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Munro, Grace Emily (1879–1964)

by Jillian Oppenheimer

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

Grace Emily Munro (1879-1964), a founder of the Country Women's Association, was born on 25 March 1879 at Gragin, Warialda, New South Wales, second of seven daughters of George Hollinworth Gordon, grazier, and his Victorian wife Eliza Frances, née Macdonald. She was educated by governesses and at Kambala school, Sydney. An accomplished horsewoman, she could drive a buggy at a gallop as well as any man. She was also a good shot, an expert needlewoman and a knowledgeable gardener.

At Gragin on 14 July 1898 she married 36-year-old Hugh Robert Munro of Keera. They had four children, the youngest dying in 1911 while Grace was absent in Sydney with another child having an emergency appendectomy. This experience made her determined to improve the conditions of and the availability of medical help for all women and children in the country. Recuperating from her loss, she travelled restlessly between 1911 and 1914. She stayed with (Sir) Hubert Murray in Papua and sailed with him in his yacht to the Trobriand Islands and up the Fly River. She later visited Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, and in 1914 Egypt, Europe and Britain.

During World War I Grace Munro lived mainly in Sydney at Bellevue Hill. In 1915 she was honorary organizing secretary of the Australian Army Medical Corps' comforts fund and also worked for the Australian Red Cross Society under Eleanor MacKinnon, particularly at Holsworthy army camp. Using her Clement-Talbot car, she and her driver transported supplies to the camps round Liverpool each week. She helped to provide facilities at the Sydney showground for country volunteers during the 1917 strike and ran the post office there. She qualified in first aid, home nursing and hygiene with the St John Ambulance Association and had advanced instruction from Sister A. B. Parry. After the war she gave first aid classes at Keera and in recognition of her work was appointed a serving sister of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. She was a member of the Bingara Hospital Board.

In 1922 Mrs Munro helped to organize and publicize the conference in Sydney which formally established the Country Women's Association of New South Wales. Elected president, she insisted that the association was to be non-political. She travelled throughout New South Wales and Queensland speaking to country-women and helping to form branches. By 1923 there were sixty-eight branches, seventeen rest-rooms for mothers and children, two seaside homes and maternity centres in many towns. She met cabinet ministers to urge the establishment of maternity wards in country hospitals and improved conditions in trains and at railway refreshment rooms for women and children. Ill health forced her to retire in 1926 after 100 branches had been formed and a membership of 4500 attained. She continued to raise large sums of money for such causes as rest-centres and holiday homes, the Australian Inland Mission's Aerial Medical Service, the Red Cross and St John. Appointed M.B.E. in 1935, she was a member of the advisory council of New England University College at Armidale from 1938.

Over the years Grace Munro visited Kashmir, India, Burma, China, Japan, The Philippines, Indonesia, North America, Europe and South Africa. In 1928 she accompanied the administrator, Brigadier General E. A. Wisdom, on his annual tour of the ports of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, and 400 miles (644 km) up the Sepik River. From 1952 she annually visited the Great Barrier Reef, gathering a remarkable shell collection. She did not live at Keera after her eldest son's marriage in 1936, but developed a series of properties at Scone and Bundarra and houses in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Survived by two sons and a daughter, Grace Munro died in Sydney on 23 July 1964 after suffering from severe curvature of the spine; she was cremated with Presbyterian forms and her ashes were scattered over Keera. Her estate was valued for probate at £64,525. With her independent wealth she lived a largely separate life from her husband although he remained amusedly tolerant and proud of her activities. She was thin and 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, and had a forceful, even dominating and self-centred personality, although devoted to her family.

Select Bibliography

  • Country Women's Association of New South Wales, The Silver Years (Syd, 1947), and The Golden Years (Syd, 1972), and Report, 1922-26
  • Stock and Station Journal, 2, 5, 12, 26 May 1922
  • Land Annual, 19 Oct 1960, p 38, 39, 56
  • Pastoral Review, 17 Aug 1964
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Jillian Oppenheimer, 'Munro, Grace Emily (1879–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/munro-grace-emily-7686/text13451, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 October 2014.

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

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