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Torney, Vera Alexandra
(1916 – 2006)


On 12 February 1942 the Empire Star sailed from Singapore harbour. The ship which normally had an allocation of space for 20 passengers was carrying over 2100 people. While on route to Batavia, the ship came under enemy fire and received three direct hits. During one of the raids, two of the Australian nursing staff on board, Sister Vera A Torney and Margaret Anderson came on deck to attend to the wounded. They protected their patients by covering them with their bodies. Staff Nurse Vera Torney was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Military) on 22 September 1942 for her work with the Australian Army Nursing Service. Staff Nurse Margaret Anderson received the George Medal.

Barr Smith, Mary (Molly) Isobel
(1863 – 1941)


On 4 October 1918 Molly Barr Smith was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for services to the Red Cross in South Australia during the war.

Dawson, Eileen


Eileen Dawson was appointed to the Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) on 31 December 1976 for services to golf.

Court, Margaret Jean
(1942 – )

Minister, Tennis player

Margaret Court was one of Australia’s greatest sportswomen. She won 62 grand slam titles and, in 1970, was the second woman in history to win the Australian, French, U.S. and Wimbledon titles in a calendar year.

Winner of the ABC Sportsman of the Year Award in 1963 and 1970, Margaret Court was appointed to the Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) on 1 January 1967 for services to sport and international relations. In 1970 she also won the Walter Lindrum Award.

In January 2003, Tennis Australia renamed Melbourne Park’s Show Court One to the Margaret Court Arena. She was the recipient of the 2003 Australia Post Australian Legends Award, and featured on a special 50c stamp.

In 2006 she was awarded the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award.

In 2017, in the context of Australian debates about marriage equality, Margaret Court became a controversial figure, as many prominent people in tennis condemned her views on same sex marriage and the rights of transgender people.

In January 2021, Court was awarded an AC in the Australian Day Honours Awards list, for eminent service to tennis as an internationally acclaimed player and record-holding grand slam champion, and as a mentor of young sportspersons. In response to criticisms that it was not appropriate to honout her this way, based upon her controversial views on the rights of LGBTQI+ people, an anonymous member of the Council for the Order of Australia said the award to address a gender disparity created five years ago when Rod Laver became the first tennis player to be made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

McKay, Heather Pamela
(1941 – )

Squash Coach, Squash player

Awarded the Australian Sports Medal on 30 August 2000, Heather McKay was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) on 26 January 1979 for her service to the sport of squash. She had previously been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) on 1 January 1969 for services to sport. An Australian representative in squash and hockey, McKay dominated ladies squash for two decades and lost only two squash matches in her career.

Rischbieth, Bessie Mabel
(1874 – 1967)

Feminist, Women's rights activist

Bessie Rischbieth’s interest in woman’s suffrage was aroused when she attended a suffrage meeting in London in 1908. A co-founder of the Women’s Service Guild of Western Australia in 1909, she was also co-founder and President of the Australian Federation of Women Voters (1921-1942). Rischbieth edited The Dawn, a women’s paper issued in Perth from 1914 to 1939. A talented craftswoman her art embroidery, beaten copperwork and word carvings were exhibited with the West Australian Society of Arts. In the later years of her life Rischbieth clashed with Jessie Street, whom she labelled a communist. Bessie Rischbieth was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her work with women’s movements.

Ashton, Helen
(1868 – 1939)

Community worker

Helen Ashton was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 4 October 1918 for her work for the Red Cross Society. Her husband, James, worked closely with the first president, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson.

Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS)
(1941 – 1947)

Armed services organisation

The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was established on 13 August 1941, to release men from certain military duties for service with fighting units. The Service recruited women between the ages of 18 and 45 and they served in a variety of roles including clerks, typists, cooks and drivers. In 1945 a contingent was sent to Lae and a small group went to Holland. In June 1947, owing to the end of World War II, the AWAS was disbanded.

Norman, Decima
(1909 – 1983)

Commonwealth or Empire Games Gold Medalist, Track and Field Athlete

Australia’s first female athletic star, Decima Norman won five gold medals at the 1938 Empire Games (later known as the Commonwealth Games) in Sydney. She won gold medals in the 100 yards, 220 yards, long jump and two relays, and in winning the 100 yards she beat the world record-holder. She might well have won Olympic gold in 1940 if those Games had not been cancelled. Decima Norman was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1982 for her services to sport.

Wilson, Grace Margaret
(1879 – 1957)


During World War I Grace Wilson was Principal Matron of No 3 Australian General Hospital serving in Egypt, Lemnos and France. She was appointed a Commander (Military) of the Order of the British Empire on 1 January 1919 for army nursing service in France. Grace Wilson was mentioned in dispatches five times as well as being awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (2 May 1916) and the Florence Nightingale Medal.

Cuthbert, Betty
(1938 – 2017)

Commonwealth or Empire Games Gold Medalist, Olympian, Track and Field Athlete

Betty Cuthbert was the first Australian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal on Australian soil. Nicknamed the ‘Golden Girl’ of Australian athletics, she was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 as an Athlete Member for her contribution to the sport of athletic. She was elevated to “Legend of Australian Sport” in 1994.

Betty Cuthbert was so unsure that she would make the Australian Olympic Games team in 1956, she bought tickets to attend the Games as a spectator.

Walton, Nancy Bird
(1915 – 2009)


Nancy Bird Walton was Australia’s youngest female pilot. She was awarded imperial honours for her work with the Far West Children’s Health Scheme.

Watts, Margaret Sturge
(1892 – 1978)

Migrant community advocate, Peace activist, Welfare worker

Margaret Sturge Watts was involved with numerous organisations working for women, peace, children’s welfare and displaced persons. She was founding President of the City Girls’ Amateur Sports Association.

Cowan, Edith Dircksey
(1861 – 1932)

Community worker, Lawyer, Magistrate, Political activist, Politician, Public servant

Edith Cowan, the first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament in Western Australia in 1921, was described in her entry in Australian feminism, a companion, as ‘a committed, tireless and public campaigner for women’s and children’s rights from the early twentieth century’. Married at the age of seventeen to James Cowan, registrar and master of the Supreme Court, they had five children. She was the founding secretary in 1894 and later president of the Karrakatta Club, a women’s club in Perth, which campaigned for female suffrage. Her commitment to women’s well-being resulted in her active involvement in the establishment of the Western Australian National Council of Women in 1911. She was a foundation member of the Children’s Protection Society in 1906 and the first woman to be appointed to the Children’s Court bench in 1915. She became a Justice of the Peace in 1920. In the same year her work was acknowledged with her appointment to the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to the Western Australian division of the Red Cross Society, of which she was a founding member in 1914.

A clock tower at the entrance to King’s Park in Perth was erected to her memory in 1934 and in 1995 her portrait was printed on the Australian fifty dollar note.

White, Vera Deakin
(1891 – 1978)

Charity worker

Vera White (née Deakin) the daughter of Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and his philanthropic wife Pattie was appointed an Officer of the British Empire for her work with the Red Cross during the First World War. She received her award on 15 March 1918.

Sage, Annie Moriah
(1895 – 1969)


During Annie Sage’s distinguished military nursing career in World War II she introduced the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service Training Scheme and was closely involved in the planning and establishment of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps as an integral part of the Australian Regular Army and the Citizen Military Forces.

After the war she took an active and leading role in the establishment of the War Nurses Memorial Centre and the Centaur War Nurses Fund. Through her work with the (Royal) College of Nursing she made a very important contribution to postgraduate nursing education. She was also active in the negotiations that brought about the 1958 Nurses’ Act which gave wider power to the registering authority, the Victorian Nursing Council. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her war work with the Australian Army Nursing Service in the Middle East in 1942 (for ‘exceptional tact and administrative ability’) and she was awarded the CBE (Military Division) in 1951.

Coffey, Essie
(1940 – 1998)

Actor, Community worker, Filmmaker, Singer

Essie Coffey was a Muruwari woman born in southern Queensland. She was co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and served on a number of government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations.

Nashar, Beryl
(1923 – 2012)

Political activist

Nashar was Head, Department of Geology, Newcastle University College and University of Newcastle 1961-1980, Associate Professor 1964-1965, Professor of Geology 1965-1980 and Emeritus Professor since 1980. She was the first Australian to be awarded a PhD in geology from an Australian University and the first woman dean of science in an Australian university. Her early research addressed the geology of the Stanhope district in the Hunter Valley. This was later extended to embrace the mineralogy, geochemistry and genetic relations of the Carboniferous and Permian andesitic associations of eastern New South Wales, and the conditions of formation of secondary minerals in these andesitic and basic rocks. She was appointed OBE – The Order of the British Empire – Officer (Civil) – 1 January 1972 for her work in education and international relations.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal
(1920 – 1993)

Artist, Educator, Poet, Political activist

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, on Minjerribah (the Stradbroke Islands). Oodgeroo Noonuccal means Oodgeroo of the tribe Nunuccal; spelling variations include Nunuccal, Noonuckle and Nunukul. In 1970, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (under the name Kathleen Walker) was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for services to the community. She returned it in 1987 in protest against the forthcoming Australian Bicentenary celebrations (1988).

