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Kathleen Mildred (Katie) Campbell-Brown (1903–1996)

by Alison Ransome

This article was published online in 2020

Kate Campbell-Brown, by Rhyl Hinwood, 1985 [detail]

Kate Campbell-Brown, by Rhyl Hinwood, 1985 [detail]

University of Queensland Library, 412731

Kathleen Mildred Jean Campbell-Brown (1903–1996), teacher of French and university lecturer, was born on 10 June 1903 at Balsall Heath, Birmingham, England, elder daughter of Scottish parents George Campbell-Brown, bookseller’s assistant, and his wife Jean Stevenson, née Macnair. A failed business venture precipitated the family’s arrival in Queensland as sponsored migrants in 1911. By 1916 they had settled at 18 Union Street, Spring Hill, Brisbane, the house Kathleen would live in for most of her life. George Campbell-Brown worked at J. H. Thompson’s city bookstore, Jean as a Brisbane Courier proof reader.

Fluent in Italian—having been a governess in Rome—and prizing language acquisition, Jean introduced Kathleen early to the Causeries Françaises (Alliance Française de Brisbane). Other youthful pastimes included violin, tennis, prize-winning photography, and Persian cat-breeding. Determined that her daughters have a ‘fitting education’ (UQA S505), Jean urged them to win scholarships. One took Kathleen from Leichhardt Street Girls’ State School to Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School in 1917. Another—an open scholarship luckily awarded to her when the original winner declined it—paved her way to the University of Queensland (BA Hons, 1924; MA, 1949), from which she graduated in classics. Between 1924 and 1929 she taught that subject at BGGS, where she was well-regarded as a teacher and colleague.

In 1929 Campbell-Brown won an Orient Steam Navigation Co. Ltd scholarship offering a free return passage, first class, to Europe for study. Instead of keeping a diary she wrote letters home, to be held for her return. After reuniting with family in Britain and studying phonetics briefly in London, she moved to Paris and took a short course at the Sorbonne, revelling in being at ‘the centre of things’ (UQA S505). More than three years’ immersion in French culture, and the beginnings of lifelong friendships, changed the direction of her career. She first obtained a year’s live-in position as an assistant English teacher at the Lycée de Jeunes Filles, Grenoble, while studying classics at the city’s university. Demonstrating ‘beaucoup d’intelligence et de zèle’ (UQA S505), she gained a similar post for two years from mid-October 1931 at the Ecole Normale d’Institutrices in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, its proximity enabling trips to Paris for lectures at the Sorbonne and theatre-going. She attended the International Conference of University Women in Edinburgh in 1932. Complying with the terms of her scholarship, she returned to Brisbane in October 1933, farewelled from Marseille by Edouard Barat, a French artist who wanted to marry her. It was believed he disappeared while following her to Australia; she remained unmarried.

For the next eleven years, Campbell-Brown taught French and German at St Margaret’s Church of England Girls’ School. A ‘born teacher’ (Quayle 2017), passionate about girls’ education, she emphasised spoken French—‘best with a mirror’ (UQA S505)—assistance from native speakers, art appreciation, and drama studies. She became an active committee member and later vice-president of the Alliance Française, leading activities—especially plays, which her students enjoyed performing—and the popular Soirée des Ecoles, the prize-giving night for the Concours des Ecoles (Schools’ Competition).

Professor Charles Schindler offered Campbell-Brown a tutor’s position in French at the University of Queensland in 1945. Her master’s thesis reflected her background in classics and avid interest in French contemporary theatre. In 1954 she was promoted to lecturer and in 1959 to senior lecturer. She was active in the International Federation of University Women, especially its 1965 international conference in Brisbane. Influential through Australian Broadcasting Commission radio talks, a booklet on oral French, syllabuses for public examinations, vacation schools for regional language teachers, and Alliance Française activities, she became well-known in the academic and social life of the university and beyond, a lively foil to the more restrained Professor James Mahoney—like him, attired in academic dress for lectures. Her sabbaticals, in 1954, 1962, and 1968, were spent in France. Famed and feared by students for her insistence on meticulous written work and on spoken French wherever she encountered them, she communicated, above all, enthusiasm for ‘la civilisation française’ (McPherson, pers. comm.).

Hazel-eyed, with brown hair drawn back into a knot, Campbell-Brown loved clothes and French jewellery, and was admired for her ‘elegance and taste, charm and standards’ (UQA S505). Although alarmed at her penchant for marking acquaintances out of ten, Katie’s friends, as well as her students, valued her encouragement to achieve high standards, and the kindness that tempered her ‘critical spirit’ (UQA S505). A ‘frightfully social animal’ (UQA S505), she delighted in soirées at her home—officers attended, should a French ship be in port—exposing students to French conversation, and to her subtropical garden, bespoke furniture, and, as she described them, ‘Frigidaire noir’ (refrigerator) and ‘le moderne’ (modernist) alterations to the house designed by her friend Karl Langer.

In 1957 the French government appointed Campbell-Brown to l’ordre des Palmes académiques, for ‘services rendus à la culture française,’ and in 1966 to l’ordre national du Mérite. She retired in 1973. The Modern Language Teachers’ Association of Queensland awarded her life membership (1972), as did the university’s Staff and Alumni associations; the Staff and Graduates Club named its Kathleen Room for her. In 1987 the university unveiled in the Great Court a grotesque, by Rhyl Hinwood, capturing her keen gaze and Eiffel Tower brooch.

Campbell-Brown died on 18 April 1996 at Stafford and, following a Presbyterian funeral, was cremated. She left bequests to St Margaret’s and BGGS, which commissioned a bronze portrait by Hinwood. The estate of her sister, Leslie, provided the funds for the Kathleen Campbell-Brown French studies scholarship at the University of Queensland.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Barrett, Don. ‘Soirée in Memory of Kathleen Campbell-Brown.’ Alumni News (University of Queensland), no. 24 (July 1996): 9
  • Brisbane Courier. ‘Miss Kathleen Campbell-Brown, B.A. (Honours Classics).’ 15 June 1929, 25
  • Brisbane Telegraph. ‘Interesting Personality Dies at 82.’ 6 September 1951, 19
  • Campbell-Brown, Kathleen. ‘The Influence of Greek Classical Drama on French Contemporary Theatre.’ MA thesis, University of Queensland, 1949
  • Campbell-Brown, Kathleen. Interview by anonymous interviewer, 1987. Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School archives
  • McPherson, Madeleine. Personal communication
  • Mishinski, Judy. ‘Grotesque Tribute to French Teacher.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 23 March 1987, 7
  • Nettelbeck, Colin, ed. The Alliance Française in Australia, 1890–1990: An Historical Perspective. Turner, ACT: Fédération des Alliances Françaises en Australie, in association with the Institute for the Study of French-Australian Relations, 1990
  • Personal knowledge of the ADB subject
  • Quayle, Dr Patricia. Interview by the author, transcript, 22 June 2017
  • Rees, Miss Dawn. Interview by the author, transcript, 20 July 2017
  • University of Queensland Archives. S 259, Alumni News, 1966–1973
  • University of Queensland Archives. S 505, Papers of Kathleen Campbell-Brown

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alison Ransome, 'Campbell-Brown, Kathleen Mildred (Katie) (1903–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 20 July 2024.

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Kate Campbell-Brown, by Rhyl Hinwood, 1985 [detail]

Kate Campbell-Brown, by Rhyl Hinwood, 1985 [detail]

University of Queensland Library, 412731