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Christian Jollie Smith (1885–1963)

by Joy Damousi

This article was published:

Christian Brynhild Ochiltree Jollie Smith (1885-1963), solicitor, was born on 15 March 1885 at Parkville, Melbourne, daughter of Scottish-born Thomas Jollie Smith and his Victorian wife Jessie Ochiltree, née McLennan. Brought up at Naracoorte, South Australia, where her father was Presbyterian minister (1890-1903), she was educated in Adelaide, and at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne, in 1904; Nettie Higgins was a class-mate and close friend until their ways parted. Christian studied Greek and Latin (1906), then law at the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1911). Admitted as a barrister and solicitor by the Supreme Court of Victoria on 1 October 1912, she set up in practice as a solicitor, from 1914 in Stallbridge Chambers, Chancery Lane (Little Collins Street).

At the university Christian Jollie Smith had become a close friend of Guido, son of Pietro Baracchi, who introduced her to socialism. She belonged to a group of left-wing intellectuals including William Earsman, Louis Esson and his wife Hilda, and Katharine Susannah Prichard, and was active in the anti-conscription campaigns. In 1917 she taught at the Victorian Labor College. Late that year, while briefly a professional assistant in the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office, Jollie Smith came under scrutiny of the authorities for leaking information on Adela Pankhurst Walsh's possible deportation to her defending counsel Alfred Foster.

Early in 1918 Jollie Smith, according to Nettie Palmer, was the first woman taxi-driver in Melbourne, under the trade name 'Pamela Brown'. She then taught English literature at Melbourne High and Brighton Grammar schools in 1919. That year she published a pamphlet, The Japanese Labor Movement, and with Palmer produced a commemorative collection of writings, The War on the Workers, by Leon Villiers. Next year she moved to Sydney to teach English literature at the Labor College of New South Wales (1920-21). In December 1920 she became a foundation committee-member of the Communist Party of Australia. She continued her close association with Earsman and was proprietor and publisher of the Australian Communist (1920-21) in Sydney.

On 30 October 1924 Christian Jollie Smith was the second woman to be admitted as a solicitor in New South Wales. She established her own practice in Elizabeth Street from 1927, dealing chiefly with political and industrial cases. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she was involved in the defence of the Communist Party paper, Worker's Weekly. In 1930 she instructed counsel to defend about 700 miners charged with unlawful assembly, riot and assault after the lockouts at Rothbury and other mines in the Newcastle area. During the Depression she acted for many unemployed who resisted eviction, notably at Bankstown, Newtown and Tighes Hill, Newcastle, and 'in most cases secured acquittals'. Much of her work was unpaid. In 1934-35 she secured a writ of habeas corpus for Egon Kisch and briefed Albert Piddington who won appeals in the High Court of Australia against charges that he was a prohibited immigrant.

Although she did not marry, the issue of gender relations remained one of Jollie Smith's interests and she wrote widely on domestic problems and divorce. She was treasurer and convener of the Australian Institute of Sociology's committee on family and the community. In World War II she was a member of the War Emergency Service for Allied Servicemen, chiefly dealing with Negro personnel in Australia, and later was legal adviser to the Migrant Education and Adjustment Committee. In the mid-1930s she had been involved in fighting two unsuccessful attempts by the attorney-general, (Sir) Robert Menzies, to have the Communist Party adjudged illegal. In 1951, instructed by the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, and other trade unions, she briefed Bert Evatt who, before the High Court, successfully challenged the validity of the 1951 Act outlawing the Communist Party.

Determined and intense-looking, with wide-spaced eyes, Jollie Smith was an indefatigable worker who used her expertise to defend the underdog. Her pastimes were music and reading. She died at North Sydney on 14 January 1963 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Tribune acknowledged her as one of the 'most devoted fighters in the intellectual and professional fields' on behalf of the working class.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Modjeska, Exiles at Home (Syd, 1981)
  • Everylady's Journal, 6 Jan 1913
  • Tribune (Melbourne), 16 Jan 1963
  • Baracchi papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Palmer papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Brodney papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Normington-Rawling papers (Australian National University Archives)
  • Intelligence summaries, Communism, series A6122, item 111-112 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joy Damousi, 'Jollie Smith, Christian (1885–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 March, 1885
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


14 January, 1963 (aged 77)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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