Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Streeter, Joan (1918–1993)

by Kathryn Spurling

This article was published online in 2017

Joan Streeter, 1960

Joan Streeter, 1960

State Library of NSW, 81072

Joan Streeter (1918–1993), naval officer, was born on 25 April 1918 in Melbourne, daughter of Francis Charles Gordon Ritchie, draper manager, and his wife Elsie Ada, née Muir. Educated at Elwood Central State School and Hassett’s Business College, Prahran, Joan worked as a clerk. On 3 December 1938 she married Alan Willis Streeter at Holy Trinity Church, Oakleigh, in a Church of England ceremony. He was an accountant who in World War II became a squadron leader in the Royal Australian Air Force. The marriage was to be dissolved in 1948.

With her husband serving in Darwin, on 25 January 1943 Streeter joined the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), in which women filled positions in shore establishments. After training and brief employment as a writer (naval clerk) at HMAS Penguin, Sydney, Streeter was commissioned on 26 May and posted to HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria, for officer training. She then performed administrative duties at HMAS Penguin (from September); HMAS Kuranda, Cairns, Queensland (from May 1944); and in Sydney at HMAS Kuttabul (January to September 1945 and April to November 1946), and HMAS Rushcutter (September 1945 to April 1946). In July 1945 she was promoted to second officer. She had volunteered for overseas service, but WRANS were restricted to service in Australia. With the end of the war the WRANS were disbanded. Demobilised on 8 November 1946, Streeter moved to London where she was employed as company secretary with Cragoe Ltd, before working in Canada.

Manpower shortages in the Royal Australian Navy and the outbreak of the Korean War resulted in the WRANS being reconstituted in 1951. In 1954 Streeter was working as a company secretary and office manager with Kennedy Insurance Agency, Toronto, when she was offered a short-service commission in the WRANS, beginning on 11 June; extensions of service would follow. Her first two postings were as the unit officer, WRANS, at HMAS Harman, Australian Capital Territory (1954–55), then—in the rank of first officer—at HMAS Cerberus (1955–58). On 13 January 1958 she was appointed as director of the WRANS at Navy Office, Melbourne. Initially an acting chief officer, she held the substantive rank from December. Navy Office moved to Canberra in the following year. She was appointed OBE in 1964. In April 1968 Streeter was granted a permanent commission and on 11 July promoted to superintendent; this rank was equivalent to captain and was so retitled in 1972.

As head of the WRANS, Streeter worked assiduously to expand the numbers of naval servicewomen and to widen the employment categories open to them. A persistent and determined advocate for the welfare of her charges, she was influential in developing government policy to encourage women to enter naval careers. She strove to improve conditions of service, including providing better training and standards of accommodation, and permitting servicewomen to contribute to the military superannuation scheme. Demanding high professional standards, she was a capable leader and administrator who guided the WRANS wisely and diligently. When she assumed command, the WRANS had been a small temporary force; on her retirement in April 1973, it had become a permanent component of the navy, some 750 strong.

Always elegant, she was slim and 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall. Her manner was dignified but approachable. For much of her life, she was a heavy smoker. In retirement she lived quietly, socialising with her friends and enjoying music and reading. She died on 14 April 1993 at her home in Canberra and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Bennet, Mary, compiler. Recollections of Captain Joan Streeter by Retired Officers, 2016. Manuscript held on ADB file

  • Canberra Times. ‘Director of WRANs Reaches Top Rank.’ 25 July 1968, 3

  • Canberra Times. ‘Women Who Win Professional Equality.’ 16 January 1967, 2

  • National Archives of Australia. A3978

  • National Archives of Australia. A6769

  • Spurling, Kathryn. ‘Willing Volunteers, Resisting Society, Reluctant Navy.’ In The Royal Australian Navy in World War II, edited by David Stevens. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1996

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kathryn Spurling, 'Streeter, Joan (1918–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/streeter-joan-17856/text29443, published online 2017, accessed online 18 January 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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