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Oppenheimer M. Bate, Thelma Florence (1904-1984). 2006.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/8368
Bate, Thelma Florence (1904-1984)
Thelma Florence Bate (1904-1984), community leader, was born on 3 August 1904 in Sydney, second surviving daughter of Olaf Olsen, a Norwegian seaman, and his Melbourne-born wife Florence Beatrice, née St Clair. In 1912 her mother married Carl Gustav Sundstrom, whom Thelma regarded as her father. She was close to Sundstrom, who believed that a good education was important for both girls and boys. A bright and talented student, unafraid to speak her mind, she attended the selective Fort Street Girls' High School and the University of Sydney (BA, 1928). After teaching at Meriden Church of England Grammar School, Strathfield, and travelling abroad with her parents, Thelma married a grazier, Richard Falkner Harvey, on 20 June 1934 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney. They lived on his property near Ivanhoe, where she was introduced to the Country Women's Association of New South Wales. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she was encouraged by members of the Country Party to stand as that party’s candidate in the 1947 State election for the Labor-held seat of Dubbo. Although defeated, Mrs Harvey attracted attention as the first woman endorsed by the Country Party. A skilled and forceful debater, she developed a taste for politics. On 8 December 1949 at St John's Church of England, Darlinghurst, she married Kenneth Kirkby, who was a member of the Country Party State executive. They lived at Bellata, near Moree, and were later divorced. Thelma Kirkby ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1951 and 1953 on the combined ticket of the Liberal and Country parties. In December 1953 she was defeated in a by-election for the Federal seat of Gwydir, when the Country Party endorsed two candidates. Increasingly based in Sydney, Kirkby made a considerable contribution to postwar Australia through organisations such as the Free Kindergarten movement, the Business and Professional Women's Club and the Air Ambulance Service (for which she was awarded life membership). A staunch anti-communist, she was secretary-general of the Australian Women's Movement Against Socialisation in the late 1940s. In 1953 she was the New South Wales representative to the Associated Country Women of the World conference, held at Toronto, Canada. In the 1950s, as part of these international women's networks, she was also involved in the Pan Pacific Women's Association (from 1955 Pan-Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association of Australia), including periods as national and international treasurer. During the Vietnam War, she organised a group that provided 'rest and recreation' for American servicemen in Sydney. She served as a committee member of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign. In 1975 she was the New South Wales representative on the United Nations Association of Australia International Women's Year national committee. But it was as part of the State branch of the CWA that Kirkby really made her mark.