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How is Australian sovereignty being acted out at home and abroad in the second century of federation? In this agenda setting book, Suvendrini Perera brings together leading thinkers to map the imaginative and political space claimed as  'Our Patch'. Contributions by Tim Anderson, Ruth Balint, Anthony Burke, Maxine Chi, Maria Giannacopoulos, Suvendrini Perera, Henry Reynolds, Jon Stratton, Dinesh Wadiwel and Irene Watson. To order, please contact Network Books at 08 9266 3717 with your order details. ...
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


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Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

The Suffragette's Daughter: Betty Archdale

By Deirdre MacPherson, Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing, 2003, 328 pages, hardcover, $45.00. Reviewed by Tony Smith in the July 2003 issue.

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While some Members of Parliament draw on acquaintances as role models, others are avid readers of biographies. They learn something from each subject, who is usually a statesman. Deidre MacPherson's life of Betty Archdale ought to be read by anyone aspiring to authority and power. Archdale said that a school principal needed a sense of humour and humility, and must always be honest. MacPherson's balanced work shows that these qualities, rare in Australian decision-makers, existed in remarkable degree in Miss Archdale.

The subtitle summarizes the chief themes of Archdale's life. These interests were however, cumulative and complex rather than discrete stages or episodes in a long public life. Indeed, when she 'retired' in her early sixties, Betty Archdale remained active in fostering discussions of issues around these four themes.

The formative influences on Betty's life mostly were women of a strong, active kind. Her mother, Helen, was a fierce and tireless campaigner for women's rights and equality. Helen was arrested more than once for her fearless espousal of women's suffrage and wrote for journals including the influential Time and Tide. As an independent woman, Helen assumed most of the responsibility for the upbringing of her two sons and daughter.

Sometimes Betty, born in London in 1907, saw Helen only on holidays. Helen was preoccupied with friends and co-workers in the women's movement and at one time Betty had as her governess Adela Pankhurst. Betty also attributed much of her character formation to the encouragement she got at the rather spartan St Leonards girls' school.

Although not an obvious leader, Betty blossomed when given responsibility. She seems to have been a carefree teenager with a great ability to laugh and obviously excelled at sports. She also had a rebellious streak that never left her and she inherited her mother's single-minded determination when in pursuit of a goal she held to be right. One of the finest qualities of MacPherson's book is that she continually probes the possibility that the conflicts and controversies surrounding her subject were as much attributable to traits of Betty's character as to the hostility, jealousy or petty-mindedness that Betty resented in acquaintances. Indeed, many of the wondering comments come from the subject herself, so, in keeping with her character she encouraged a thorough and unsparing biography.

There were reasons enough for rivals to envy Betty Archdale. She captained the first English women's cricket side to come to Australia from England. This was in 1934-35, just two years after the disastrous 'Bodyline' tour. Betty insisted that her team not take the game too seriously but play the game for the game's sake. Nevertheless, it was undefeated and Betty's leadership of a team that was assembled hastily was an important element in its success. She made players draw lots for bedroom companions for example, to ensure that the team mixed well and to prevent the development of cliques that might undermine morale.

The tour was exhausting and the side was extremely well received in Australia, but there were detractors. Critics pointed out that the members had not been selected openly, but had been drawn from players who could afford to tour. When Betty joined the navy, her leadership qualities ensured that she was a popular officer. However, she was continually disappointed with her treatment and the promotion of others above her.

In 1945, Betty was encouraged to apply for the principalship of Womens College at the University of Sydney. During her ten years there, the students blossomed and were infected with her belief that women could do anything they wanted. Numerous former residents testify that the atmosphere in the College was extraordinary for the socially conservative period.

Despite her unconventionality, Betty was invited to apply for the principalship of the Anglican school, Abbotsleigh, situated geographically - and mentally -- in Sydney's prestigious Wahroonga. Here she was again extremely popular with the students, for whom her door was always open. Some parents, some teachers and some members of the School Council however, were not entirely enthusiastic.

While at Abbotsleigh (1958-1970) Betty Archdale was deeply involved in causes and issues and according to some reports, underwent a metamorphosis, unfolding and shining as never before. She was a popular panellist on the ABC radio program 'Any Questions?' and her readiness with a strong and quotable view gave her a high public profile as one of Australia's 100 top 'intelligentsia'.

