Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Holman, Ada Augusta (1869–1949)

by Heather Radi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Ada Augusta Holman (1869-1949), journalist, was born on 3 October 1869 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest surviving child of Ebenezer Kidgell, English-born journalist and his Irish wife Agnes, née Martin. No record survives of her schooling which may have been disrupted by her father's erratic career: he worked on the Clunes Guardian, the Hawthorn and Boroondara Standard and in 1895-1902 as sub-editor, Sunday Times, Sydney. He died in March 1902, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. Ada later recalled her many years 'doing nothing but work'.

Well informed on literature and current politics, she was active in debating societies, winning the essay and the short story prizes of the New South Wales Literary and Debating Societies Union. By 1896 Ada Kidgell was placing short stories, reviews and political and literary items, using her own name, 'Marcus Malcolm' and 'Nardoo'. As 'Myee' she sent 'Our Sydney letter' to Melbourne Punch. She frequently contributed to the Sydney Mail, Sydney Morning Herald and the Freeman's Journal. She edited and wrote most of the copy for the Co-operator, a trade journal for rural producers.

In Sydney on 22 January 1901 Ada Kidgell married W. A. Holman with Australian Church forms; their only child was born in 1903. Her political views were already formed: she was republican and a critic of the Constitution, of the South African War and of inequality, whether related to class or sex. She continued journalism after marriage, sometimes ghosting items which appeared under her husband's name. The Labor Party benefited from her ability to place items sympathetic to its programme in the non-Labor press. With her husband in State cabinet from 1910, she was more restricted: her short stories continued to appear but little else. The Daily Telegraph accepted articles from an overseas trip, later published as My Wander Year (1912); as 'Literoctopus' in 1914 she wrote sporting and dramatic news for Society. Her Little Miss Anzac (London) appeared in 1917 and Sport of the Gods (Melbourne) in 1921. Two other novels, 'Eve in the desert' (1934) and 'Good courage' (1936), were serialized in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ada Holman resented both the limitations to her own work consequent on being married to a prominent politician, and the demands on women to fill one role only, that of wife and mother. Women would be free, she wrote to Dowell O'Reilly, when motherhood affected woman's life 'only to the same degree as parenthood does a man'. She believed in woman's right to decide whether or not to have children. A recurring theme to her stories was tension in marriage as when a wife's interests were suppressed or ignored, or a woman married unwillingly from economic necessity or family pressure. Her famous reply to the Sunday Express question, 'How to handle a husband', was not to be a doormat. Her feminism was ahead of its times in criticism of sex roles and sexist language: she castigated publicly the Labor delegate who used 'old woman' as a term of contempt.

Ada Holman was devoted to her daughter Portia. She began writing children's plays for performance at the school Portia attended. In 1923 she took her to England for tertiary education. In 1925 she wrote begging William to abandon his intention of entering English politics: 'People not in the swim have no life at all'. When she left next year her adored daughter remained in England. In Australia Ada continued to make a useful contribution to family income by writing and, from 1927, by radio talks. A second children's story Elka Reva-Ree appeared in 1928. In Europe again in 1930 and 1933, she denounced Nazi anti-Semitism in her reporting for the Herald.

In impecunious circumstances after William died in 1934, she was helped a little by the award in 1938 of a Commonwealth Literary Fund pension of £1 a week. Shortly before her death she was complaining of delay in publication of her Memoirs of a Premier's Wife (1947), the disappointingly anecdotal memoir of meetings with famous persons. In a fragment of a play similarly entitled, the wife has bitter words: 'The leader of the state has no time for his wife and children'. Ada Holman died on 3 April 1949 and was cremated with Anglican rites. The Bulletin remembered her for having 'an amused and amusing chuckle for life generally'. That would have made her chuckle again.

Select Bibliography

  • Ada Holman papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • William Holman papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Dowell O'Reilly papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Holman, Ada Augusta (1869–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holman-ada-augusta-6710/text11583, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Nardoo
  • Myee
  • Literoctopus
  • Marcus Malcolm
  • Kidgell, Ada
Birth

3 October 1869
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Death

3 April 1949

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation