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Bennett, Agnes Jessie (Addie) (1880–1969)

by Phyl Garrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Agnes Jessie (Addie) Bennett (1880-1969), community worker, was born on 22 February 1880 at California Gully, near Eaglehawk, Victoria, fourth child of George Dixon, a goldminer from England, and his Scottish-born wife Jessie, née Watson. In 1890, aged 38, George died of tuberculosis and Jessie took over as mine-manager. The family's savings were lost when she deposited crushings from the mine in a bank that was never to reopen. Agnes attended school, cared for her younger sisters and nursed her mother until 1902 when Jessie also died of tuberculosis.

Following a married sister to the Western Australian goldfields, Agnes arrived at Kalgoorlie in August 1906. There she became a piano teacher. On 26 February 1908 she married with Presbyterian forms Thomas Henry Bennett (d.1932), a cordial manufacturer from Adelaide; their only child was stillborn. Agnes subsequently devoted herself to helping another sister rear her six children.

Mrs Bennett became involved in community work, particularly in raising funds for Kalgoorlie's horse-drawn ambulance (obtained in 1910) and its first motor ambulance (bought in 1921). She accompanied local doctors on trips to the 'woodline' to treat sick or injured men, first at Kurrawang and later at Lakewood. Between 1925 and 1930 she passed first-aid and home-nursing courses run by Mrs K. Elliott for the St John Ambulance Association. When a home nursing division was established at Kalgoorlie in June 1934, Bennett superintended its fifteen members. For two years meetings were held at Dugan Street, and money was collected to buy splints and bandages.

With the outbreak of World War II, she obtained approval from the Kalgoorlie Municipal Council to use a shop in Hannan Street as a practice and class-instruction room, and furnished the air-raid dressing-station there with seven beds. The numbers attending her classes increased and in May 1940 Bennett received permission to form a Voluntary Aid Detachment, of which she was appointed commandant. In addition to teaching first aid and home nursing, she supervised route marches and parades, helped at the hospitals and organized Christmas parties for servicemen's families. She relinquished her V.A.D. post in 1943 to concentrate on her work for the St John Ambulance Association. Between 21 August 1941 and 30 July 1943 she had also served on the council of the Kalgoorlie branch of the National Aerial Medical Service of Australia (Flying Doctor Service).

Before and after the war, Bennett's duties with the ambulance association included attendance at public and sporting functions where first-aid treatment was often needed, demonstrating home nursing, decorating halls and arranging dinners for functions, attending church and Anzac Day parades, and organizing local and State competitions and examinations. Fund-raising was a constant challenge. She was appointed serving sister (1946) and officer sister (1960) in the Order of St John. When Kalgoorlie's new sub-centre was opened on 10 September 1950, a room was named after her. Because of failing eyesight, she was relieved as superintendent in 1953, but served on the reserve list for another decade. From 1948 she had, as well, instructed No.2 Company of the Girl Guides' Association of Western Australia.

Gentle, compassionate and dignified, with a slight stature that belied her strength of character, 'Addie' was often in pain from ailments that plagued her until the end of her life. She died on 25 July 1969 at Kalgoorlie and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 11 Sept 1950, 8 Jan 1960, 28, 30 July 1969
  • Daily News (Perth), 30 July 1969
  • St John Ambulance Association records, Perth
  • family papers and scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

Phyl Garrick, 'Bennett, Agnes Jessie (Addie) (1880–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-agnes-jessie-addie-9487/text16693, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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