Woman Marles, Fay Surtee (1926 - )

3 January 1926
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Businesswoman, Equal Opportunity practitioner, Social worker and University chancellor
Alternative Names
  • Pearce, Fay Surtee (Maiden)

Written by Rosemary Francis, The University of Melbourne

Fay Marles (nee Pearce) was born on 3 January 1926 in Melbourne, second of three children in the Pearce family. Tragically the first child died. She was educated at Ruyton Girls' School in Kew and the University of Melbourne, where she completed a BA and Diploma of Social Work in 1948. Regarding both her parents as leaders, she assumed leadership roles effortlessly early in her career.

Her first appointment in 1949 was as a social worker in Queensland. She encountered sex discrimination in the Public service when on marriage in 1952 to Donald Marles, a school teacher, she was forced to resign her position as a social worker. After a number of years out of the paid workforce, rearing her four children and supporting her husband in his position as a House Master at Geelong Grammar School, she returned to a full-time position in 1975 as a Senior Tutor in Social Work at the University of Melbourne. She had completed an MA in the same year.

After travel to the United Kingdom and the United States of America, Marles focused upon issues of equity and in 1977 was appointed Victoria's first Commissioner of Equal Opportunity, a position she held for 10 years. She used this position to work towards a more equitable community. Lyra Taylor, one of her Social work teachers was her role model, as she taught her students to identify the location of power in an organization and the reason for its existence in that area.

On leaving the Equal Opportunity Commission Marles formed her company Fay Marles and Associates and worked as a consultant in equal opportunity, workplace dispute resolution and program planning and review. She was appointed Chancellor of the University of Melbourne in 2001 after serving as Deputy Chancellor for 15 years. She retired from that position at the end of 2004. During this period she worked to increase the number of indigenous graduates and encouraging alumni support internationally.

Marles understood leadership as having the capacity to take people with you. She saw herself as a person who 'enabled things that people wanted to happen to happen' (Interview). She was inclusive in the way she attempted to solve problems in the work environment by involving staff in the process. As Chancellor, she encouraged and mentored women by providing them with the encouragement and the opportunity to speak at meetings.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Fay Marles interviewed by Rosemary Francis in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project, 19 October 2011 - 27 October 2011, ORAL TRC 6290/22; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources