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Dame Annie Florence Cardell-Oliver (1876–1965)

by David Black

This article was published:

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Annie Florence Gillies Cardell-Oliver (1876-1965), by unknown photographer, 1930s

Annie Florence Gillies Cardell-Oliver (1876-1965), by unknown photographer, 1930s

State Library of Western Australia, 007365D

CARDELL-OLIVER, Dame Annie Florence Gillies (1876-1965), politician, was born on 11 May 1876 at Stawell, Victoria, fifth child of Johnston Wilson, an Irish-born storekeeper, and his second wife Annie, née Thompson, from Scotland. On 26 January 1895 in Melbourne Florence married with Presbyterian forms David Sykes Boyd, a 22-year-old wool-buyer whom she accompanied to England. He died at York on 5 November 1902 from an accidental overdose of opium-based sleeping tonic. On 15 December that year Florence married Arthur Cardell Oliver (1876-1929) at St Matthias's parish church, Poplar, London; they were to have two sons.

Born on 14 April 1876 in Cardiff, Arthur served with the British Army in the South African War and subsequently established a medical practice at Hackney, London. Florence persuaded him to migrate to Western Australia where he registered as a doctor in 1912. The couple settled at York and then at Albany. An honorary captain in the (Australian) Army Medical Corps Reserve, Arthur joined the Australian Imperial Force on 7 September 1916; he was briefly based in England before his appointment terminated at his own request on 8 August 1917 in Melbourne. He practised in South Melbourne, retired due to ill health in 1924, took his family to England and died there on 15 September 1929.

Florence had been president of the Western Australian Nationalist Women's Movement and of the Albany branch of the Women's Service Guilds, and had travelled throughout Australia addressing recruitment meetings for the armed services during World War I. After her husband's death she returned to Western Australia and became vice-president of the State branch of the Nationalist Party. In 1934 she published Empire Unity or Red Asiatic Domination? which outlined the economic measures she felt necessary to stave off the spread of communism. At the invitation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1935 she attended a congress in Istanbul of the International Suffrage Alliance of Women as a delegate from the Australian Federation of Women Voters. She was, as well, a delegate to the British Commonwealth League, London. Between 1933 and 1936 she also visited the Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Having been defeated in 1934 by John Curtin for the seat of Fremantle in the House of Representatives, Cardell-Oliver (as she now styled herself) was returned in February 1936 to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly as the Nationalist member for Subiaco: she defeated two other endorsed Nationalists and the Labor sitting member on preferences. A vigorous debater with independent views, in 1939 she organized a campaign to oppose the establishment of free birth-control clinics, and, in opposition to her party, on 3 September 1941 unsuccessfully moved for the abolition of the death penalty. On 10 December, during a debate on starting-price betting, she was the first woman to be suspended from any Australian parliament. She succeeded, however, with bills that required parents to be notified before a ward of the state was released and that raised the age at which children could offer goods to pawnbrokers.

On 1 April 1947 Cardell-Oliver was appointed an honorary minister without portfolio in the McLarty-Watts Liberal-Country Party government and on 5 January 1948 honorary minister for supply and shipping. When she was given the additional portfolio of minister for health on 7 October 1949, she became the first woman in Australia and the oldest person in Western Australia to attain full cabinet rank. She retained these portfolios until the government was defeated in February 1953. Influenced by her experiences with undernourished children in London, she sponsored the Free Milk and Nutritional Council, and, as minister, introduced a free-milk scheme for Western Australian schoolchildren. She brought the State to the forefront of anti-tuberculosis campaigns by legislating for compulsory chest X-ray examinations.

A tall woman of imposing appearance, Cardell-Oliver wore long, flowing gowns and flower or feather-trimmed picture hats. She was a member of the Victoria League, the Royal Institute of Great Britain, and the Karrakatta and Perth clubs, was president of the Women Painters' Society of Western Australia and of the Western Australian Women's Hockey Association, and represented her Subiaco parish on the Anglican diocesan synod. Her formal education was limited, but she remembered with gratitude the care taken by her father to introduce her to learning, and developed into an accomplished linguist and an opera enthusiast. Having fulfilled her responsibilities as wife and mother, she succeeded in politics late in life through sheer hard work and force of personality. In 1951 she was appointed D.B.E.

Following her retirement in April 1956, Dame Florence visited London. Returning to Perth, she died on 12 January 1965 at Subiaco; her sons survived her. She was buried beside Arthur in St Columb Minor churchyard, Newquay, England.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (Perth, 1978)
  • M. Sawer and M. Simms, A Woman's Place (Syd, 1984)
  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988)
  • D. Black (ed), The House on the Hill (Perth, 1991)
  • Milady, Sept 1949
  • West Australian, 19 Feb 1936, 29 Mar 1947, 1 Oct 1949, 30 May 1959, 11 May 1963, 14 Jan 1965, 12 Mar 1977, 4 June 1981
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Apr 1947, 14 Jan 1965
  • M. Choules, Women in Western Australian Parliamentary Politics 1921-1968 (B.A. Hons thesis, Curtin University of Technology, 1988)
  • Cardell-Oliver papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Premier's Department (Western Australia), file 56/51 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • personal information.

Citation details

David Black, 'Cardell-Oliver, Dame Annie Florence (1876–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Annie Florence Gillies Cardell-Oliver (1876-1965), by unknown photographer, 1930s

Annie Florence Gillies Cardell-Oliver (1876-1965), by unknown photographer, 1930s

State Library of Western Australia, 007365D

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Boyd, Annie Florence
  • Wilson, Annie Florence
  • Oliver, Annie Florence

11 May, 1876
Stawell, Victoria, Australia


12 January, 1965 (aged 88)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.