Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Catherine Beatrice (Caddie) Edmonds (1900–1960)

by John Ritchie

This article was published:

Catherine Beatrice (Caddie) Edmonds (1900-1960), barmaid, was born on 11 November 1900 at Penrith, New South Wales, second daughter and fifth of eleven children of Hugh Edmonds, a labourer from Ireland, and his Scottish-born wife Maggie Elizabeth, née Helme (d.1945). Raised in poverty, Cathy received her elementary schooling locally and at Glenbrook where Hugh took a job as a railway fettler. His family camped in tents and reputedly suffered his drunkenness, temper and brutality. Catherine fled to Sydney and found work as a shop assistant. On 25 January 1919 at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Newtown, she married 23-year old Frederick George Holloway, a clerk who became a commercial traveller. His widowed mother and his sister allowed them to share their home at Tupper Street, Marrickville. Catherine bore him a son (1920) and a daughter (1923) before obtaining a divorce on 20 December 1929.

From 1924 she was employed as a barmaid in tough, working-class pubs in Sydney, and in time handled starting-price betting on the side. She is alleged to have had an illegitimate daughter by a man who gave her the nickname 'Caddie', after 'the sleek body and class of his Cadillac' motorcar. In 1943, while at Stanmore and calling herself 'Serrenne', she met Harry Joseph Elliott, a labourer and ganger, with whom she formed a de facto relationship. He claimed to be her third 'husband' in a month. They lived at Glebe before moving to Hazelbrook (about 1944) and to Regentville (by 1955). She successively styled her surname as Elliott, Mackay-Elliott and Elliott-Mackay (by deed poll). Although Harry described his wife as being 'affectionate', he later callously told a reporter that she weighed 14 stone (89 kg) and was 'a born liar, unfaithful, and at times wicked'.

In March 1945 'Caddie' was hired as a charwoman by two authors, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James, who occupied a cottage in the Blue Mountains. Fascinated by her account of how, as a lone mother, she had raised her children through the worst years of the Depression, they encouraged her to write. She taught herself to type and by 1952 had finished the seventh draft of an autobiography. Set in the years 1924-39, edited and introduced by Cusack, and entitled Caddie, A Sydney Barmaid, the book was released by Constable & Co. Ltd in London in May 1953 to glowing reviews. By September it had been reprinted three times, although, at this stage, it was not a best seller. Catherine wrote under a pseudonym and shrank from publicity. Plump and round faced, she had narrow, grey-blue eyes, 'wavy, light brown hair streaked with grey', and deeply-graven lines at the corners of her mouth. She died of a coronary occlusion on 16 April 1960 at her Regentville home and was buried in Penrith cemetery; her son and daughter survived her.

To some degree, Caddie embellished the truth and fabricated a legend. Cusack regarded its factual discrepancies as relatively unimportant: she saw her late protégée as an archetypal battler, a woman imbued with resilience and humanity 'who never asked for pity'. Eventually published in Australia in 1966, the book was reprinted in 1975 and 1976 (seven times). That year Caddie was adapted as a feature film. Produced by Anthony Buckley and supported by, among other organizations, the International Women's Year Secretariat, it starred the ethereal Helen Morse in the title role. In less than a year it won international acclaim and grossed over $2 million.

Select Bibliography

  • Caddie, A Sydney Barmaid, D. Cusack introduction (Melb, 1977)
  • A. Pike and R. Cooper, Australian Film, 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • Labour History, no 61, Nov 1991, p 3
  • Nepean Times, 21 Apr 1960
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 Feb 1976
  • West Australian, 9 July 1976
  • Sun (Sydney), 4 Aug 1976.

Citation details

John Ritchie, 'Edmonds, Catherine Beatrice (Caddie) (1900–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Holloway, Catherine
  • Elliott, Catherine
  • Mackay-Elliott, Catherine
  • Elliott-Mackay, Catherine

11 November, 1900
Penrith, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


16 April, 1960 (aged 59)
Regentville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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