff member under his leadership.  Another teacher wrote that he had ‘learnt a great deal about education and man management’ from Don, his first Headmaster.  ‘His honesty stands out.  I recall as a youngster receiving a curt note from him stating that I had let my class out of the library two minutes early.  I was most aggrieved.  Next day I received a note of apology from him stating that when he got home he listened to the ABC news and discovered that his watch was two minutes fast.  How many HMs would do that! … There is no doubt he touched the lives of everyone he met.  We [the teacher and his wife] were extremely fortunate to know him both professionally and personally over some 45 years.  Don surely had a great impact on my life and it was a great pleasure for us to be accepted by him as both mentor and friend.  Our lives have been greatly enriched by this experience.’ 

A former School Captain recalled in News from Grammar that there ‘seemed to be something of a paradox between the rather stern, apparently uncaring disciplinarian that he portrayed to the school as a whole at times, and the animated and excited mentor that he could be on an individual level and that students saw more of as they reached senior levels.  For example, I remember his public authoritarianism where one wouldn’t dare present an alternative view, just as I remember private conversations where his total confidence in your ability was inspiring.  …  Don Selth, through his energy and vision, made a significant contribution to Grammar becoming the leading school it is today and consequently, to the lives of subsequent generations of students.’ 

In May 1971 Don took up the position of Headmaster of Canberra Girls’ Grammar School.  He was the first male principal of the school.  A press report on his leaving Tasmania noted that CGGS has 800 girls and 59 teachers – all women.  The only male counterpart was the gardener.  ‘I guess when I need a man to talk to I’ll get out and help him.’  [Dad gardening – ha!] 

The School’s official history, Jill Waterhouse’s A Light in the Bush: The Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School and the Capital City of Australia, 1926 – 1977 (1978) records that during Don’s two years as Headmaster he 

did a great deal to improve the School’s organisation.  Without proliferating subjects, he unlocked the timetable to give the girls more freedom of choice in existing fields, irrespective of their academic ability.  Discussions on matters of general interest, such as marriage, were also made more readily available. 

He initiated the bi-annual Grammar Report, an attractive news sheet which explained as well as described new developments and policy changes. … [Don had introduced a similar newsletter for parents at LCGS.] 

… Mr Selth had a broad attitude towards the education of girls’, believing that they should have every opportunity open to boys and more besides: ‘Not only must a girls’ school offer an educational programme that will assist to prepare girls for every occupation boys wish to enter, but it also must prepare its students for a career as housewife and mother.’  He stressed that both boys and girls had similar needs.  ‘Girls study the same subjects as boys, they attempt the same exams, enter the same careers.  They need friendship, assistance, discipline to the same extent.  They have the same desire to be recognised as individuals.’  The main differences were those imposed by society, such as the opinion that girls were never good at Mathematics and Science, and he felt that extra encouragement was needed to overcome this attitude. 

Don appointed the first full-time Chaplain to the School.  He also saw the introduction of the Junior School campus and the opening of a number of new facilities at the senior School, including the Library and Boarding House extension. 

Don prepared for the School prefects notes on ‘Prefectship’ and ‘The ingredients of leadership’ which set out some of his thoughts about how the senior girls might achieve and maintain the highest standard he expected of them.  ‘The tone of the whole School depends on the attitude and behaviour of the prefects’. In a 24 point note he carefully laid out a guide to the prefects as to how they should set a good example, both on and off duty, both in School and outside. It was ‘the responsibility of prefects to see that they never placed teachers in the embarrassing position of feeling the need to punish them.’  They were but one.  ‘Lean on the combined strength and judgment of all the prefects.  Work as a member of a team under the Captain of the School.’ Their privileges as a prefect were given to help them do their duty better, not for their ‘own glorification or ease’. ‘Be friendly without being familiar’. The prefects should not seek popularity or go looking for wrong-doers as if they were a policeman.  But they were not to look the other way if something was wrong.  Nor were they to ‘hurry to condemn anyone as useless.  ‘Think ill of her and you make her worse.’  A word of praise or encouragement from a prefect went a long way with most girls.  High spirits should not be penalised unless harm would result. 

Leadership was ‘impossible without the two attributes of honesty and courage’.  Leadership was ‘the art of influencing and directing others to a goal in a manner that gains their obedience, confidence, respect and loyal co-operation’.  In addition to honesty and courage, there needed to be loyalty; a sense of responsibility; the use of initiative; self-control and decisiveness. 

As they had done in Launceston, Don and Betty invited boarders into their home for a meal.  A few months after taking up the appointment at CGGS a boarder wrote to Don and Betty: 

I am just sitting here in bed after enjoying dinner with you all tonight.  I am grinning from ear to ear and am feeling so very happy that I had to get out my pen to write you this note.  I would like to thank you so very much for lifting me from the depths of the ‘boarding-house-blues’*  It is such a wonderful feeling to be part of a family for just an evening, for although boarding can be fun it just is not home.  At this stage I begin to feel clumsy in my expression and wonder what on earth I am trying to say! – simply this: many thanks to you both for your thoughtfulness from a very grateful ‘daughter’. …

* on rereading this, that does sound dramatic!!!!

Don resigned as headmaster of CGGS in 1973.  The then President of the School Parent & Friends’, Lt Col J. S. Kendell, said parents were ‘dismayed and disappointed’. 

We sincerely hope he might change his mind. … I believe the school has benefited greatly from his leadership, especially in the establishment of a teaching/learning environment conducive to both the staff and students giving their best at all times. … I am more concerned, however, that Mr Selth takes with him his keen awareness of the changing educational system in which the Grammar as well as government schools now find themselves.  I am concerned that the school without Mr Selth will have changes forced upon it due to its conservatism. 

A major factor in Don’s resignation was the Board of Management’s insistence that he live in the small residence on the grounds designed for a single person–which was patently not suitable for a family of six. 

Don joined the Senate staff as Clerk of Committees 1973-1975.  The committee chair for one of the reports he drafted, The Australian Securities Markets and Their Regulation (1974) was Senator Peter Rae, whose son he had taught in Launceston. 

Don was Director of the Ceremonial and Hospitality Section of the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet 1975-1986.  In this position he was responsible for the organization of State visits and official ceremonies.  He was the Commonwealth escort officer for the Australian representation at the funeral of Earl Mountbatten in September 1979 and was one of the Commonwealth officials who managed the Queen’s visits to Australia in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1986.  On 13 October 1982 Don was appointed by the Queen at the end of her visit a Member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO). (In 1984 this title was changed to ‘Lieutenant’ (LVO).) 

Don was one of two Prime Minister & Cabinet officers responsible for planning and organizing the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney 12-16 February 1978.  Because Prime Minister Fraser had duties elsewhere at the time, Don formally greeted India’s Prime Minister Desai on his arrival at the Hilton Hotel.  The bomb that was unsuccessfully triggered as Mr Desai was greeted by Don was about two metres away.  The bomb exploded early next morning, tragically killing two garbage collectors and a police officer and injuring eleven others.  (It is a small world.  The man who was the only person convicted for having been involved in the abortive assassination attempt was, when arrested in Brisbane some years later, working to Don’s son Philip in the Department of Social Security.) 

Don was a member of the Task Force that managed the 1981 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Melbourne (30 September-7 October) and Co-ordinator of Hospitality for the 1983 South Pacific Forum meeting in Canberra.  The Head of the 1981 Task Force, Brian Cox MVO, wrote to Don at the end of CHOGM to thank him for his contribution. 

The Task Force has been a good team and a cheerful one.  I am indebted to you and to each member of the Task Force for your support, and for a first class job and for making my own job possible – and for your special efforts and the knowledge you brought to the Task Force. 

In December 1981 Cox wrote to Sir Geoffrey Yeend, Secretary to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to 

record my appreciation of the work of Mr D.V. Selth in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Task Force, where he was a Section Head responsible for Ceremonial and Hospitality from February 1981. 

CHOGM involved a large hospitality programme of a scale not previously attempted by this Department.  Mr Selth was responsible for supervising the detailed arrangements of the major functions and providing assistance with many others.  The success of the programme was due in a large degree to his experience and counsel and to his very able management of his staff for lengthy periods beyond normal working hours.  The demands on him in the few weeks immediately before CHOGM and during the Meeting itself were particularly heavy.  We were most fortunate in having in Mr Selth an officer who could cope calmly and effectively whilst under considerable pressure with the needs of the occasion. 

