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Cameron, Kathleen Gordon (Kay) (1899–1987)

by Karen Crook

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Kathleen Gordon (Kay) Cameron (1899-1987), rural community leader and environmentalist, was born on 7 May 1899 at Tambo, Queensland, only child of Victorian-born parents John Gordon Browne, grazier, and his wife Annie Emmeline, née Nicol. When Kay was 7, her father was left paraplegic by a farm accident. The family then moved to Malvern, Melbourne. While a comfortable income came from the Queensland property, Narada Downs, and from investments, Kay recalled a sense of isolation arising from her father’s incapacity. At Lauriston Girls’ School, she was dux and editor of the Lauristonian. After matriculation, and against her father’s wishes, she attended lectures in biology and botany at the University of Melbourne, but finally bowed to family pressure and transferred to the National Gallery schools. She displayed a talent for watercolour landscapes. On 15 April 1925 at Malvern Presbyterian Church she married Neil Wilson Cameron, owner of Glenspean, a beef and wool property near Meredith, Victoria. The Camerons became active members of their community, known for their hospitality, and Kay had `stacks of friends’.

When the Country Women’s Association was founded in Victoria in 1928, Mrs Cameron established the first branch in her area. The CWA was an enduring commitment: as a member of State council, State president (1961-63) and national president (1963-65) she advocated the importance of addressing rural loneliness and arresting the drift of families to cities, and highlighted the need for educational and health facilities in the country. Holding office at a time when the CWA was broadening its focus, Cameron encouraged `better citizenship’ to fit women `to take our true part in the life of the country and the world’.

In this spirit, she was drawn to the Associated Country Women of the World. Cameron was also CWA nominee and then president (1962-69) of the Pan Pacific Women’s Association, and an energetic member of the British Empire League. Travel to international conferences, and to visit friends in the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Tonga and the United Kingdom, was a particular pleasure. Photographed in pearls and ornate glasses, Cameron had an open if formal official manner, reflecting a keen awareness of her responsibility to raise public interest in a wide range of causes.

Among them was a commitment to conservation, already evident in 1938 when Cameron offered prizes to the CWA branch that planted the most trees. Competition was fierce. In 1963 she presented a motion at the CWA national conference requesting that world governments reduce atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. She was also a key supporter of the `Garden State’ movement in the 1970s, an early member of the Keep Australia Beautiful Council and, in 1974-75, president of the Natural Resources Conservation League of Victoria (the third woman of seventeen presidents since 1944). Concerned by `the growing pressures of world population and modern science and technology’, she urged campaigners to adapt imaginatively to changing circumstances. She was appointed OBE in 1970.

In the mid-1980s, widowed and afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, Cameron moved to Sorrento, but returned to Meredith to be nursed by her family. Survived by her two sons, she died on 3 November 1987 at Ballarat and was buried in Western cemetery, Geelong.

Select Bibliography

  • Country Women's Association (Victoria), Years of Adventure, 1928-78 (1978)
  • Country Women's Association (Victoria), Official Annual (1960-63)
  • B. Stevens-Chambers, The Many Hats of Country Women (1997)
  • C. Rasmussen, Lauriston (1999)
  • Natural Resources Conservation League of Victoria, Annual Report (1974-75)
  • K. M. Crook, The Politics of Influence (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 1997)
  • private information.

Citation details

Karen Crook, 'Cameron, Kathleen Gordon (Kay) (1899–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cameron-kathleen-gordon-kay-12281/text22049, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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