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White, Mary Hyacinthe Petronel (1900–1984)

by Diane Hacker

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

Mary Hyacinthe Petronel White (1900-1984), local government councillor and campaigner for women’s rights, was born on 4 October 1900 in Townsville, Queensland, eldest of four children of Thomas Clive Groom, architect, and his wife Mary Jane, née Brown. In 1915 Petronel won a full scholarship to Lloyd’s Business College, Brisbane, a combined high school and secretarial training college for girls. She was living in Sydney and working as a stenographer at the time of her marriage to Walter Thomas Peet White, a clerk. The couple wed on 26 June 1923 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, and later moved to Brisbane.

Endorsed as a candidate for the Citizens’ Municipal Organization, a non-political group created by (Sir) John Beals Chandler, in 1949 White became the first woman elected to represent a capital city council in Australia. She served for eighteen years as an alderman representing Hamilton (Clayfield) ward on the Greater Brisbane City Council. A strong advocate for women’s interests, White used her position on the council to push for better public facilities and improved legal protection for women. She also sought greater representation for women in government, arguing that women had a ‘particular part to play in Municipal Government’ because the services provided by local government—transport, utilities, parks and recreation—related ‘so closely to the homes of the people’. At the same time there was a need for women in public life for it empowered them.

At the council election held on 29 April 1961 White shared the ticket for Clayfield with her cousin (Sir) Thomas Reginald Groom who stood, unsuccessfully, for mayor. She retired in 1967 and was appointed OBE that year for her services to local government.

White was involved in more than twenty community organisations. She held official positions in the National Council of Women, the Queensland Women’s Electoral League, the Queensland Women’s Historical Association, the Women’s Political Club, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Municipal Musical Advisory Committee, the Ascot Centenary Kindergarten and the Brisbane Eisteddfod. A member of numerous other community groups, including the Country Women’s Association and the Business and Professional Women’s Club, White was also patroness of the Kalinga Boy Scouts, the Civilian Widows’ Association and the Clayfield Child Care Association.

For relaxation White enjoyed tennis and golf, but her community work kept her so busy that she rarely had time for hobbies. One of Brisbane’s best-loved personalities, White was known for her sincerity and admired for practising what she preached. Predeceased by her husband (d.1964) and survived by their three sons, White died on 1 June 1984 in Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Lofthouse, Who’s Who of Australian Women (1982), p 467
  • Notable Queenslanders 1975 (1976)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 2 May 1949, p 1, 2 July 1949, p 7, 11 Jan 1950, p 5, 15 June 1950, p 1, 29 Oct 1953, p 3, 14 Oct 1954, p 11, 28 Mar 1967, p 15, 4 Sept 1968, p 19, 28 Nov 1970, p 14, 2 Aug 1984, p 10
  • Brisbane City Council Archives
  • Queensland Women’s Historical Association records.

Citation details

Diane Hacker, 'White, Mary Hyacinthe Petronel (1900–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-mary-hyacinthe-petronel-15805/text27004, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 May 2019.

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

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