L. R. Pyke, Head of the South Pacific Forum Task Force wrote to Don in September 1983 about his contribution towards the success of the Forum. 

I am very grateful for your enthusiasm and support throughout the whole operation – the preparatory phase, the SPEC and Forum meetings at the Lakeside, and the winding down period. 

Your role as Co-ordinator of Hospitality covered organising for luncheons and dinners, the church service, greetings and departures, gifts, the cultural and recreational aspects, and the spouses’ programs. 

To all this you brought astute experience and professionalism.  Above all in my view you are to be congratulated for choosing a team of officers, most of whom had no previous experience in this type of work, who enthusiastically pulled together and brought about successful results to the credit of Australia.  If you found that you could delegate well in your area it is to your credit for selecting and briefing to the point of achieving autonomies. 

Reports and comments show that the operation in your area made a favourable impression for Australia.  This was epitomized, without taking away from the other functions, by the official dinner at Parliament House with its balanced program, judicious use of space for a large number of guests, menu and general atmosphere. 

Behind the scenes you monitored with your staff who were very often scattered over several funcions [sic] simultaneously, and you co-ordinated with other factors such as timing of arrivals of guests.  This might have been expected of you; from my viewpoint it was all done efficiently and impressively. 

I thank you for your support to me, for your advice and discussions in areas about which I knew little, and for making my overall job that much easier.  In my book you have proved your worth for putting together a team, inspiring it, and giving it directions without unnecessary intrusion. 

In 1985 Don gave consideration to stepping aside from his position as Director, Ceremonial and Hospitality.  His immediate supervisor, J. A. Matthew, Assistant Secretary, Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch, was not keen to lose Don’s services.  In March 1985 he wrote: 

Don Selth has worked with me since March 1981, initially in the CHOGM Task Force during that year and then as Director (Hospitality) in the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch.  During 1983 he was detached for some months to a Task Force organising the South Pacific Forum. 

He has been in charge of the Hospitality Section since 1975.  His task requires a high degree of political sensitivity due to its direct contacts with the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament.  Don has demonstrated his good tact and flexibility in handling the many demands put upon his Section and, where necessary, telling such persons when their requirements became unrealistic.

He is a good manager, but sometimes finds the current concepts of reductions in staff numbers and working conditions difficult to accept.  However, he is able to motivate his officers and call upon their efforts for a considerable amount of overtime by both them and himself.

He has a great store of knowledge regarding Parliamentary personnel and keeps his ear close to the ground.  That knowledge enables him to give good advice in matters of hospitality and ceremonial.  He sets high standards in his work and expects his officers to do likewise. 

Don is thinking of stepping aside from his present position in 1986 in favour of part-time duties.  It would be wasteful not to use his long experience and the counsel in the Task Forces assembled to cope with the Papal visit and the Bicentennial Year.  I commend his participation to any future organiser without reservation. 

Don did move sideways the following year to a newly created position of Director, Special Projects in the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet.  His primary task was to organise the official opening of the New Parliament House on 9 May 1988.  For the full day of the opening ceremonies he was beside Her Majesty quietly telling her from memory the name and a little about each of the hundreds of people she met.  Prime Minister Hawke wrote to Don the following day. 

Dear Don 

I am writing to express the appreciation of myself, Hazel and members of the Government for your long and untiring efforts to ensure the success of the opening of the new Parliament House. 

The entire day was an outstanding occasion in the life of our Nation, a magnificent bicentenary event and particularly significant to the people of Canberra.  The arrangements throughout were a tribute to the many months of hard work and dedication by yourself and those who formed the team of willing workers.  Your determination to provide a day which will be long remembered was clear right down to the attention to the finer details and I was delighted to receive so many favourable comments. 

Would you please convey my sincere thanks to all those who participated for a first-class job and for helping to bring about a most memorable occasion for all Australians.  It was a great start for a great building. 

Don retired in early 1989.   

