Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Prevost, Maria Caroline (Ronnie) (1895–1976)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Maria Caroline Verona (Ronnie) Prevost (1895-1976), 'flapper', was born on Christmas Day 1895 in the schooner, Sree Pas-Sair, at Roebuck Bay, Western Australia, fourth of ten children of Francis Filomeno Rodriguez, a Spanish-born master pearler, and his wife Maude Gwenevere, née Miller, who came from South Australia. Frank had settled at Broome in the mid-1880s and by 1904 owned a fleet of fourteen luggers and a schooner. He also built (1905-06) and ran the Hotel Continental during the heyday of the local pearling industry. Verona's childhood, spent rollicking with her siblings in a rambling house at Claremont, Perth, was interspersed with sojourns at Broome, where she met her father's exotic acquaintances from different parts of the world. Educated at Loreto Convent, Claremont, 'Ronnie' (as she was known) enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne in 1914 but withdrew that year and returned to Perth when her father's pearling enterprise collapsed.

Miss Rodriguez's beauty was legendary. She had olive skin, large, dark, luminous eyes, black wavy hair, bow-shaped lips and glistening teeth. After a brief stint as a nanny, she married Frederick Charles Grave (d.1924) on 19 November 1917 at the district registrar's office, Perth; he was 32 years old and a prominent businessman who held the Western Australian franchise for Ford motorcars. Svelte, elegantly dressed, always well groomed, intelligent and witty, Ronnie became the toast of the town. Whether dancing the Charleston on top of a table, or driving her open sports car around Peppermint Grove, with a brilliant scarf flying in the wind, she was seen as personifying the era of Isadora Duncan and the 'flappers'.

Not yet 30, widowed, wealthy, at the height of her beauty and accustomed to travelling in style, Ronnie Grave soon grew restless in Perth. In the mid-1920s she enrolled her two daughters as boarders at Loreto Convent and left for Europe and America where she mingled on the fringes of high society with the rich, the famous and the notorious. Back in Perth, on 18 February 1928 at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Cottesloe, she married Benjamin Champion Prevost (d.1969), a wealthy wool-buyer; they were to have one child, a son. The Prevosts lived at Wilma Lodge, Peppermint Grove, before building a thoroughly modern mansion at Mosman Park in the late 1930s.

When her daughter Joan died following a car crash near Wangaratta, Victoria, in August 1940, the glitter went out of Prevost's life and she fell into a state of chronic depression. Despite the efforts of medical practitioners at home and abroad, melancholia persisted. Day after day she stared into space, her fingers incessantly tapping the arm of her chair. In 1974 she moved to London to be near her son. Survived by a daughter of her first marriage, and by the son of her second, she died on 8 May 1976 at Kensington and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Northern Times (Carnarvon), 16 Dec 1965
  • West Australian, 25 May 1976, 26 Jan 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Prevost, Maria Caroline (Ronnie) (1895–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prevost-maria-caroline-ronnie-11457/text20425, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Grave, Maria Caroline
  • Rodriguez, Maria Caroline
Birth

25 December 1895
Roebuck Bay, Western Australia, Australia

Death

8 May 1976
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation