Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hutchison, Ruby Florence (1892–1974)

by David Black

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Ruby Florence Hutchison (1892-1974), politician, was born on 15 February 1892 at Footscray, Melbourne, third of ten children and eldest daughter of John George Herbert, billiard-marker, and his wife Florence Louisa, née Atherton, both Victorian born. When Ruby was 4 years old the family moved to the Murchison goldfields in Western Australia; they lived first at Cue, then at Day Dawn and finally at Meekatharra. Ruby's main schooling was at the Dominican Convent, Cue. On 11 March 1909 in her father's house at Meekatharra she married with Catholic rites Daniel Joseph Buckley, a miner; they were to have three sons and four daughters before their marriage was dissolved on 5 December 1928.

After leaving Meekatharra, Ruby and her children lived together in the timber country of the Hotham Valley, in Perth and at Northam. She earned an income by taking boarders and by dressmaking. Her determination to succeed and her strong-minded approach to the problems of women dated from this period. At the district registrar's office, Perth, on 8 November 1938 she married a 49-year-old labourer Alexander Hutchison (d.1961). After her children had reached adulthood, she attended Stott's Business College (from 1941) and the University of Western Australia's summer schools where she studied public administration, public speaking, psychology and languages.

By her own account, Ruby had first joined the Labor Party at the age of 16. Her interest in politics developed during the years of the Depression and World War II. She stood unsuccessfully as the Australian Labor Party's candidate for Suburban Province in the Legislative Council in 1950 and at a by-election in 1953. When she won the seat on 8 May 1954 and entered parliament a fortnight later, she became the first woman member of the State's Upper House and remained the only woman member until her retirement. Re-elected in 1960, she was returned by North-East Metropolitan Province in 1965. At St Peter's Catholic Church, Bedford, on 14 May 1966 she married Frederick Richard Hugh Lavery (d.1971), a 68-year-old widower and fellow Labor M.L.C.; they were the first husband and wife to serve simultaneously in an Australian parliament. She retired from politics on 21 May 1971 and on 20 September registered a deed to authorize her continued use of the surname Hutchison.

Throughout her parliamentary career Mrs Hutchison pursued a variety of causes, including the right of women to serve on juries, as well as child-welfare, education and housing issues. Committed to the eventual abolition of the Legislative Council, she introduced a number of private member's bills for reforming the electoral system for the Upper House, a chamber which Labor had never controlled. Her most forceful rhetoric was directed at the property franchise for Council elections. In October 1962 she was the second woman member ever to be suspended (Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver was the first) from either House of the Western Australian parliament, after refusing to withdraw her remark that she was ashamed to be a member of such an undemocratic chamber. Ironically, following the adoption of adult suffrage for the Council in 1965 and the acceptance of redrawn electoral boundaries, Labor's representation diminished during her final term in parliament. Hutchison supported the ideal that governments should be constituted of an equal proportion of men and women.

An active community worker, she was founder (1962) and president of the Western Australian Epilepsy Association, and an inaugural member (1959) of the State branch of the Australian Consumers Association. She was also involved in the Girl Guides, and was founder and first chairman of the women's auxiliary of the State's Boy Scouts' Association. Tall and bespectacled, she was a well-groomed woman who usually dressed in neutral colours.

Hutchison died on 17 December 1974 at Shenton Park and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery with Catholic rites; she was survived by two sons and three daughters of her first marriage. Seen by F. J. S. Wise, her leader in the Council, as rebellious and as having an overwhelming enthusiasm for her beliefs, she was a fiery speaker and a tenacious crusader for democratic reform, women's rights and social justice.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 30 Oct 1962, p 2086
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 May 1954
  • Sun (Sydney), 13 May 1959
  • Daily News (Perth), 25 Oct, 10 Nov 1962
  • Weekend News, 10 Nov 1962
  • West Australian, 29 Oct 1967, 27 Nov 1970, 18 Dec 1974, 4 June 1981
  • M. Choules, Women in West Australian Parliamentary Politics, 1921-1968 (B.A. Hons thesis, Curtin University of Technology, 1988)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Black, 'Hutchison, Ruby Florence (1892–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchison-ruby-florence-10582/text18797, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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