Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lily Kathleen Pattie Fitzgibbons (1892–1978)

by Helen Taylor

This article was published:

Lily Kathleen Pattie Fitzgibbons (1892-1978), schoolteacher, bus proprietor and hotelier, was born on 28 August 1892 at Wellington, New South Wales, eighth of ten children of William McCarthy, an English-born engine driver, and his wife Ellen Catherine, née Sakey, from New Zealand. While teaching at Bathurst, she met Michael Alphonsus Dominic Fitzgibbons who was employed in the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways, where Lily's father worked. The two men had served as engine driver and fireman, respectively, with Ben Chifley. The railway strike of August-September 1917 changed their lives, their aspirations and their place of residence. On 14 July 1920 Michael, then a chauffeur and mechanic in Sydney, married Lily at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Newtown; their three children were born between 1921 and 1926.

It was not long before the business acumen, characteristic of the Fitzgibbons' partnership, came to the fore. Recognizing the need to serve the rail transport system, Lily and Michael established White Buses with money borrowed from their parish priest. Lily kept the books and handled the finances; Michael and his staff drove and maintained a fleet of up to fourteen vehicles. Like their future benefactor (Sir) Frederick Stewart, the Fitzgibbons began to pose a challenge to State rail and tram services. In 1928 they applied to extend their routes from Campsie to Central Railway Station. This endeavour embroiled them in the royal commission held that year which investigated allegations of bribery (the 'case of pipes') by an agent to further the application. Although the Fitzgibbons were exonerated, their business faced bleak prospects with continued government discouragement, high licence fees and the onset of the Depression. Placing their children in boarding schools, they sought new careers as hoteliers. In 1936 they took over the Kirrabelle Coolangatta, the first of many Queensland hotels on which they placed their stamp; they later ran hotels at Southport, Toowoomba, Wandoan, Eight Mile Plains and Mooloolaba. In 1944, at the request of the brewery company, Castlemaine, Perkins Ltd, they moved to the Hotel Daniell, George Street, Brisbane, to cater for American army officers. From that time their reputation for hospitality and good service was consolidated.

Precise, practical and a disciplinarian, Lily made financial and domestic management her forte. It was customary for 'Mrs Fitz' to count the individual pats of butter to be served at breakfast, and to insist that her dining-room staff remain until all the silver was accounted for. Alongside recipes for drinks and the reminder that 'essence cannot cause fermentation but dirt can and usually does', she inscribed in her notebook the maxim which characterized her working life: 'Don't take anything for granted. The price of success is vigilance and thoroughness'. After her husband died in 1967, Lily maintained her links with the hotel industry as licensee of the Hotel Daniell. In retirement, as consultant to two generations of Fitzgibbons engaged in the industry, she encouraged the same entrepreneurial flair, meticulous attention to detail and penchant for hospitality that had characterized her working partnership with Michael. She died on 10 July 1978 at Sunnybank and was buried in Nudgee cemetery; her daughter and two sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, The Great Bust (Syd, 1962)
  • J. Iremonger et al (eds), Strikes (Syd, 1973)
  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into ... Michael Alphonsus Dominic Fitzgibbons ..., Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1929-30, 1, p 1035
  • Queensland Hotels Association Review, May 1956, July 1961, Sept 1963, Aug 1967
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 12 July 1978
  • Catholic Leader, Aug 1967, Aug 1978
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Taylor, 'Fitzgibbons, Lily Kathleen Pattie (1892–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 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
  • McCarthy, Lily

28 August, 1892
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia


10 July, 1978 (aged 85)
Sunnybank, Brisbane, Queensland, 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.