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Marie (Ma) Dalley (1880–1965)

by Deirdre Morris

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Clare Josephine Cascarret

Marie Dalley, in her mayoral robes, by James Govett, c.1954

Marie Dalley, in her mayoral robes, by James Govett, c.1954

Kew Historical Society, 2016.0104

Marie Dalley (Ma) (1880-1965), scrap-metal merchant and mayor, and Clare Josephine Cascarret (1902?-1977), city councillor, were mother and daughter. Marie was born on 4 June 1880 at Kewell, near Minyip, Victoria, and registered as Minnie Mary, fifth child of German immigrants Carl Heinrich Fimmel, farmer, and his wife Matilda, née Baum. On 18 July 1897 in her parents' home at Kewell she married with Wesleyan forms John Thomas Francis Moroney, a carpenter.

Styling herself Marie Dalley and declaring herself a widow, in 1905 she found a job in Melbourne as a part-time packer for a tea firm; after work she sewed oatmeal bags at four pence per thousand. She later bought three hundred fire-damaged chairs for thirty shillings, repaired them and sold them for five shillings each. Learning that greater profits were to be made from reselling scrap metal, she obtained a dealer's licence and operated from a South Melbourne hardware business, purchased for £600, one-sixth of which she had borrowed. In 1914 she bought out a hardware business in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.

World War I 'turned old iron into gold' and Ma Dalley's business expanded. In 1915 she bought the wreck of the schooner, Rio, which insurance assessors wrote off after it had run aground off King Island. Camped overnight in an abandoned hut, she found the sails, winches and cargo that had been hidden by beachcombers, and made £80 profit on the deal. She travelled widely, buying plant from the goldfields and hunting for items on order. Indefatigable and reluctant to waste time, she journeyed to and from Sydney on the overnight train.

Having rented the premises, in 1925 Dalley paid £25,000 for the freehold of a three-acre (1.2 ha) site in Bedford Street, North Melbourne. Her business, M. Dalley & Co. Pty Ltd, grew to be one of the largest scrap-dealers in the country. She presided over apparent chaos with precision. Sewing-machines, coppers, bath screens, coils of wire, telephones, petrol bowsers, wheels, boxes, rods, garden rollers, ships' boilers, machines for corrugating iron and grinding gravestones, two-ton vats, stoves and chains were offered for sale.

Dalley subsequently bought the bankrupt Shepparton Freezing Works for £15,000, reorganized the business, opened a butcher's shop next door and by 1946 was exporting 20,000 lambs annually to Britain. She pioneered a system of pre-cooling fruit for local growers and canneries, holding it green until ready for market. In addition, she began to manufacture margarine, owned and supervised a farm near Horsham, and acquired city properties.

From 1918 Dalley had assisted many ex-servicemen to start in business, often as their guarantor. She and her daughter Clare bought food at the Victoria Market which they distributed in North Melbourne and they kept open house for visiting sailors. Ma was an active participant in and contributor to such charities as the North Melbourne Boys' Club, the Mooroopna Bush Hospital and the City Free Kindergarten. During World War II she supervised the Red Cross Waste Products Depot which made profits of more than £70,000. She was patron of the Ravenswood old people's home at Ivanhoe and in 1948 tried to develop a settlement for elderly women on her property near Bendigo.

A justice of the peace (from 1935) and honorary secretary of the Women Justices' Association, Dalley served every Wednesday as special magistrate of the North Melbourne Court where she displayed firm views on drunkenness. In 1949 she was appointed O.B.E. She later sat on the bench of the Children's Court, through which she met Katherine Trahan who became her ward and worked in the ironmongery yard. Neighbours set their watches as Kay drove Ma from their Kew home at 7.30, six mornings a week; regardless of the weather, Ma wore a fur coat. A firm but generous employer, Dalley believed in equal pay for equal work. She favoured the reduction of the working week to forty hours as the only way to maintain high levels of employment. Some of her workers were with her for thirty years and she introduced a scheme to provide her staff with shares in the business.

In 1948 Dalley was elected to the Kew City Council; in 1954 she was its first woman mayor. An active member of the public works and health committee, she broke convention by insisting that money collected for the mayoral gift should be donated to the St George's Hospital Appeal. In 1951 she was a delegate to the Jubilee Women's Convention in Canberra. She was narrowly defeated at the council elections in 1963.

Survived by her two daughters, Ma Dalley died on 8 May 1965 at Kew and was buried with Anglican rites in Minyip cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £148,442. Her daughters lost a bitter court case when a former employee won an appeal to the High Court of Australia overturning a Supreme Court ruling on the status of employee shares.

Clare was born probably in 1902 at Minyip. After leaving school she worked for her mother. On 16 February 1929 at the Congregational Church, Bourke Street, Sydney, she married Alfred Percy Withers, a garage manager. Divorced on 11 November 1948, she married Jean Cascarret, an officer in the French merchant navy, on 25 January 1949 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. He retired from the sea and worked for M. Dalley & Co. of which Clare and her sister Ida became joint managing directors.

Involved in community affairs, Mrs Cascarret was a life governor of the Alfred Hospital and of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, a committee-member of the Business and Professional Women's Association, and president of the Royal Overseas League. After thrice standing unsuccessfully for Kew City Council, she was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1967 (on her second attempt) and entered what she described as an 'exclusive men's club'. Her stated aim was to have women on every city council, but, unlike Doris Condon, she did not wish to attend the all-male lord mayor's dinner. She weathered controversy over irregularities in voting for the 1968 council elections when some of her supporters were convicted and fined.

In 1969 the scrap-metal business was sold: the site—on which the Old Melbourne Hotel was to be built—fetched $500,000, the contents $51,000. Retiring from the council in 1976, Clare Cascarret died on 8 April 1977 at Mount Eliza and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. Predeceased by her husband, she was survived by the daughter of her first marriage. Her estate was sworn for probate at $220,699.

Select Bibliography

  • Kew City Council, Minutes of Ordinary Meetings, Feb 1949-June 1955
  • People (Sydney), 20 Dec 1950
  • New Idea, 24 Feb 1960
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16 Sept 1940, 27 June 1953, 14 Aug 1964, 11 May 1965, 25 May 1968
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1946
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Sept 1948
  • Kew Advertiser, 20 Apr, 11 Oct 1951
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Oct 1967, 1 Jan 1969
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 22 Aug 1973
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Dalley, Marie (Ma) (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 July 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

Marie Dalley, in her mayoral robes, by James Govett, c.1954

Marie Dalley, in her mayoral robes, by James Govett, c.1954

Kew Historical Society, 2016.0104

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fimmel, Minnie
  • Moroney, Minnie

4 June, 1880
Kewell, Victoria, Australia


8 May, 1965 (aged 84)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.

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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.

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