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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Buntine, Gladys Selby (Jim) (1901–1992)

by Marianne Payten

This article was published online in 2016

Gladys Selby Buntine (1901–1992), Girl Guide commissioner, was born on 7 September 1901 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, only child of Reginald Selby Spurling, accountant, and his wife Ethel Marian Linsey, née Flint, typist. Gladys’s father left Melbourne for South Africa some months before her birth; her parents divorced in 1906. Her mother lived with her own widowed mother and married Robert William Lord, later mayor of Hawthorn, when Gladys was eleven. Due to a series of early deaths, her paternal grandmother, Selina Spurling, had lost two husbands and four sons: little Gladys was the treasured sole survivor of her family. In Selina’s old age, Gladys would give her a home with her family at Hale College in Perth. She attended Merton Hall (Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School) (1913–17), where she did well in English and French and was awarded a council minor scholarship in 1914. She attended finishing school at Vallois, France, developing language skills that she later used with French-speaking clients while employed as a secretary in a Melbourne wool-broking firm.

On 17 May 1926 at Christ Church, Hawthorn, Spurling married Dr Martyn Arnold Buntine (18981975), a schoolmaster and son of Murray Buntine, proprietor of Caulfield Grammar School. Arnold and Gladys (nicknamed ‘Jim’) would have two sons. Their courtship had been interrupted when he spent the years 1923 and 1924 at the University of Edinburgh gaining a doctorate in education. As her husband rose in his profession, she became an ‘ideal Headmaster’s wife’ (Ad Astra 1992, 15). Her poise and elegance, together with a genuine interest in people, made her a charming hostess at school and official occasions. Arnold held appointments as headmaster of several prestigious private boys’ schools: Camberwell Grammar School, Melbourne (192731); Hale School, Perth (193140, 194346); and Geelong College, Victoria (194660). Each of these positions allowed Gladys almost complete freedom from domestic responsibilities. They loved concerts and theatre, and both enjoyed sports; he was a champion athlete, while she played golf and tennis.

Around five feet three inches tall (160 cm) tall, warm-hearted, encouraging, and tireless, from 1933 Buntine had embraced the Girl Guides movement. In Perth she served on the State executive and gave regular Australian Broadcasting Commission programs on guiding. She and Arnold shared ideals about education for leadership, community service, and development of manual skills. Arnold promoted these values in his schools, Gladys through guiding. She relished guiding too as a ‘means of relief from her life with men’ (GiA 1992, 11) in her all-male family and school environment. She continued her guiding work in Western Australia while Arnold served in the Australian Imperial Force in World War II; he commanded a company in the siege of Tobruk, Libya, and a battalion in the Northern Territory.

Resettling in Geelong, Buntine became division commissioner for the Barwon area, and later a member of the State council. After moving to Sydney, where Arnold was employed at Knox Grammar School, she was chief commissioner for Australia (1962–68). Her main challenge in this role was to introduce professional standards at all levels of guiding. Under her watch, a leadership training course for commissioners was introduced, and the first Australian edition of guiding’s policies, organisation, and rules was published. She also vigorously encouraged national and international networking, taking significant roles at world guiding events in Denmark, Britain, Malaya, Japan, and India. In 1967 she escorted the world chief guide on her Australian tour. Guiding for her was always fun—she loved the camps, especially if allowed to ‘lick the jam spoon’ (Buntine Papers).

Buntine was appointed MBE (1960) and OBE (1966) for service to youth through guiding. She also served the community through involvement in the National Fitness Council in Western Australia, the National Council of Women, and the Presbyterian Church Association. She received the highest Commonwealth Guiding honour, the Silver Fish, in 1966. A perceptive listener with a ‘spark of humour’ (GiA 1992, 11), she relished the company of interesting people and over many years loved to gather her family for a Sunday roast. Survived by her sons, she died on 15 July 1992 at Kilsyth Retirement Village, Kilsyth, Victoria, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Ad Astra (Geelong College). ‘Mrs Gladys Buntine OBE.’ No. 71 (August 1992), 15
  • Buntine, Ivy. Personal communication
  • Buntine papers. Private collection
  • Coleman, Margaret, and Honor Darling. From a Flicker to a Flame: The Story of the Girl Guides in Australia. Sydney: Girl Guides Association of Australia Incorporated, 1989
  • GiA. ‘A Tribute to Mrs Buntine, OBE.’ September 1992, 11

Additional Resources

  • photo, Daily News (Perth), 22 December 1934, p 15

Citation details

Marianne Payten, 'Buntine, Gladys Selby (Jim) (1901–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 30 September 2020.

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