Ivy Brookes

Ivy Brookes (née Deakin) was president of the Australian National Council of Women (ANCW) from 1948 to 1953. Her presidency marked the beginning of an era of close relations with the Commonwealth government owing to Brookes’s personal contacts in the Liberal Party (including friendship with Robert and Pattie Menzies) and to the election of women senators with NCW links. Brookes had been president of the Victorian NCW from 1938 to 1945 and was active in Australian political life from her youth as a leader of the Women’s Section of the Commonwealth, then People’s, Liberal Party 1909–1916. In addition to her central role in the National Council of Women, she was founding president (1915–1916) and long-term patron of the Housewives’ Association (the largest women’s organisation in the country from the 1920s to the 1960s), founder and president of the International Club of Victoria (1933–1958), president of the Women’s Hospital Board for many years, director of the Bureau of Social and International Affairs between 1931 and 1961, foundation and continuing member of the Boards of Studies in Physical Education and Social Studies at the University of Melbourne, president of the Playgrounds & Recreation Association of Victoria (1944–1970), a member of the Victorian section of the League of Nations Union and then vice-president of the United Nations Association of Victoria (1945–1963). A talented musician, she won the Ormond Scholarship for singing in 1904 and played first violin for Professor Marshall Hall’s Orchestra at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (1903–1915).

Ivy Brookes was born on 14 July 1883 at South Yarra. As the eldest daughter of Alfred Deakin (Australia’s second prime minister) and his wife, Pattie, she was a scion of Australian political royalty and was able to make productive use of the wide array of political connections available to her. Ivy was educated at Merton Hall before studying violin and singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music where, in 1903, she gained a diploma. A talented musician, she won the Ormond Scholarship for singing in 1904, and played first violin for Professor Marshall Hall’s orchestra at the Conservatorium 1903–1915. With her husband, Herbert, who shared her musical interests, she also participated in the work of the Lady Northcote Permanent Orchestra Trust Fund after it was formed in 1908. She was a foundation vice-president of the ladies’ committee of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and a member of the university faculty of music council from 1926 to 1969.

On 3 July 1905, Ivy married Herbert Robinson Brookes, a businessman, pastoralist and philanthropist, in Melbourne. Herbert was secretary of Austral Otis, later chairman of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, and served on the Commonwealth Board of Trade. He was a founder of the Commonwealth Liberal Party (1908) and the People’s Liberal Party (1911), and was PLP president from 1912 until the party dissolved in 1916. He was later prominent in the National Union and continued his association with conservative politics throughout his life. He was appointed commissioner-general for Australia to the United States from 1929 to 1931. Herbert and Ivy had two sons and two daughters born between 1906 and 1920.

Ivy was involved in charitable work, as well as political activism, from an early age. Her mother, Pattie, gave much of her own time and energy to child welfare services and to charities for Australian servicemen,and Ivy followed her lead into the kindergarten and playgrounds movements. Brookes’s concern for women in the home and their families was also reflected in her involvement with the Housewives’ Association of Victoria, and above all with the Women’s Hospital, on whose board she sat for fifty years. In the United States with her husband between 1929 and 1931, she gained recognition as a fine speaker and a woman who had independent interests, and, on her return home in January 1931, she reported to the NCWV and the Children’s Welfare Association on her extensive investigation of US child welfare services.

Ivy Brookes became involved in the National Council of Women of Victoria in 1912, when she was elected to the executive and, for the remainder of her life, she was involved in Council affairs. It was with the encouragement of NCWV that she founded the Housewives Cooperative Society (later, Housewives' Association) in Melbourne in 1915 to help ordinary women fight wartime cost-of-living rises through cooperative trading and thrift. Though the organisation was slow to take off, it expanded rapidly in the interwar period, spreading to all states. The first consumer-watch body in the country, its membership reached 115,000 in 1940–1941 and 175,000 by the late 1960s.

After focusing primarily on domestic and cultural matters during the 1920s before the last of her children was at school, Ivy Brookes resumed a broader public activism on her return from the United States early in 1931. This included international organisations such as the International Club of Victoria, the League of Nations Union and the Bureau of Social and International Affairs. But she also renewed her interest in women’s citizenship issues and, in 1934, was elected to NCWV’s committee, becoming vice-president in 1936, then, in 1938, president, a position she held throughout the war years. She was a delegate of the Australian Council at the International Council of Women’s 50th anniversary conference in Edinburgh in 1938 and, in the following year, she and fellow Victorian May Couchman inaugurated the NCW of the Australian Capital Territory in Canberra.

