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McLeish, Beryl Elizabeth (1902–1974)

by Helen Taylor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Beryl Elizabeth McLeish (1902-1974), public servant and State superintendent of the Australian Women's Land Army, was born on 6 February 1902 at Gympie, Queensland, eldest child of Gympie-born parents Walter Henry King, engine driver, and his wife Alice Mary, née Marshall, a music teacher. Educated locally, Beryl passed the junior public examination, travelled to Brisbane and joined the Queensland Public Service about 1920. She worked as private secretary to W. H. Austin and F. E. Walshe, successive under-secretaries of the Department of Labour and Industry, and developed her knowledge, skills and political acumen.

On 5 August 1939 at All Saints Church, Wickham Terrace, Beryl married with Anglican rites Edward Francis Pender, a 28-year-old solicitor. They lived at Barcaldine and were to remain childless. Beryl embraced the interests of country women and served as secretary of the local branch of the Australian Comforts Fund (Queensland division) until Ted enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1941. They were to be divorced in 1946.

Prompted by the wartime shortage of labour, Beryl accepted a post in the office of the premier, William Forgan Smith. When the Australian Women's Land Army (Queensland) was established on 27 July 1942, she was appointed its administrative officer. Annabel Philp, founder of the privately sponsored Queensland Land Army, was made field supervisor. Dissatisfied with these arrangements, Philp resigned within twelve months and Pender was appointed State superintendent on 20 July 1943.

An excellent administrator known for her tenacity, efficiency and wide social contacts, Pender worked tirelessly. She recruited 'land girls', improved their conditions of employment and endeavoured to overcome the scepticism of farming communities. A familiar presence in the press and on radio, she was quick to acknowledge that 'replacing men effectively in scores of jobs . . . in pre-war times would have been regarded as revolutionary'. After the A.W.L.A.(Q.) was disbanded in December 1945, she retained a lively interest in her 'LAGs', assisting with arrangements for a 30-year reunion and compiling a short history of the organization.

At the Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, on 31 October 1946 Beryl married Daniel Matthew McLeish (d.1973), a 74-year-old grazier. Their relationship proved difficult. At first they lived on Tumbar, a cattle property near Jericho, before shifting in 1951 to Wacol. In the late 1950s Beryl moved to Auchenflower, Brisbane, and worked as an administrator at Building & Industrial Suppliers Pty Ltd. She retired in her mid-sixties.

Beryl McLeish was a tall, vivacious brunette. She left various impressions: that of an avenging angel rescuing a 16-year-old girl from the amorous advances of a north-coast farmer and declaring 'you needn't look at him again'; that conveyed in a letter to Baroness Elliot of Harwood in 1972, recalling the aftermath of an official inspection at Redland Bay when the two had paddled in the sea to ease the visitor's mosquito bites; that of the competent bureaucrat who 'might have been a general'; and that of the private, romantic and at times flamboyant woman who was interested in astrology. She died on 10 January 1974 at Auchenflower and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (compiler), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • P. A. Carlton, The Australian Women's Land Army in Queensland, July 1942-December 1945 (M.A. thesis, James Cook University, 1980)
  • Australian Women's Land Army, Doris Child collection (State Library of Queensland)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Taylor, 'McLeish, Beryl Elizabeth (1902–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcleish-beryl-elizabeth-11013/text19589, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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