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Miller, Dame Mabel Flora (1906–1978)

by Stefan Petrow

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

Mabel Flora Miller (1906-1978), by unknown photographer, 1943

Mabel Flora Miller (1906-1978), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, VIC0712

Dame Mabel Flora Miller (1906-1978), politician, was born on 30 November 1906 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, second child of South Australian-born parents Joseph Christian Goodhart, draper, and his wife Alice Mary, née Humphries. Brought to Adelaide as a child, Mabel was educated at Girton House Girls' Grammar School. She attended a finishing school in Paris before entering the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1927). Admitted to the South Australian Bar on 17 December 1927, she pursued her profession in London and Sydney before settling in Tasmania. At St George's Anglican Church, Hobart, on 24 July 1930 she married Alan John Richmond Miller (d.1965), a 31-year-old chemist.

Appointed acting section officer, Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, on 30 August 1941, Miller rose to temporary squadron officer while serving (1942-43) in Melbourne as deputy director, W.A.A.A.F. In December 1943 she was posted to Townsville, Queensland, as staff officer, North-Eastern Area. Her appointment terminated in Hobart on 3 October 1944.

After World War II Miller was involved in the Australian Red Cross Society, the Queen Alexandra Hospital and the Mary Ogilvy Homes Society. As president (1952-54) of the National Council of Women of Tasmania, she heard a number of complaints about municipal mismanagement and decided to stand for the city council. In her campaign she stressed the advantages of having a woman's view on services, amenities and the spending of ratepayers' money. She was elected to the Hobart City Council in May 1952, becoming its first female member. Increasingly influential, she chaired the finance, health and building, and town planning committees, and served as deputy lord mayor in 1954-56 and 1964-70. Throughout her period in office she performed with ability, dignity and charm. Rejecting claims that she was a feminist—and professing to be as 'interested in roads and drains' as women's affairs—she sought the position of lord mayor in 1970. She failed in her bid and retired from the council in 1972.

In a larger political arena Miller had attracted the attention of the Liberal Party. Although she unsuccessfully contested the division of Queenborough for the Legislative Council in 1953, she headed the poll for Franklin in February 1955 and thereby became the first woman to be elected to the House of Assembly. The Mercury reported that she would continue her domestic duties 'like any other housewife', but Miller was no stereotype. To the contemporary press she gracefully combined 'a skilled executive's poise and confidence' with 'the chic of a mannequin, and the charm and kindliness of a wife and mother'. In a confident maiden speech she criticized 'ill-planned Government housing subdivisions, which for lack of ordinary common amenities would undoubtedly degenerate rapidly into slums'. When speaking in the assembly on the Hobart corporation bill (1955) she defended the city council from attacks, misrepresentation and government intrusion. Miller supported law, education, health and welfare reforms, and measures designed to protect children from neglect, maltreatment and disease. In 1961 she was elected federal vice-president of the Liberal Party.

Surprisingly defeated at the polls in May 1964, Miller never re-entered State politics. She maintained her association with community bodies, among them the United Ex-Service Women's Homes Association and the Tasmanian division of the Right to Life Association. An effective fund-raiser, she helped to establish (1955) the Women's and Children's Memorial Rest Centre, Hobart. She also sat on the interim council of the Australian National Gallery (from 1968) and on the Metric Conversion Board (from 1970).

In 1967 Miller was appointed D.B.E. Early that year she represented her country on the United Nations' Status of Women Commission. As a rapporteur of the 21st session, she helped to draft and push through declarations on the elimination of discrimination against women. Later in the year she was an Australian delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Opposed to 'feminine screaming and flag-waving', Dame Mabel had found that 'choosing a goal and going after it with quiet determination nearly always works'. She was a slim, attractive and energetic woman who dressed in the latest fashions and whose photograph regularly appeared in Tasmanian newspapers. Even in her seventies she was still driven by lifelong concerns for personal efficiency and effectiveness. Survived by her daughter, she died on 30 December 1978 in a nursing home at New Town and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Thomson, The WAAAF in Wartime Australia (Melb, 1991)
  • M. Sawer and M. Simms, A Woman's Place (Syd, 1993)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 Apr 1955
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20 Apr 1955, 19 Nov 1969, 7 June 1972, 22 Aug 1974
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 31 Aug 1957
  • Miller papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Stefan Petrow, 'Miller, Dame Mabel Flora (1906–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miller-dame-mabel-flora-11125/text19811, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 December 2014.

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

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