Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vale, Margaret Mildred (1893–1972)

by Greg Curnow

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

Margaret Mildred Vale (1893-1972), public servant, was born on 27 February 1893 at Glebe, Sydney, third daughter of Stephen Wills Vale, a South Australian-born assayer, and his wife Margaret, née Rorison, who came from England. Educated at Sydney Girls' High School, Millie obtained four 'A' passes in the junior public examination in 1909. She entered the Commonwealth Public Service on 22 January 1912 as a typist in the office of the public service inspector for New South Wales and was to spend her entire career there. Since she never married, she was able to retain permanent status.

After three years as a typist, Miss Vale responded to an advertisement for a post as a clerical officer. Her application to sit the examination was initially rejected, as the intention was to recruit male clerks. Persevering with her claim that there was no indication of this restriction in the advertisement, she sat the examination and passed easily. On 1 March 1915 she was transferred from the general to the clerical division and appointed clerk, class 5, at an annual salary of £132.

The public service inspector's office undertook, in each State, the administrative functions of the Commonwealth Public Service Board. One of its duties was to promulgate, within Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities, the terms and conditions of employment of staff. Following the passage of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act (1920), Vale developed a reputation as an expert on the arbitrator's determinations made under the Act.

Her acute mind, mastery of her work and ability to give context to decisions intimidated a number of her junior (and even senior) colleagues, as did her manner. Vale's formality, and air of obvious efficiency, belied her kindly nature. She generously shared her knowledge with junior staff and went out of her way to support them in unusual circumstances. On one occasion a pay officer's pistol accidentally discharged and the bullet ricocheted off the walls of the office: no one was injured and the incident remained unreported.

In her later years Vale was slightly stooped and wore her grey hair in a bun. Her intensity was occasionally softened by a high-pitched laugh. Neither her age nor her stoop detracted from her skill as a tennis player. She enjoyed the game throughout her life and still played at A-grade level in her sixty-fifth year. In 1949 she was classified as clerk (female) on a salary of £603 per annum. On 26 February 1958 she retired from the public service. In an era when female public servants did not receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts, she had been obliged to perform better than many of her male colleagues in order to be regarded as their equal. Those who worked with her knew her real worth. She died on 10 February 1972 at Chatswood and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Women's Weekly, 19 Feb 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Jan 1958
  • private information.

Citation details

Greg Curnow, 'Vale, Margaret Mildred (1893–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vale-margaret-mildred-11905/text21325, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 March 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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