Betty and her actor brother Alec built their own house at Galston and she provided stability in his life. She expressed some regret at not having met one special man and not having children, but her greatest disappointment was the feeling -- not necessarily justified -- that she let her mother down when Helen most needed care. Perhaps there was some truth in Betty's own fear that she was a shy, insecure person who was unable to form deep emotional bonds. Some acquaintances thought that she was so taken up with ideas that while she listened attentively to them, she was interested in what they were doing rather than in them as persons.

The general impression MacPherson's book leaves of Betty Archdale of an open-minded, tolerant person. Her emphasis on individuality and self-discipline seems to have encouraged and inspired students although she was not a 'qualified' teacher. She treated issues on their merits. Politically for example, she was inclined to support British Labour because she hated poverty and inequality. Yet when her friend, John Kerr, took his controversial action in 1975, she remained loyal.

In the burgeoning genre of biography, few works approach this one for readability, balance and thoroughness. The author, Deidre MacPherson, admits her friendship with her subject, but manages to be both critical and unobtrusive. MacPherson's research has been thorough, her style is accessible and the final product is both entertaining and important.

Citation

  • Tony Smith. 'Review: The Suffragette's Daughter: Betty Archdale by Deirdre MacPherson' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), July 2003. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 23 April 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • BETTY ARCHDALE was one of Australia's most famous, loved and unconventional educators. She was also one of England's early women barristers, was captain of the first English women's cricket team to tour Australia, and led the first WRENS to go overseas during the Second World War. She brought a passionate belief in the importance of women's education and of their role in civic life to the conservative heartlands of Sydney at a time in the 1950s and 19605 when the domestic virtues were more readily extolled.

    By her participation in public life and the media, her influence spread well beyond the institutions which she headed. After her migration to Australia in 1946, she was successively Principal of the Women's College within the University of Sydney, and then Headmistress of Abbotsleigh School for Girls in Sydney from 1958 until she retired in 1970. She was born in 1907 and her mother, Helen, played a leading role in the suffragette movement Helen Archdale was later foundation editor of the current affairs weekly Time and Tide and chairman of Equal Rights International.

    The family were friends of the Pankhursts and at one stage Adela Pankhurst was Betty's governess. Her father, Lt-Col Theodore Archdale DSO, was killed in action in 1918. Betty's schooldays were spent at Bedales and then at St Leonard's School in St Andrews, where cricket was taking precedence over tennis as a sport for girls. She followed her elder brother to McGill University in Canada, where she graduated with first class honours in Political Science and Economics before returning to London University to obtain her LLB and then LLM.

    Her interest in cricket continued, and in 1934 she captained the England women's cricket team on its first tour of Australia. She was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1937, but her legal career was thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Archdale promptly enlisted as an administrative officer in the WRNS, the “Wrens”. She saw service in Singapore, Colombo, Ceylon, Kenya and the Persian Gulf. Then came a Wrens tour to Australia, just as the war was ending. By chance, the position of Principal at the Women's College at the University of Sydney, Australia's oldest university, fell vacant in 1946. Betty Archdale revitalised the College, and broadened her students' vistas immeasurably as the college became a focus for all manner of visiting national and international speakers.

    The students thought she was wonderful. She proved to be the very antithesis of a services disciplinarian. Then in 1958 came an even more surprising and portentous move, when she accepted the position of Headmistress of Abbotsleigh, one of Sydney's best-known Anglican girls' schools. She was later to justify moving from tertiary to secondary education on the grounds that there is a greater opportunity to influence younger people. She had a “can do/ must do” approach to life. Girls were encouraged not simply to take every opportunity but to create their own opportunities.

    By her example Betty Archdale encouraged a disciplined and determined non-conformism. She encouraged a system of freedom with responsibility at an early age. She dispensed with many souldestroying pedantic rules. But there were core principles which pupils flouted at their peril. She believed in self-discipline. Above all, she instilled the precept that from those to whom much is given, much will also be expected.

    After her departure from Women's College, Betty Archdale's association with the University of Sydney continued when she was elected by its graduates to its governing body, the Senate, in 1959. She founded the Australian branch of the International Law Association in 1958. She chaired the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (1960-62) and the Arts Council in New South Wales (1972-74). In 1998 the Australian National Trust voted her one of Australia's hundred “living treasures” . Then, in 1999, the Marylebone Cricket Club elected her as one of the first ten women honorary life members of Lord's. She retired from Abbotsleigh in 1970 and died in Sydney on 11 January 2000.



 
Network Review of Books

NRB July 2003

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