McClemans, Sheila Mary
(1909 – 1988)

Director, Lawyer, Servicewoman

Sheila Mary McClemans pioneered entry into the legal profession for Western Australian women. Throughout her life, in addition to her legal career, Sheila held a range of high-level positions, including director of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, and became the role model for many Australian women inside and outside the armed forces. During her lifetime Sheila’s efforts never received the full recognition they deserved within the legal profession. She was denied the traditional rewards of QC, Judge or Dame. The Commonwealth, however, recognised the value of her service to the law and women’s affairs, appointing her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1951 and a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1977. She was also awarded the Silver Jubilee Medal (SJM) in 1977.

Best, Kathleen Annie Louise
(1910 – 1957)

Nurse, Servicewoman

Kathleen Best, as nurse and army officer, was an inspiring leader in both a war and peace time environment. As an army officer in the Middle East, she distinguished herself through her courage and efficiency in her treatment and care of the wounded. After her wartime service, she assumed a number of peacetime appointments, which included becoming the founding director, Australian Women’s Army Corps (Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC)) in 1951. Kathleen Best’s war effort was acknowledged by the award of the Royal Red Cross medal ‘for gallantry, conduct and devotion in Greece 14/27 April 1941’ and her subsequent role as Director of the WRAAC was honoured with her appointment as Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1956.

Anstey, Olive Eva
(1920 – 1983)


Olive Eva Anstey was born in Perth in 1920. Against her mother’s judgment, Olive pursued her desire to become a nurse, completing her general training at Royal Perth Hospital. Olive eventually became a top nursing administrator who was well respected and admired for the compassion and leadership qualities she brought to her chosen profession. Throughout her career Olive was a staunch advocate for better working conditions and pay for nurses, working on various committees with the goal of obtaining recognition of nursing as a profession. She was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1969 and in 1982 was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to nursing.

Alley, Diane Berenice
(1927 – )

Community activist, Community worker, Human rights activist, Women's rights activist, Women's rights organiser

Diane Alley has worked in a range of organisations to ensure that women gained equal opportunity in society and for the achievement of social justice for all members of the community, both in Australia and internationally. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1981 for her community 1923-24 work.

Davey, Margaret Lurline
(1915 – 2010)

Biology Teacher, Community worker, Women's rights activist, Women's rights organiser

Margaret Lurline Davey’s long standing service and commitment to community work and especially to women’s organisations, was first recognised in 1963 when she was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Almost twenty years later in 1981 her efforts were again recognised when she was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Cassab, Judy
(1920 – 2015)


Judy Cassab is one of Australia’s best known portrait painters and the winner of many prestigious art awards including the coveted Archibald Prize. Austrian-born and of Hungarian parents, Judy Cassab emigrated to Australia in 1951 with her husband and two children. In Australia, she quickly gained a reputation for her distinctive expressionist technique and portrait abilities. In 1969 Judy was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to the visual arts. In 1988 she was also appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). Following the publication of her diaries in 1995, Sydney University conferred upon her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (Hon. PhD). In 1996 she also won the Nita B. Kibble Award for women writers.

Bush, Muriel Evelyn (Merle E)
(1897 – 1981)

Community worker

Merle Bush devoted over 50 years of her life to the Victoria Guide Movement. During that time she developed training programs for leaders in Victoria and interstate. In the New Year’s Honours List for 1956, Bush was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (Civil) for her services to the Girl Guide Movement.

Norris, Dame Ada May
(1901 – 1989)

Community worker, Women's rights activist, Women's rights organiser

Ada May Norris, née Bickford was educated at Melbourne High School and the University of Melbourne, where she graduated BA Dip. Ed. In 1924. In 1929 she married John Norris. From 1951, Ada Norris was involved in numerous committees and organisations promoting women, multiculturalism, children and immigration.

Ada Norris was appointed Officer of the British Empire (10 June 1954) and Dame Commander of the of the British Empire on 12 June 1976 for distinguished community service. On 14 June 1969 Norris was awarded the Order of St Michael and St George – Commanders while President of the National Council of Women.