In retirement Don wrote The Prime Minister’s X1 (1990), a history of the Prime Minister’s X1 cricket matches in Canberra, some of which he had organised as an officer of the Prime Minister’s Department, and in his retirement.  (The Departmental Secretary who granted Don access to the files was Mike Codd, one of his students at St Peter’s College.)  Prime Minister Hawke wrote the introduction to the book. He also wrote Cricket on the Limestone Plains: The History of the ACT Cricket Association, 1922-1992 (1992) and wrote countless articles for The Canberra Times on aspects of sports history.  As a Canberra Times sporting journalist noted in a gracious memoir (‘Marking a sporting legacy’) of Don published shortly before he was posthumously inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame in August 2007, ‘Don read the Canberra Times avidly, particularly its sports section, and if any young journalist went into print with an inaccurate detail about ACT sport, most especially the claim of a record crowd figure, Don would be on the phone immediately.  I don’t get those calls any more.  More’s the pity.’ 

While still Principal of Canberra Girls Grammar School Don read in the Canberra Times about the need for capable goal umpires for the ACT Australian football competition.  He volunteered to help out, became an active umpire and, typically perhaps, eventually became President of the ACT Australian Football Umpires’ Association (1977-1978), of which he was made an Honorary Life Member 1980.  He umpired 156 first grade matches as goal umpire and five first grade grand finals in 1973-1980.  As was noted by Bruno Yvanovich at the ACTAFUA AGM in March 1980 where Don’s Life Membership was formally approved, at a time when football and umpiring in the ACT was undergoing great change, ‘Don demonstrated a willingness to entertain this change and to adopt.  He provided the essential leadership, wise counsel and basic commonsense necessary to negotiate changes successfully’.  During Don’s term as President the Lennock Motors–Datsun sponsorship was arranged; the two field umpire system was introduced; higher match fees were obtained; a ‘horse and buggy’ constitution was up-dated; and the ACTAFUA’s relations with the League improved significantly.  Don had also spent many hours getting the records of the Association in order—including examining every goal card held by the League as far back as they went and tracking down and tapping the memories of Association members long since departed from umpiring. 

A note, ‘The men in white’, published in a football programme while Don was still umpiring recorded: 

An umpire who has achieved a great deal in umpiring and football is featured this week.  He is Don Selth, who will be officiating in his 150th senior game as a goal umpire in the West Canberra v Queanbeyan game at Phillip Oval this Saturday. 

Don would be a familiar figure to most football regulars.  His record is outstanding – including five first grade grand finals and numerous representative games over a period of six years.  He was also a senior umpire in Adelaide before he came to Canberra. 

Off the field, his record is equally impressive.  He was on the Umpires Association Executive for 5 years, including two as President.  These two years saw the biggest developments in Canberra umpiring: the two field umpire system and sponsorship with Lennock Motors-Datsun of Canberra. 

Don has also prepared a valuable guide for anyone interested in umpiring—The Art of Goal Umpiring [1979].  Produced with the assistance of Lennock Motors, it has been distributed to all senior and junior clubs in the A.C.T. and to other Leagues interstate. 

In recognition of his achievements, his fellow umpires, at the AGM of their Association in March, elected Don an Honorary Life Member. 

A former Umpires Adviser for the ACTAFL wrote on Don’s death that he ‘was a rare person truly one of nature’s gentlemen’. 

On 14 July 2000 Don was awarded an Australian Sports Medal.  The citation, the accuracy of which leaves a little to be desired, read:  ‘Over 40 years dedicated service as a historian, librarian and archivist of ACT cricket association’.  On 17 August 2007 Don was posthumously inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame as an ‘Associate Member’ [Sports Historian]. 

Shortly before his death Don all but completed a 200 page history of sport in the ACT, Canberra’s Sporting Heritage 1854-1954, which his family will see through to publication. 

Don was for some years an energetic Secretary to the Hughes [ACT] 60 Neighbourhood Watch committee.  Fellow committee members wrote on Don’s death that they would long remember Don ‘with great affection for his generous and uncompromising support’ for the Neighbourhood Watch, ‘for his tireless contributions as our Secretary and for his thoughtful and dry sense of humour’. 

Don also helped others with their historical research. In the acknowledgment page of his family history Convicts, Miners, Tradesmen and Soldiers: The Beginnings of an Australian family, Alan Walsh wrote: 

I am very grateful to my friend and fellow cricket lover Don Selth for his enormous contribution to this history.  Without his long experience in historical research and his ability to paint a picture of personal relationships against a broader background it would not have been possible for me to publish this story.  His ability to take a collection of personal papers, official certificates and family reminiscences and to relate them to each other against a background of local and international history is an accomplishment which I admire and for which I am grateful. 