During the war years, the NCWs turned their attention to patriotic work and Brookes became deputy chair of Victoria’s coordinating committee of women’s emergency services and the subsequent National Register of Women for Voluntary Service, as well as of the state section of the Australian Comforts Fund, She was also on the executive of the Victorian International Refugee Emergency Council.

A member of the Victorian delegation to the National Council of Women of Australia from 1938, Ivy Brookes was convenor of press, arts and letters in its various manifestations from 1938 to 1948 and again from 1952 to 1954. She was also state and national convenor of peace and international relations immediately after the war and national convenor again in 1952. Between 1948 and 1953, she was national president and was responsible for formally changing the name of the Council to the Australian National Council of Women (ANCW) (it reverted to NCWA in 1970). During her period of office she was also elected a vice-president of the ICW. As national president, she represented the ANCW at the early Canberra Citizenship Conventions from 1950, and was a member of the Women’s Committee of the Jubilee Celebrations Committee (1950–1951). Her lobbying there resulted in the president of ICW, Dr Jeanne Eder, visiting Australia on the invitation of the government as part of the Jubilee Celebrations. Brookes also represented ANCW at the federal conference on inflation (1951), and was appointed a member of the federal Advisory Committee on Import Licensing Control (1952).

Brookes’s presidency saw one of the first attempts to resolve what became known as the ‘Tasmanian problem’ after Launceston claimed representation following the 1946 conference decision to allow semi-autonomous branches outside capital cities. In an attempt to clarify what this meant, Brookes, oversaw an agreement between ‘N.C.W. of Tasmania, State Council, and Launceston Council’ signed in Hobart on 23 February 1952 by both councils. It stipulated that ‘the State Council retain its "status quo"’ and that ‘the Launceston Council has autonomy’ but added six further clauses detailing the ways the two councils should interact to facilitate consultation, and to share fees and representation to biennial national conferences. The primary role in making submissions and forwarding resolutions was, however, to remain with the state NCW situated in Hobart.

Under Brookes, the ANCW continued its activism on marriage law and equal pay, and the Council helped fund intervention into the 1952 case before the Arbitration Court as well as urging the federal government to ratify the International Labour Organization’s convention on equal remuneration. During Brookes’s term, the ANCW also unsuccessfully urged the federal government to hold a royal commission on ‘the whole position of aborigines’, premised on its view that the Commonwealth should have power to over-ride the states on matters concerning the Indigenous population. The Council also took a particular interest in migration policy from a liberal humanitarian, though broadly assimilationist, perspective. However, the growth of Cold War tensions saw the fading of an initial concern for the Greek children separated from their parents and dispersed to Eastern European countries as a result of the civil war of 1946–1949. By 1951, it had been agreed that these children would have been ‘brainwashed’ and their immigration was undesirable. Open anti-communist sentiment was also evident in Brookes’s representation of the Council at the Call to the People of Australia meetings at the end of that year. At the 1952 ANCW conference, with her term of office drawing to a close and her successor elected, Brookes was appointed a life vice-president. She continued her involvement in the ensuing years principally as convenor of arts and letters.

In addition to their patronage of music and the arts, Ivy and Herbert Brookes were strong supporters of the University of Melbourne, and of intellectual life in general. Ivy was a member of the Board of Studies in Physical Education at the university for 30 years, and a member of the Board of Social Studies for over 25 years. She was involved with the women’s auxiliary for International House, a residential college. Indeed, the Brookes’s home in South Yarra, Winwick, was described by Trinity’s warden, Alexander Leeper, as ‘the chief intellectual power house in Melbourne’.

Ivy took an active part in social and political life apart from the NCW. In 1928, she hosted a visit from Miss Royden of England, the ‘world-famous woman preacher’ who edited Common Cause, the official organ of British women suffragists. Brookes also held executive office in the League of Nations Union and the Empire Trade Defence League, and, between 1931 and 1961, she served as director of the Bureau of Social and International Affairs. She founded the International Club of Victoria, and presided over it for its lifetime (1933–1958). After World War II, she was vice-president of the United Nations Association of Victoria (1945–1963). She was honorary secretary of the Women’s Section of the Commonwealth Liberal Party until 1916 but decided its replacement, the National Federation, did not give fair representation to women. However, she later joined Robert Menzies’ Liberal Party as a member of the Women’s Section, when equal representation of women and men on all committees was confirmed.

Ivy Brookes died in December 1970, aged 87. In her time, she gave great strength, intellectual stimulus and cultural inspiration to those around her, and used her political connections to advance the interests of the mainstream women’s movement represented by the NCWA. She was in the first group of women included on the Victorian Honour Roll of Women commenced in 2001.

Explore further resources about Ivy Brookes in the Australian Women's Register.