Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Miles, Beatrice (Bea) (1902–1973)

by Judith Allen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Beatrice Miles (1902-1973), Bohemian rebel, was born on 17 September 1902 at Ashfield, Sydney, third surviving of the five children of William John Miles, Sydney-born public accountant, and his wife Maria Louisa, née Binnington, a Queenslander. Bea (or Bee) was educated at Abbotsleigh. An inheritance from her paternal grandmother allowed her to escape the violent scenes that characterized her relationship with her father. She enrolled in arts at the University of Sydney, but discontinued her studies after a year 'because they did not teach enough Australian stuff'. Soon after, she contracted encephalitis. Conflicts with her father continued, over her life-style and sexual 'freedom'. In 1923 he had her committed to the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, where she remained until publicity in Smith's Weekly led to her release in 1925.

Thereafter, Miles became notable for her outrageous, disruptive conduct in public places, and her outspoken criticism of political and social authorities. Irresolvable differences over her behaviour and life-style occasioned the end of her long relationship with Brian Harper when she was 38. He wanted to marry, while she despised men who got married.

Henceforth Miles had 'no fixed address'. Well-known in Sydney, she could be seen about city and suburban public transport wearing a green tennis shade, tennis shoes and a scruffy greatcoat over a somewhat ample body. She had a number of ingenious methods of obtaining goods, services and daily support. One method was to give recitations from Shakespeare, with a sixpence to three-shilling price range. She became notorious for refusing to pay fares, especially in taxis: cabbies often refused to pick her up. Sometimes in retaliation she would leap on their running-boards, bumper-bars or bonnet, or hurl herself against their sides, detaching doors from hinges; however, in 1955 she paid a female taxi-driver £600 to drive her to Perth and back, taking nineteen days. From the 1940s her closest friend was a taxi-driver John Beynon, but this could not prevent the ire of unpaid drivers; she was assaulted several times in the 1950s.

Miles was constantly harassed by police and she claimed to have been falsely convicted 195 times, fairly 100 times, though obituaries give lower estimates. She haunted the Public Library of New South Wales, reading many books each week, until she was banned from the building in the late 1950s. The final years of her life were dogged by ill health, and in 1964 she entered the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged at Randwick. In old age she reputedly claimed: 'I have no allergies that I know of, one complex, no delusions, two inhibitions, no neuroses, three phobias, no superstitions and no frustrations'. After renouncing her lifelong atheism and receiving Roman Catholic rites, she died of cancer on 3 December 1973 and was cremated.

As well as advocating free love Miles was a fervent nationalist: at her request Australian wildflowers were placed on her coffin, and a jazz band played 'Waltzing Matilda', 'Tie me Kangaroo down Sport' and 'Advance Australia Fair'. In 1984 Better Known as Bee, a musical comedy based on her life, was performed by the Q Theatre Company, Penrith. Her portrait by Alex Robertson was entered for the 1961 Archibald prize.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Hewett, Bobbin Up (Syd, 1959)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 1958
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 9 Dec 1973
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 9 Dec 1973
  • Frank Johnson papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • P. R. Stephensen papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • case papers, Gladesville Hospital, 1923-25 (held by New South Wales Health Commission, Sydney).

Citation details

Judith Allen, 'Miles, Beatrice (Bea) (1902–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miles-beatrice-bea-7573/text13219, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 September 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Miles, Bee
Birth

17 September 1902
Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

3 December 1973

Religious Influence
Occupation