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Vaughan, Grace Sydney (1922–1984)

by Bobbie Oliver

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Grace Sydney Vaughan (1922–1984), social worker and politician, was born on 1 April 1922 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, second child of London-born Archibald James Ingram, breadcarter, and his wife Grace Parker, née Morgan, who was born in Sydney. Her father’s long period of unemployment during the Depression was a formative influence on Grace’s future career and politics. Educated at Cammeray Primary and North Sydney Girls’ High schools, she left school at 14 after passing the Intermediate certificate. In 1937 she attended Metropolitan Business College on a scholarship and worked as a clerk-typist, before enrolling in 1940 as a trainee nurse at Manly District Hospital. On 22 August 1942 at the Central Methodist Mission’s Wesley Chapel she married Walter Septimus Vaughan, a woolclasser. After marriage she continued working, as an assistant industrial officer (1942-45) with Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd.

Out of paid employment for nine years while she cared for her three young children, in 1954 Vaughan became a mail-delivery contractor at Castlecrag. In 1960 she was appointed community liaison officer with radio station 2UE. As the administrator (1964-68) of the North Sydney community service centre, she co-ordinated the work of a large number of volunteers. She returned to formal education in 1962, studying social work part time at the University of New South Wales (Dip.Soc., 1968).

Moving to Perth, Vaughan worked for the Child Welfare Department as a family welfare officer (1969-71) and the Department for Community Welfare as a social worker (1972-73). In 1973-74 she was seconded to the Australian Social Welfare Commission as a consultant. She completed degrees in arts and social work at the University of Western Australia (BA, 1971; M.Soc.Wk., 1973). Maintaining her connections with UWA as a member (1975-83) of the senate, she served on many committees, including as chairman (1979-83) of the buildings committee.

Vaughan actively promoted social work as a profession: she served as WA branch president (1974-76) and vice-president (1980-82), and as national president (1976–82) and vice-president (1982-84), of the Australian Association of Social Workers. Other posts included vice-president (1980-82) (Asia) and international president (1982-84) of the International Federation of Social Workers; executive committee member (1980-84) of the West Australian Council of Social Service; member (1976–83) of the UWA board of studies in social work (and social administration); vice-chair (1983–84) of the State government’s welfare and community services review committee; honorary secretary (1980–83) of the Council on Ageing (WA); and member (1983–84) of the board of management of Royal Perth Hospital.

In May 1974 Vaughan was elected to the Legislative Council as a member for the South-East Metropolitan Province, representing the Australian Labor Party. Her election and that of a Liberal, Margaret McAleer, brought the number of women in the council to three. She was a delegate at the 1975 ALP federal conference, Terrigal, New South Wales. Her parliamentary colleagues were soon describing her as ‘Amazing Grace’. A politician whose activism was grounded in personal experience of poverty, she used the Liberal-dominated Legislative Council chamber as a forum for demonstrating how policy decisions of conservative governments adversely affected the lives of working men and women. Especially concerned about unemployment, she was a powerful advocate of job creation and of government policies to lessen the burden on low-income earners.

A civil libertarian, in 1977 Vaughan successfully steered a bill to decriminalise homosexuality through the Legislative Council, only to have it defeated in the Legislative Assembly. She championed electoral reform: she strongly opposed a bill to disenfranchise illiterate Indigenous Australians and criticised the ‘monstrous inequality’ between the rural and urban voters of Western Australia. Easily demolishing the arguments and interjections of parliamentary opponents, she demonstrated a wit which had both sides of the House laughing. Her campaign for the construction of a women’s toilet off the main corridor of Parliament House met strong opposition. She carried out her threat to use the men’s toilet, walking in on her main opponent at an inconvenient moment; soon afterwards a new well-located female toilet was installed.

Vaughan was divorced in 1975 and on 25 April that year she married George Herbert Yewers, a retired public servant, in a civil ceremony at Applecross. She retained the surname Vaughan in public life. In May 1980 she lost her Legislative Council seat due to a redistribution, but continued to play an active role in many organisations. She was a keen golfer and swimmer. Survived by her husband and the two sons and daughter of her first marriage, she died unexpectedly of liver abscesses on 21 January 1984 in Perth and was cremated. Tributes from university, political and social work colleagues praised her activism, her tremendous capacity for work and her sensitivity to the needs of the disadvantaged. A building of the WA Health Department and an annual lecture and a scholarship at UWA have been named in her honour.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Watson (ed), We Hold Up Half the Sky (1994)
  • D. Black and H. Phillips, Making a Difference (2000)
  • B. Oliver, Unity is Strength (2003)
  • Social Work News, Sept-Oct 1980, p 3, Jan-Feb 1984, p 1
  • Uniview, Feb 1984, p 10
  • Australian Social Work, Mar 1984, p 2
  • International Social Work, vol 27, no 4, 1984, p 1
  • West Australian, 1 Apr 1974, p 20, 24 Jan 1984, p 20, 28 Jan 1984, p 42.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bobbie Oliver, 'Vaughan, Grace Sydney (1922–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vaughan-grace-sydney-15899/text27100, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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