When his son David left home in January 1973 for the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Don ‘inherited’ his son David’s flock of pigeons housed at the bottom of the garden of the family home.  (Don and his brother Geoff had kept pigeons in the backyard of his home in Sussex Terrace in Westbourne Park when he was at Unley High School.)  David’s pigeons were non show pigeons.  In 1978, Don began to seriously breed the Modena variety of show pigeons, and gradually developed the Argent family, with its distinctive wing silvery white ‘toy stencil’ appearing in areas where the bronze factor is found in other colours.  It has been said that breeding Argent coloured Modenas is the most genetically complex and challenging project a show pigeon fancier can undertake. Don was passionate about ‘the beautiful Argent Modena’, writing in the Modena Society of New South Wales’ 1989 and December 1992 Newsletters: 

Do you want to breed the most attractive pigeons in Australia?  Do you want the challenge and excitement of creating new colours and colour-patters? Can you face the disappointment of knowing that progress will be slow and often frustrating, no matter how hard you work?  If so, start breeding Argents. 

Shortly before his death a colleague in Norway wrote to tell him that ‘the consensus is that the Selth Argents must be the best family in the world today.’  A South African colleague wrote on hearing of Don’s death that Don was 

one of the best breeders of the Modena Argent color in the world and his birds were admired by many across the world.  In this regard [he] was always honest and humble with his successes in the colour breeding of the Argent Modena. 

An Australian colleague commented after Don’s death that Don ‘was amazed to hear such flattering comments as he had not realised how far he had come with his venture and that he felt he still had so much to learn.’ He was generous in helping new fanciers in Australia with good show and breeding stock.  

Don was able to relax just watching his birds. As he told the April 2006 USA Argent Newsletter, ‘They never make a fuss’.  However, as was his wont, Don enthusiastically contributed many hundreds of voluntary hours to the administration of his hobby.  He was co-founder (1979) and a Life Member of both the Canberra & Districts Show Pigeon Society (now the Canberra & Goulburn Show Pigeon Society) and the Modena Society of New South Wales, which he had joined before the first Annual show in 1981.  He was for many years Committeeman, Secretary or President of the CDSPS. 

Don was the recipient in 1992 of the first Meritorious Services award given by the Modena Society of New South Wales, of which at that time he was Secretary/Treasurer. Only two such awards have been given in the history of the club. In the Society’s 1992 Bulletin the President, Geoff De La Motte, a fellow Canberra enthusiast, wrote that 

It has been pretty obvious to most members that Don is a major contributor to the life and activities of the Society at all levels.  As you all know, I work very close to Don in my role as President and Don’s energy and commitment never ceases to amaze me.  Don not only provides energy and spark to Society matters but has broken new ground on many occasions.  It is fair to say that he alone has been responsible for obtaining the services of interstate and international judges for which we are extremely grateful.  It takes a lot of work and negotiation and he has been successful due to his credibility and his obvious passion for his chosen hobby. 

When the Show Secretary resigned at the beginning of 1985 Don volunteered to fill the vacancy. He was editor of the Modena Society of New South Wales’ Newsletter from 1994 until his death.   He completed 20 years as Secretary-Treasurer of the Society in November 2006, and was to have retired from this position at the Society’s 2007 annual general meeting. 

He was a driving force for the establishment of the Australian National Pigeon Association in July 1981 (when Part 1 of the Association’s inaugural meeting was held in Melbourne and Don was elected a Vice President) and the Association’s inaugural National Ring co-ordinator, being responsible for ‘conducting research into current situation in Australia on matters pertaining to the supply, issue, control etc of rings’. (Don was  described by one enthusiast writing in the Australasian Fancier in February/April 1984 as being a ‘very energetic person’; who had ‘done a very good job’.)  Beginning early in 1980, Don was invited to be a ‘Co-ordinator’ of the Australian and New Zealand pigeon fancier’s magazine Australasian Fancier, an assistant editor role in which Don was charged with developing closer participation between clubs and the magazine and boosting its circulation. (Australasian Fancier, folded in 1984 when the retiring editor could not find a successor.)  He was similarly a driving force for the Canberra Society hosting the ANPA’s Bi-Centennial National Show in conjunction with its 1988 Annual Show in what was normally the bookmakers’ ‘ring’ at the Canberra Racecourse in 1988. He held office in the Australian Pigeon Fanciers Association, founded in 1981.  He was a member of an APFA syndicate that imported pigeons from England, Canada and New Zealand in 2000. 

