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Keating, Adeline May (1885–1957)

by Joan Hellegers

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

Adeline May Keating (1885-1957), businesswoman, was born on 8 January 1885 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, seventh surviving child of William Keating, a Melbourne-born sharebroker, and his wife Ann Jobling, née Todd, from England. Will resented a seventh child; while Addie secretly admired her father, she grew to fear and hate him. At their school for young ladies, the Misses Berges nurtured her musical talents and encouraged her dramatic ability. By the age of 19 she was acclaimed for her rendition of Romeo and applauded as the new star of the Bendigo Operatic Society. When Will died bankrupt in 1908, Addie moved with her mother to Melbourne and for ten years survived illness and poverty. She abandoned hope of a career in the theatre. In 1914 Sidney Myer opened his new emporium in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Addie, who had met him through his drapery store at Bendigo, walked miles to the city to join the spectators and found employment in the basement of the Myer Emporium Ltd.

World War I occasioned shortages of male staff and commodities at Myer's. The manager Lee Neil had faith in Keating's ability, but thought her audacious. She challenged Sidney Myer to let her become a buyer. Placed on a salary of £3 per week, in 1919 she sailed for Japan, commissioned to purchase toys. The language and the mysteries of merchandising in Japan gave her constant worry. She heard of a freight war and dared to exceed her buying power before returning to Melbourne in trepidation. Her male colleagues taunted her with overstocking her department with toys and she hoped that the Christmas season would show a big profit. From the United States of America, Myer cabled her to sail again for Japan and buy for the whole store, there being little available in Europe. Back in Melbourne, she encountered resentment from staff and received scant praise from Myer. That treatment became the pattern of her career, which evolved into travelling for nine months each year.

Keating was one of the earliest female buyers at the Leipzig Fair, Germany, in 1923. Visits to other European countries followed, before her journeys took her to Britain and the U.S.A. In 1927 she was sent to live in Paris, as a full-time buyer of toys in Europe. Every year she came back to Myer's to present a special Christmas attraction for children: in 1928 she created an animated toy zoo on the third floor. Overwork and her volatile nature later caused a debacle which brought her home from Europe in disgrace. She resumed buying in Japan, and began in China. Two more trips to Europe ensued, and then a mental collapse.

Following her resignation in 1932, Keating opened a small factory to produce wooden toys of her own design. It became the A. M. K. Manufacturing Co. and branched out into buttons, buckles and novelties. Affected by the Depression, the company closed in 1939. Miss Keating survived a crippling stroke in 1945. She died on 7 March 1957 in her Brighton flat and was buried with Anglican rites in Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hellegers, Against the Current (Melb, 1987)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Sept 1926, 6 Jan 1927, 4 July, 17 Nov 1928
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 14 Dec 1949
  • Keating papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joan Hellegers, 'Keating, Adeline May (1885–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 4 June 2020.

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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