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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Byrnes, Victoria Leonie (Pat) (1888–1964)

by David Denholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Victoria Leonie (Pat) Byrnes (1888-1964), teacher and school inspector, was born on 2 April 1888 at Boman, near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, third daughter and tenth of eleven children of Swiss-born parents Jean-Baptiste Palazzi, railway-ganger, and his wife Assunta, née Delponte. Jean-Baptiste reputedly left the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino to evade Austrian military conscription. He worked in rural New South Wales as a goldminer and on the railways before moving to Sydney to be near his family, 'most of whom had settled there'. Leonie (who detested her first name of Victoria and later settled for 'Pat') attended the Presentation Convent, Mount Erin, and passed the senior public examination in 1904.

Miss Palazzi joined the Department of Public Instruction in July 1907 as a pupil-teacher at Enmore Public School, Sydney, and completed training in 1909. While teaching (1910-15) in primary schools, she attended (part time) the University of Sydney (B.A., 1913) and in 1916-19 taught in turn at Goulburn and at St George Girls' high schools. A tallish, attractive woman, she caught the attention of the Catholic diocese of Maitland. Paid from a sustaining fund willed to the Church, she became in 1920 the diocese's inspector of schools. From the early 1930s she drove her own car, 'Rosebud'. In 1936 she edited the Roma Poetry Book, a much-reprinted anthology for school children.

In April 1938 Palazzi returned to the department and taught at Wagga Wagga High School; she also began tutoring novices at Mount Erin convent, and led the local group of a Melbourne-based lay movement for Catholic teachers in public primary and secondary schools. She retired from the department in late 1943 and served as inspector of schools (1945-48) for the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese. Palazzi returned to Sydney (to live at Kings Cross). At the Church of Mary Immaculate, Manly, on 21 May 1948 she married John Joseph ('J.J.') Byrnes (d.1955), a widower and a retired hotel-owner from Wagga Wagga. They lived in Darley Road, Manly.

Age, late marriage and widowhood did not stop Pat's involvement in education. Her Catholic inspectorates had been directed to advancing primary education. At Wagga Wagga, as novices' tutor, she had joined the drive for higher secondary teaching standards. She continued to visit the novices at Mount Erin during her Wilcannia-Forbes inspectorate. In 1956, long financially independent, she was installed as the honorary 'Mistress of Method' to the novices' teacher-training schools at Lochinvar and Singleton convents.

Once a keen golfer, Palazzi divided her last years between training novices, motoring, playing solo and bridge, being a generous and enlivening 'auntie' to her Palazzi nieces and nephews, and reading aloud to 'J.J.'s' grandson the children's literature which her world had inherited. Remembered variously as imperious, bossy, friendly, pleasant and one who enjoyed a beer with the girls, she was a spiritual, intellectual and secular inspirer to two generations of Catholics, religious and lay. She died of myocardial infarction on 12 May 1964 at Manly District Hospital and was buried in Woronora cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, New South Wales), 10 Dec 1912, 6 Oct 1917
  • Presentation Convent, Mount Erin, Wagga Wagga, archives
  • private information.

Citation details

David Denholm, 'Byrnes, Victoria Leonie (Pat) (1888–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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