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Tuxworth, Hilda Elsie (Biddy) (1908–1994)

by David Carment

This article was published online in 2018

Hilda Elsie Tuxworth (1908–1994), nurse, community worker, and historian, was born on 25 June 1908 at Woy Woy, New South Wales, seventh of nine children of locally born parents Herbert Henry Phegan, estate agent, and his wife Elizabeth Ellen, née Walsh. Known to friends and family as ‘Biddy,’ she was educated at Bondi Domestic Science School, then worked as a governess, and trained as a nursing sister at the Wollongong General Hospital. On 18 May 1935 she married Lindsay (Lins) John Tuxworth, an engineer, with Catholic rites at the Church of Our Lady of Dolours, Chatswood. They lived first at Newcastle, then in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea where Lins worked in the goldfields, and later at Wollongong. Lins served in the Citizen Military Forces in World War II.

The Tuxworths moved to Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, in 1951, where Lins was an engineer with Eldorado Tennant Creek Ltd, later transferring to Peko (Tennant Creek) Gold Mines NL. Biddy worked as a nursing sister. Her principal contribution to Tennant Creek was as its first historian. Starting her local history work in 1965, she interviewed numerous old residents and, with her friend Marjorie Fullwood, collected or copied significant documents and photographs. These were ultimately deposited in the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library, the Tuxworth-Fullwood Archives in Tennant Creek, and the Northern Territory Library in Darwin. Her oral history interviews were lodged with the Northern Territory Archives Service.

In 1966 Tuxworth published Tennant Creek: Yesterday and Today, which was substantially expanded and reprinted in 1978. Although a later historian, Dean Ashenden, described the book as ‘amiably formless’ (2010, 52.5), it includes much well-researched information. Helen Springs Station, a short history of a Barkly Tableland pastoral lease, appeared in 1992. She also wrote biographical entries for the Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography and magazine articles about Tennant Creek history.

Tuxworth helped found Tennant Creek’s National Trust branch in April 1974 and served for many years as its chairman or vice-chairman. She was a councillor (1976–83) of the National Trust of Australia (Northern Territory) and an honorary life member from 1980. During 1978 she was instrumental in saving the former outpatients’ department of Tennant Creek Hospital from demolition. Later known as Tuxworth-Fullwood House, from 1980 it was the National Trust’s Tennant Creek headquarters, and also housed a museum and the Tuxworth-Fullwood Archives.

Active in other local organisations, including the Country Women’s Association, St John Ambulance Association, and the Tennant Creek District Association, Tuxworth was appointed MBE in January 1969 for her community work. She also taught ballet, played bridge, and did paintings of local wildflowers. Following Lins’s death in February 1981, she remained in Tennant Creek until 1993, when she moved to Perth to be closer to her sons. Affectionately known as Tennant Creek’s ‘duchess’ or ‘first lady,’ her friend the Northern Territory politician Maggie Hickey remembered her as never afraid to raise issues, as possessing a ‘stately commanding presence and a penetrating mind,’ and as a ‘formidable’ person who ‘got things done’ (NT LA 1994, 11 079). The archivist Matthew Platt noted her ‘wide-ranging research, writing and public interests’ (1989, 15). Survived by her three sons, she died on 19 January 1994 at Wilson, Perth, and was cremated. A Catholic memorial service was held at Tennant Creek’s Church of Christ the King, and a memorial plaque erected near the grave of her husband. Her second son, Ian, served as chief minister (1984–86) of the Northern Territory.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Ashenden, Dean. ‘Telling Tennant’s Story.’ History Australia 7, no. 3 (December 2010): 52.1–52.12
  • Carment, David. ‘Tuxworth, Hilda Elsie.’ In Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, edited by David Carment, Christine Edward, Barbara James, Robyn Maynard, Alan Powell, and Helen J. Wilson, 595–96. Revised edition. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press, 2008
  • Northern Territory. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Record, 22 February 1994, 11 079
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Platt, Matthew. Guide to the Tuxworth-Fullwood Archives. Tennant Creek, NT: National Trust, 1989
  • Tuxworth, Hilda. Sound recording, 16 November 1982. Northern Territory Library
  • Tuxworth-Fullwood Archives, National Trust, Tennant Creek.  Papers. Hilda Tuxworth.

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Carment, 'Tuxworth, Hilda Elsie (Biddy) (1908–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 4 April 2020.

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