Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hummerston, Florence Ellen (Flo) (1889–1983)

by Jenny Gregory

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

Florence Ellen (Flo) Hummerston (1889-1983), community leader and city councillor, was born on 6 March 1889 at Fremantle, Western Australia, fourth of eight surviving children of George Hayman, labourer and later accountant, and his wife Emily, née Mason. A robust child, Florence attended St Joseph’s convent school, Fremantle, and Underwood Business College and then worked as a typist for her father. She married Victor William Hummerston (d.1973), an engineer, on 22 September 1909 at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Fremantle.

Flo Hummerston’s charity work began when her only child, 7-year-old Emily, was concerned about a poor family whose father was ill. Her philanthropic involvement increased after her daughter’s death, from kidney failure, in 1928. Living in Perth, Mrs Hummerston became involved in the Women’s Service Guilds of Western Australia (vice-president 1937-40). In World War II she helped to establish the Women’s Australian National Service and, as its State commander, was involved in the foundation of the Australian Women’s Land Army in Western Australia. She set up an emergency housekeeping service in 1943. That year under the WANS banner she also established a home which became Wanslea Hostel (for Children of Sick Mothers). She was an honorary director of the home for twenty-five years. In 1946 the Women’s Service Guild established a women’s parliament to train them for high office; Mrs Hummerston was its first minister for housing and immigration. She launched the League of Home Help for Sick & Aged in 1953 and Meals on Wheels in 1954 and was president of the latter for twenty years.

The first woman councillor (1951-69) of the City of Perth, Hummerston needed to be confident. Lord Mayor Totterdell had hoped no woman would be elected because they `were inclined to prolong discussions and so waste time’. Others worried that her success would `ruin the old club permanently’. Health issues, such as improved methods of handling foodstuffs and the inclusion of electric hand dryers and incinerators in women’s rest rooms, were among her interests. She objected to `double dealing’ by sitting councillors and inconsistent re-zoning that favoured developers. Despite the slogan `Don’t say no to Flo’, she was unsuccessful in the 1953 State election and in her bid for the position of lord mayor in 1964. She believed that women’s `stepping stone is through Local Government, co-operating with men in the framing of social measures so closely associated with the home and family life’.

A tall, gaunt and visionary woman with high standards and singled-minded determination, although noted for her sense of humour, Mrs Hummerston was called `Battleaxe Hummerston’ by her detractors. She was president of the Tuberculosis (and Chest) Association of Western Australia and the women’s auxiliary of the Perth Chest (Sir Charles Gairdner) Hospital and an executive member of the Children’s Protection Society of Western Australia and the National Fitness Council of Western Australia. A justice of the peace from 1952, she was appointed OBE in 1960 and a freeman of Perth in 1979. Mrs Hummerston was an ardent monarchist. She died on 31 December 1983 at Como and was buried in the Catholic section of Karrakatta cemetery. A child-minding centre, a small park and a residential lodge for the elderly bear her name.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (1978)
  • P. Wellstead, The WANS (2005)
  • West Australian, 28 Nov 1951, p 2, 16 May 1964, p 11, 23 May 1974, `Fremantle section’, p 6, 23 July 1979, p 63, 2 Jan 1984, p 12
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 1 Sept 1957, p 14
  • R. Jamieson, interview with F. Hummerston (transcript, 1981-82, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Hummerston papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Jenny Gregory, 'Hummerston, Florence Ellen (Flo) (1889–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hummerston-florence-ellen-flo-12667/text22829, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 December 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 17

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