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Nunan, Marjorie Estella (1910–1963)

by Anthea Bundock

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

Marjorie Estella Nunan (1910-1963), pensioners' advocate, was born on 27 October 1910 at Wodonga, Victoria, second of five children of Australian-born parents Francis Joseph Nunan (d.1953), coach driver, and his wife Daisy Florence, née Dougherty (d.1973). Marj was educated at St Michael's Catholic School, Deniliquin. Her father was often absent, working as a driver and later as a travelling salesman.

Less than five feet (152 cm) tall, Miss Nunan had straight hair with a deep fringe and wore thick-lensed spectacles. She suffered from the debilitating and ultimately fatal Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare inherited disorder. Although crippled and often ill, she disliked and avoided using a wheelchair. Cheerful and gregarious, she received an invalid's pension and shared a house with her parents when they moved to Brunswick, Melbourne, about 1933. In the early 1940s she became a social activist, particularly concerned to obtain a better deal for pensioners. By this time she was a member of the Communist Party of Australia; she was secretary of its Brunswick branch in 1948-56.

In March 1954 Nunan called a public meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall with the aim of uniting pensioners' associations throughout the State. The meeting led to the establishment that year of the Combined Pensioners' Association of Victoria, under her presidency. She used the press extensively to publicize the C.P.A.'s claims for an adequate standard of living, reasonable rent, health care and concessions. With indefatigable spirit, she spoke on behalf of pensioners at court hearings, assisted them to resist evictions, and organized protest meetings, petitions and deputations, often in the face of considerable opposition. On one occasion, after the Melbourne City Council refused her application to use a public-address system at a picnic-meeting, she obtained a vehicle with loudspeakers from the police.

Nunan organized the association's annual conference and led a deputation of pensioners to Canberra each year before the budget was tabled in parliament. The Federal treasurer Sir Arthur Fadden declined to meet them in 1955 on their first visit. In the following year they went armed with a petition: it bore 120,000 signatures and demanded a pension equal to half the basic wage. Although it was winter, they threatened to sit overnight on the steps of Parliament House until they were heard. Fadden remained intransigent, but the pensioners received wide publicity. Nunan proved resourceful in retaining the sympathy of the press for the pensioners' cause.

In 1956 she helped to found the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners' Federation. She was appointed its first treasurer, a position she was to hold until her death. From 1959 she produced a bi-monthly tabloid newspaper, the Combined Pensioners' Association News; it was initially priced at one penny and had a circulation of 9000. Nunan died of septicaemia and heart disease on 12 January 1963 at Royal Melbourne Hospital and was cremated. Articles in the C.P.A. News continued to refer to 'Our Marj' for years after her death. In 1986 the association opened at Thornbury the Marjorie Nunan home for pensioners.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Gibson, My Years in the Communist Party (Melb, 1966)
  • CPA News, Feb-Mar, Apr-May 1963, Jan-Mar 1964, Nov-Dec 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 June 1955
  • Guardian (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1955
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12, 14, 15 Jan 1963
  • A1533/33, item 56/2853, ASIO, A6119/90, item 2472, A6122/2, item 493 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Anthea Bundock, 'Nunan, Marjorie Estella (1910–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nunan-marjorie-estella-11267/text20099, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 August 2014.

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

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