Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Green, Isabel Alice (Belle) (1893–1984)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Isabel Alice (Belle) Green (1893-1984), manager, was born on 9 May 1893 at Ballarat, Victoria, only daughter and third of five children of Victorian-born parents James Menzies, coach-painter, and his wife Kate, née Sampson. The family moved to Jeparit that year. Belle went to the local state school then boarded with her paternal grandmother at Ballarat while attending the Humffray Street State School and Ellerslie College. From 1910 the family, including her brothers (Sir) Robert and Frank Menzies, lived in Melbourne. A ‘beautiful and vivacious young woman of outstanding ability’, according to a visitor, she was sent to the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy. Against the wishes of her family she eloped with George Claridge Green, a soldier; they married with Anglican rites on 2 December 1916 at Maribyrnong camp, a few days before he embarked with the 4th Field Artillery Brigade, Australian Imperial Force.

Following his return to Australia in June 1919 and demobilisation, Isabel Green accompanied him to the soldier settlements at Red Cliffs, where she lived in primitive conditions. Having borne three children in just over two years, she became secretary (later president) of the women’s club and baby health centre. After Green’s stock and station agency failed in 1929, they moved to Melbourne. Desperate, Isabel persuaded Sidney Myer to allow her to run a service bureau at the Myer Emporium Ltd. In 1933-36 she was honorary secretary of the auxiliary of the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, and in 1936-38 she worked in public relations for the Argus.

George was a sustenance worker until appointed secretary to the trustees of the Exhibition Building in 1931. Provided with a cottage in the grounds, the Greens created an old-world garden with herbaceous borders, roses, paved pathways and tall leafy trees. Following her husband’s death in 1938, Mrs Green succeeded him as secretary at a salary of £400, with fuel, light and quarters. Business-like and capable, with the common sense of a practical woman, she soon silenced her critics. Her many and varied duties included management of the Great Hall, the Palais Royale and the Aquarium, and responsibility for the exhibitions, concerts, pageants, balls and other public events held there. Fascinated by the Aquarium, Isabel Green corresponded with experts and curators, and collected live specimens from South-East Asia, the Pacific, and Australian waters. When the Royal Australian Air Force requisitioned the Exhibition Building in October 1940 she concentrated on promoting the Aquarium. Her sons and daughter served in World War II. After the war she had to contend with rent losses and damage to the building.

Promoted to secretary-manager, in March 1946 Mrs Green, who adored fancy dress parties, organised an ‘1890 night’ to aid the Food for Britain fund; she appeared as the ‘Countess of Carlton’ in ‘a magnificent frock of blue moire with draped panniers’, carrying her lorgnette. In 1953 she attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. Her dream of using the Exhibition Building to entertain royalty became reality when state functions for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were held there in 1954. On her retirement in December 1955, Isabel Green was honoured with a party hosted by the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and attended by fifty-five businessmen.

Mrs Green moved to an apartment at Kew and visited Britain, the United States of America and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Vigorous and forthright, with a firm tread, she was secretary of the Kew branch of the Liberal Party and of the Australian-American Association. She was a long-standing barracker for the Carlton football team, and a good storyteller who could create a saga even out of encountering a cockroach. Plump, with silver hair and vivid blue eyes, she had an ‘enviably fresh complexion’. On three occasions she acted as official hostess for her brother Robert at the Lodge in Canberra (while Dame Pattie was overseas) and thoroughly enjoyed the international atmosphere and interesting guests. Isabel Green was appointed OBE in 1970. She died on 20 December 1984 at Camberwell and was cremated with the forms of the Uniting Church. Her elder son and her daughter survived her. The family holds her portrait by Alice Stone.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Elden, The Exhibition Trustees, Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne (1984)
  • D. Dunstan, Victorian Icon (1996)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Aug 1936, p 14, 22 Dec 1955, p 8
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 7 Jan 1939, p 33, 19 Dec 1945, p 14
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Mar 1946, p 6, 10 Sept 1955, p 7, 8 Mar 1960, p 11, 13 June 1970, p 4
  • Isabel Green, notes (1979), held in ADB file
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Green, Isabel Alice (Belle) (1893–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/green-isabel-alice-belle-12561/text22613, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 November 2018.

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

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