Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Packard, Eileen Mary (1928–1995)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published online in 2019

Eileen Mary Packard (1928–1995), sporting club and professional association administrator, was born on 27 January 1928 at Greenwich, Sydney, fourth child of South Australian-born Charles Harrison Packard, sales manager, and his New South Wales-born wife Eileen, née Brown. Mary was educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School. By 1949 she was employed as a typist. After working for a short period in Britain she returned to Australia in 1952, and held various office jobs in Sydney.

In 1960 Packard accepted work with Geoffrey Sykes, who was establishing a motor racing circuit at Warwick Farm funded by the Australian Jockey Club. The 1960s were the golden years of Australian motor racing when the affable Sykes attracted European Formula 1 drivers to Australia in the summer months to take part in the Tasman series. At first glance, she seemed ill-suited to the job. Fond of classical music and literature—she was inclined to quote from Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare throughout her life—she was initially uninterested in cars and diffident about motor sport. Agreeing to work for Sykes for three weeks, she remained for twenty-six years.

While she never owned an exotic or sporty car, Packard was soon enthusiastically embracing motor racing. Her role involved managing the membership of the club Sykes established to foster grassroots motor racing—the Australian Automobile Racing Club (AARC). She was to many members its public face. In the AARC’s office in central Sydney she performed secretarial and receptionist duties. On race days at Warwick Farm, whether members’ meetings or National Open events, she oversaw with assurance the intense atmosphere of the pit offices, among other duties preparing detailed race reports for the benefit of journalists. Spirited and direct, at times she went beyond her role as Sykes’s assistant, instructing him on what to do instead of waiting for directions or advice. Presenting her with a service award in 1979 from the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), Sir Jack Brabham spoke of her ‘calm efficiency,’ and stated that ‘motor sport is yet another of those activities that rely on people, special people, and Mary Packard is one of the most special that we know’ (Australian Automobile Racing Club Newsletter 1979, 676).

When the circuit at Warwick Farm closed in 1973 and Sykes retired, Packard succeeded him as club secretary of the AARC. The club relocated its racing to Amaroo Park, in north-western Sydney. With the aid of a lively events committee, Packard achieved much during the following years; the AARC organised several club race meetings per year. Her work included running an annual mileage marathon sponsored by the Shell Oil Co. of Australia Ltd, the first of which was held on 8 June 1980 at Warwick Farm (and later at Amaroo Park). In 1986 she was made a life member of CAMS.

With encouragement from Sykes, and in a plane owned by the AARC, Packard learned to fly. She became a capable private pilot who often set off for distant locations in her two-seater Cessna 150. From 1977 to 1980 she was the federal secretary of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association, in which role she encouraged younger members and was the mainstay in advertising and coordinating the association’s scholarship drive.

Neat and invariably well-dressed, Packard had a warm, pleasant smile. She never married. She enjoyed loving friendships with the distinguished fellow aviators Senja Robey and Heather Innes, and commanded enduring respect in the motor racing community. Falling ill during an event at Amaroo Park, she was rushed to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a serious cancer that later returned to claim her life. Aware that her days were numbered she travelled extensively, undertaking a first-class rail trip through the United States of America and revisiting Britain. She died on 27 November 1995 at Petersham, and was cremated. When the AARC had closed in 1986, Archie White, Shell’s long-term competitions manager in Australia and the club’s chairman, said that she had ‘done more for Club Motor Sport in this country than any other person or organisation’ (1986, 1). The Historic Sports and Racing Car Association of New South Wales awards a trophy in her honour to acknowledge an outstanding contribution to the club’s activities.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Automobile Racing Club Newsletter. ‘A.A.R.C. Secretary Honoured by C.A.M.S.’ 79, no. 3 (July 1979): 676
  • Kable, Mike. ‘Pilot Had Organising Drive.’ Australian, 18 December 1995, 13
  • Moore, Andrew. Aintree Down Under: Warwick Farm and the Golden Age of Australian Motor Sport. Petersham, NSW: Walla Walla Press, 2017
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Eulogies delivered at funeral of Mary Packard, 1995. Unpublished typescripts held by Mrs Senja Robey
  • White, Archie. ‘Chairman’s Final Message.’ In Australian Automobile Racing Club: History and Events of the Club 1962–1986. [Sydney]: Australian Automobile Racing Club, 1986: 1

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Packard, Eileen Mary (1928–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/packard-eileen-mary-23120/text32380, published online 2019, accessed online 23 May 2019.

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