Don was a long time member of the US based National Modena Club.  He was one of the founder members of the International Modena Club in 2003.  He, along with colleagues in South Africa, Canada and Norway, played ‘a big part’ in getting the IMC By-laws acceptable to the rest of the world Modena fraternity.  He was the first Australian Director of the IMC but resigned the position during 2004. 

A qualified Modena Judge, Don traveled extensively in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, showing his pigeons locally and judging at shows in all three countries.  In 1995 Don was invited to judge the Modenas in the Pageant of Pigeons run by the Los Angeles Pigeon Club, America’s biggest all-breeds show. 

He contributed over many years to various pigeon publications articles and notes on topics such as ’Emtyrl – Dosage and dangers’, ‘Modena shows in the United States of America’, ‘A beginner’s guide to keep show pigeons’, ‘The breeding pot pourri or breeding from the imported birds’, ‘The beginnings of the Australian pigeon fancy’ and  ‘The early development of the Modena’.  The article ‘Ornithosis – Cause and cure’, published in the Modena Society of New South Wales’ August 1998 Bulletin had particular personal significance for Don; Betty had a few years ago become seriously ill with this  infectious disease usually transmitted to humans from birds in the parrot family, and required medical treatment for six weeks, including two weeks in hospital. 

In 1996 wrote Don for the Modena Society of New South Wales’ Bulletin ‘Wanted: A national outlook’, a proposal for a national rather than State-based approach to the breeding and showing of Modenas. The National Modena Club of Australia, a loose federation of the NSW, Queensland and South Australian Modena clubs, was formed in 1994. In the November 1994 issue of the Modena Society of New South Wales’ Newsletter, Ron Wilton, the NSW President, thanked Don ‘for all his efforts in attempting to bring all members of the Modena Fancy in Australia together.’ Unfortunately, because of differences over the recognition of rings and to whom correspondence should be addressed by Don, at the end of 1996 Don was reporting in the NSW Newsletter that ‘at present and perhaps in the future, there is no National Modena Club’. 

As passionate as he was about his pigeons, Don had no hesitation in culling the weak to enable the breed to improve.  One of his former Launceston teachers recalled after Don’s death visiting him in Canberra with his young son who held Don in high esteem – until he asked Don what he did with his unsuccessful pigeons ‘and Don showed him the pot on the kitchen stove with the little pigeon’s feet sticking up’.  The family recalls Don, reluctant to wear his new glasses, being more than a little unhappy when he mistakenly wrung the neck of one of his prize breeders! 

In June 2006 Don became seriously ill and was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.  He remained at home being lovingly cared for by Betty until a few days before his death, when he was admitted to the Clare Holland House, a hospice in Canberra.  He died on the evening of Thursday 28 December 2006 with his wife and sons present at his bedside.  Some of the family believed that Don had ‘held on’ until his 58th wedding anniversary and Australian Cricket Team had regained The Ashes (which had occurred on the same day)! 

A private family funeral service attended by Betty, their sons and their wives and grandson Alex, was held at the Norwood Park Crematorium on the morning of Saturday 30 December 2006.  The service was conducted by The Rev. Paul Harris, chaplain of the Canberra Girls Grammar School, and formerly chaplain at St Peter’s College, Adelaide. 

Don’s ashes were scattered by Betty and their fours sons, (and David’s wife and son.) on Friday 2 March 2007 on the slopes of Red Hill in Canberra where Don and Betty walked their dog Bessie early each morning.  Bessie quietly watched the private gathering. 

Don is survived by his wife Betty, sons Philip, Andrew, David and Richard, their partners Fran, Pattie, Jan and Heather, and his grandchildren Camilla, Iain, Alex, Rob and Rosie.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Philip Alan Selth, 'Selth, Donald Victor (1925–2006)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

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