Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meares, Mary Emma Goldsmith (1889–1964)

by Wendy Birman

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

Mary Emma Goldsmith Meares (1889-1964), welfare worker, was born on 29 August 1889 at Yule Station, near Roebourne, Western Australia, third of nine children of Western Australian-born parents John Goldsmith Meares, grazier, and his wife Emily Ellen, née Withnell (d.1946). Emma Mary Withnell was her grandmother. Mary was educated privately and at Shelford Ladies' College, Melbourne. She joined the fledgling Western Australian division of the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross Society in 1914, served in a Voluntary Aid Detachment and became a member (1915) of the Soldiers' Welcome Committee. Devastated after the deaths of her sweetheart and her twin brother Douglas in World War I, she devoted herself to the welfare of wounded and blinded servicemen. The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' (and Airmen's) Imperial League of Australia awarded her a certificate of merit in 1921.

With adequate private means to accommodate her natural generosity, Meares lived with her mother in the family home at West Perth. She belonged to the Perth Repertory Club, liked city life and was fond of people. Her world centred on meetings, hospital visits, Christmas parties, bridge evenings, jumble stalls, raffle tickets, poppy sales and flower days. Appointed M.B.E. in 1935, she was awarded King George V's silver jubilee (1935) and King George VI's coronation (1937) medals. In 1937 she commanded No.507 V.A.D. which won the inaugural McWhae Cup for efficiency.

During World War II Meares joined (1944) the British Young Women's Christian Association and served as a welfare worker in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Appointed a welfare officer with the rank of captain in the British Army, she spent a year at Assam, India, and was later engaged by the Indian Army to manage a club at Ranchi for recuperating prisoners of war. Back in Perth, she was elected the Red Cross's local director of hospital visiting. As foundation president (1948-58) of the Western Australian ex-servicewomen's sub-branch of the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A., she was proud when it won the Newdegate Cup in 1953. She was the first woman to be elected a member (1949-59) of the State executive of the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A. and was the only woman on its medical appeal board.

Considered 'plain' (until she smiled), Meares was of average height and solid build; she had fairish hair and pale blue eyes, and wore spectacles. She intimidated young V.A.D.s, but self-styled 'wingies and stumpies' adored her. Each Anzac Day, for forty-one years, she organized transport for incapacitated ex-service men and women. On other occasions she arranged outings to the theatre, the races, and to football and cricket matches. In 1949 she was elevated to O.B.E. Meares was made a life member of the State branches of the Maimed and Limbless Ex-servicemen's Association, the women's auxiliary of the R.S.S. & A.I.L.A. and the South African and Imperial Veterans' Association. She died on 23 June 1964 in her West Perth home and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, As I Remember Them (Perth, 1987)
  • Listening Post, Aug 1964
  • Western Mail (Perth), 15 Dec 1930
  • West Australian, 1 Jan 1935, 30 Sept 1949, 24 June 1964
  • Daily News (Perth), 1 Jan 1935
  • Western Australian Premier's Department, Acc 1704 77/35 (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • Ex-Servicewomen's sub-branch RSL minutes, Jan 1948-Jan 1955 (ANZAC House, Perth)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Meares, Mary Emma Goldsmith (1889–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meares-mary-emma-goldsmith-11100/text19761, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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