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Robertson, Jessie Marian (1909–1976)

by Michael Sturma

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

Jessie Marian Robertson (1909-1976), radio broadcaster and community leader, was born on 1 July 1909 in West Perth, second of three children of Robert Robertson (d.1912), a journalist from Scotland, and his South Australian-born wife Agnes, née Keay, who became a senator. Educated at Thomas Street State and Perth Modern schools, Jess trained as a teacher of home science and set up (1931) Phoebe's School of Domestic Art. From the mid-1930s she was employed by W.A. Broadcasters Ltd as an announcer on Radio 6IX. She became known as 'Phoebe the early cook' to housewives and as 'Aunt Judy' to those who listened to her children's programme. She also conducted 'good housekeeping' parties for Metters Ltd, manufacturers of the 'Early Kooka' gas stove.

In December 1941 Robertson enlisted in the Australian Women's Army Service. Commissioned lieutenant in January 1942, she served at headquarters, Western Australian Lines of Communication Area, until May 1943 when she was transferred to Victoria. On 28 July she was promoted captain. She compiled statistics of prisoners of war and of Australian forces in the field. Her appointment terminated on 21 December 1945. Returning to Radio 6IX, she revived her role as 'Aunt Judy'; her plays, performed by children, were a special feature of the programme. As Jess Robertson, she broadcast a women's session and a music show. She co-hosted (from 1951) the weekly community programme, 'Help your neighbour', and covered the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.

Miss Robertson was active (often by her mother's side) in numerous women's organizations and civic associations. A foundation member (1946) of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Perth, she led the Australian delegation to the international federation's seventh congress (1956) at Montreal, Canada. She was also a founder of the A.W.A.S. Association of Western Australia (1947), the Soroptimist Club of Perth (1958) and the King Edward Memorial Hospital auxiliary (1958). In addition, she was involved with the Prisoners' Aid, the Silver Chain Nursing and the Presbyterian Women's associations. She served as State president of the National Council of Women (1956-59 and 1966-72) and of the Australian-Asian Association (1960-65), and was international president (1961-64) of the Pan-Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association. Her hobbies included handicrafts, gardening and music.

In 1953 Robertson stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal Country League candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of Leederville. In 1958 she was defeated for the Senate. She helped to found (1957) the women's auxiliary of the Country and Democratic League and was president (1961-64) of its federal women's council. The first woman to be elected an alderman (1969) of Mundaring Shire Council, she was deputy-president in 1972-74.

Robertson died of hypertensive heart disease on 22 June 1976 at the Alfred Carson Hospital, Claremont, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. The Independent Monitor claimed that she would be 'remembered as a woman who not only spoke about things of consequence to others but who took action on their behalf'.

Select Bibliography

  • Broadcaster, 30 Jan 1946, 29 Nov 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Feb, 9 Apr 1958
  • Independent Monitor, 7 July 1976
  • West Australian, 8 July 1976.

Citation details

Michael Sturma, 'Robertson, Jessie Marian (1909–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robertson-jessie-marian-11543/text20597, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 November 2014.

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

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