Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Press, Anne Elizabeth (1903–1992)

by Rachel Grahame

This article was published online in 2016

Anne Elizabeth Press (1903–1992), politician, was born on 25 August 1903 at Dubbo, New South Wales, and registered as Annie, eldest child of Victorian-born parents Thomas Speechley, contractor, and his wife Charlotte, née Lacey. Educated privately, between June 1921 and May 1922 Annie undertook a short course of teacher training. She taught in three public schools: Condobolin North from May 1922; Tichborne from January 1923; and Forbes from April 1924 to May 1925, when she resigned. On 1 September 1924 at St John’s Church of England, Forbes, she had married Thomas Francis Press, a farmer. They lived first on Yarralee, outside Condobolin, and later moved to Myall Park, Tullibigeal.

Continuing her interest in education, Anne Press served (1950–60) on the council of the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of New South Wales, becoming country vice-president in 1953. She was also a director (1953–78) of the Condobolin District Hospital and a supporter of the Far West Children's Health Scheme. Since 1943 she had been active in the Australian Labor Party (ALP); she was secretary of the Condobolin branch for some years and a delegate to the party’s annual conferences sixteen times.

Between 1934 and 1978, elections to the New South Wales Legislative Council were the responsibility of the two houses of parliament, which sat together every three years to choose one quarter of members for a twelve-year term, or to fill vacancies left by retirements. Press won a by-election in October 1959 for the seat left vacant by the death of Gertrude Melville. The result drew newspaper comment, contrasting her position as ‘a farmer's wife’ with that of her Liberal Party of Australia opponent, Nancy Bird Walton, a ‘well-known air-woman’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1959, 4). In December the Labor government introduced a bill for a referendum on the abolition of the Legislative Council. She was one of seven Labor members of the council expelled from the party for voting with the Opposition in a procedural motion designed to prevent the legislation from being passed. A majority vote in the referendum in 1961 ensured the council’s continued existence.

Press and her companions formed the Independent Labor Group, which existed until 1977. She became a Liberal supporter. Apparently attempting to pressure her, in 1966 the ALP chose her sister Eva Speechley as its main candidate for a close Legislative Council by-election. Press resented the move. Next year she joined the Liberal Party. She was re-elected in 1970 but, when direct election of the council was introduced in 1978, she did not nominate.

A fierce opponent of gambling, Press particularly disliked poker machines, which she called ‘iniquitous monsters’ (NSW LC 1959, 2529). She consistently upheld what she saw as the interests of country people, and encouraged closer settlement. The (Sir Harold) Wyndham scheme to restructure secondary schooling attracted her strong backing. She criticised the running of child welfare institutions and the neglect of Aboriginal reserves and settlements. Taking an unpopular stand, she supported a Country Party member, W. G. Keighley, when he called for legislation to allow abortion on request. Press spoke passionately on the subject, citing cases she had known personally or been told about, and accused men who opposed change of wanting ‘to keep a woman chained to the double-bed and the kitchen sink’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1971, 1).

In 1967 Press was made the public’s representative on the Taxi Advisory Council, an appointment which carried no remuneration and which she held for eleven years, working on numerous sub-committees. She travelled, on her own, to and from Sydney by train when the Legislative Council was sitting. When it rose she returned to Myall Park, where she bred pigs. Late in life she and her husband retired to Condobolin. Survived by her husband, their two daughters, and one of their two sons, she died on 23 August 1992 at Condobolin and was buried in the Anglican section of the local cemetery.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales. Legislative Council. Parliamentary Debates, vol. 30, 2 December 1959, 2529
  • New South Wales. Legislative Council. Parliamentary Debates, vol. 140. 23 August 1978, 447-50
  • O’Hara, John. ‘Labor’s Choice “Upsets” M.L.C.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1966, 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Farmer’s Wife Arrives for By-Election.’ 13 October 1959, 7
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘A.L.P. Takes 10 Minutes to Expel Seven M.L.C. “Rebels”.’ 12 December 1959, 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Break “Chains” on Abortion—Woman MLC.’ 13 August 1971, 1-2
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Ten MLCs Seek Place on Lib Council Ticket.’ 24 June 1978, 2

Citation details

Rachel Grahame, 'Press, Anne Elizabeth (1903–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/press-anne-elizabeth-16281/text28223, published online 2016, accessed online 20 April 2019.

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