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Alison Hilma Cranley (1910–1987)

by Andrew Spaull

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Alison Hilma Barbara Victoria Cranley (1910-1987), schoolteacher and unionist, was born on 20 April 1910 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents Robert William Cranley (d.1920), confectioner, and his wife Alison, formerly Friend, née Tuck (d.1932). Inspector James McRae was Hilma’s uncle by marriage; while in her teens she lived with the McRae family. After attending Fitzroy North State School and Melbourne High School, she started work in 1926 as a student-teacher. She trained at the Teachers’ College in 1929. During her career she rose to infant mistress (head of the infant department in a primary school), her main appointments being to North Melbourne (1933-47), Moreland Central (1947-54) and Brunswick North (1966-75).

Active in the Victorian Teachers’ Union, Miss Cranley joined its council in 1947 and served as president in 1965-67, only the second woman to be elected to that position. As a union leader she worked hard to improve her colleagues’ conditions of service, opposing especially discrimination against women. She led campaigns for equal pay (implemented over four years from 1967); for the establishment of a common roll of men and women primary teachers (achieved in 1972); and for women to become eligible for promotion to the rank of principal. Seeking to abolish sectional branches of the VTU, and believing in a single union for teachers, according to a colleague she suffered `a bitter blow’ when some of her members defected to the Victorian Secondary Teachers’ Association in 1967.

Cranley was one of six Victorian delegates to the Australian Teachers’ Federation, which she represented at conferences in Britain, Europe and Asia. She was a union member of the Education Department’s standing committee for the revision of the curriculum in primary schools. Additionally, she was involved in educational television, the children’s library movement and the education of immigrant children. After ceasing paid employment in 1975, she played a prominent part in the affairs of the Victorian Retired State Teachers’ Association, and of the Council of Adult Education, Victoria, which she chaired in 1975-77.

A tall woman, Cranley dressed quietly and wore her hair in a bun. She loved the VTU and was formidable as a union advocate. In retirement she was kind and approachable, never losing her interest in young children. She had lived at Parkville for many years with an older teacher, Marion Grace Downes. Formerly a Baptist, Cranley became a Presbyterian after meeting Downes. The two were active in the ecumenical movement and protagonists of unity between the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational denominations. Cranley was an elder at College Church, Parkville, from 1975 and a member of the Presbyterian and later the Uniting churches’ education consultative committees.

In 1970 she had been appointed MBE and elected a fellow of the Australian College of Education. Three years later she won the Lillian Horner prize for the best infant teacher in Victorian state schools. The CAE named one of its two overseas travelling fellowships after her in 1981. By then she was a life member of the VTU. Miss Cranley died on 29 August 1987 in East Melbourne, and was cremated.

Her friend Rev. Dr J. D. McCaughey, governor of Victoria, addressed a service of thanksgiving at her beloved College Church.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 28 Jan 1965, p 12, 1 Jan 1970, p 21, 6 Mar 1974, p 15
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Dec 1975, p 35
  • VTU Journal, 10 Sept 1987, p 7, 16 Mar 1989, p 8
  • Newsletter of the Victorian Retired State Teachers’ Association, 1987? (copy on ADB file)
  • A. D. Spaull, Teachers and Politics (PhD thesis, Monash University, 1972)
  • G. M. Griffin, biographical notes on Hilma Cranley (copy on ADB file)
  • J. D. McCaughey, address at Hilma Cranley’s thanksgiving service, 1987 (copy on ADB file).

Citation details

Andrew Spaull, 'Cranley, Alison Hilma (1910–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 April, 1910
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


29 August, 1987 (aged 77)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.