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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mills, Beryl Lucy (1907–1977)

by Marion Brooke and Bridget Griffen-Foley

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

Beryl Lucy Mills (1907-1977), by Ted Hood

Beryl Lucy Mills (1907-1977), by Ted Hood

State Library of New South Wales

Beryl Lucy Mills (1907-1977), Miss Australia, was born on 3 January 1907 at Walkaway, near Geraldton, Western Australia, fifth child and fourth daughter of Australian-born parents Frank Ernest Mills, grazier, and his wife Kitty, née Gibbons. After attending Geraldton District High School, Beryl won a bursary to Perth Modern School where she became a prefect. Awarded a scholarship to the University of Western Australia in 1924, she studied English and French, won swimming and diving championships, and captained the hockey team. In 1926 she was admitted to the Training College, Claremont. Beryl's father submitted a photograph of her (wearing a bathing costume) to the inaugural 'Miss Australia' contest, initiated by Claude McKay and R. C. Packer to promote the Daily Guardian. After becoming 'Miss Westralia', she won the national title in June 1926 at a lavish ceremony in Sydney. She admitted 'I like a hard fight'. When she obtained leave from university, one academic commented that her reason was 'unworthy of a serious student'.

Amid a blaze of publicity, Mills—who was 5 ft 6½ ins (169 cm) tall, weighed 9 st 11 lb (62 kg), had short dark hair, a round face and brown eyes, and eschewed make-up—toured retail establishments and attended civic receptions. The 'Miss Australia' selection criteria had included education, sporting ability and poise. Natural, wholesome, healthy and athletic, Mills was presented as the ideal Australian girl. She embarked on a carefully orchestrated promotional tour of the United States of America. Chaperoned by her mother, McKay and (Sir) Frank Packer, Mills was greeted by mayors, attended balls, visited movie studios, started baseball matches, gave swimming exhibitions, placed wreaths on war graves and made speeches with a 'modest earnestness'. She was a guest of the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City. Back in Sydney in November, she undertook a lecture tour.

At St Michael's Anglican Church, Vaucluse, on 19 March 1928 she married Francis Keith Davison (d.1946), a journalist on the Daily Guardian. That year she established the Beryl Mills Advertising Service. In the early 1930s they shifted to Melbourne where Frank joined the Herald; their daughter Judith was born in 1935. Beryl had returned to Sydney by 1941 and became librarian at Packer's Consolidated Press Ltd. She met an American, Major Leslie Garland Calder, whom she married with Methodist forms on 19 December 1946 at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia, U.S.A.

The couple, joined by Judith, bought a 19-acre (7.7 ha) run at Richmond and renovated the ramshackle house. While Leslie worked as a factory supervisor for E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., Beryl joined the American National Red Cross, taught first aid, presided over the Chesterfield Home Demonstration Club, belonged to the Huguenot Republican Women's Club, helped to start a volunteer rescue service, played golf and swam. She was naturalized on 8 June 1955. In the following year she visited Perth. Still regarding herself as an advocate for her native country, she gave talks about Australia to schoolchildren in Virginia, with a toy koala perched beside her.

On Leslie's retirement, they moved to Florida. Survived by her husband and by the daughter of her first marriage, Beryl died on 13 July 1977 in the Medical Center Hospital, Punta Gorda, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. McKay, This is the Life (Syd, 1961)
  • Newspaper News, 1 May 1928
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 17 Sept 1949
  • Daily Guardian (Sydney), 28 June 1926
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch, 27 Mar 1949, 16 July 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 26 Sept 1968, 23 July 1977
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 26 Apr 1971
  • Richmond News Leader, 15, 18 July 1977
  • University of Western Australia Archives
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Marion Brooke and Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Mills, Beryl Lucy (1907–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 8 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Beryl Lucy Mills (1907-1977), by Ted Hood

Beryl Lucy Mills (1907-1977), by Ted Hood

State Library of New South Wales