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Mary Ling (1865–1953)

by Margaret Bettison

This article was published:

Mary Ling (1865-1953), writer and parliamentary candidate, was born on 6 January 1865 on a farm north of Braidwood, New South Wales, fifth child of English migrants George Bentley and his wife Mary Ann, née Moore. Mary's father tried his hand at farming, gold digging and dairying. Although she attended three small bush schools, she and her two younger brothers were educated mainly by their mother. Her parents subscribed to religious and secular journals and joined the Braidwood Mechanics' Institute library.

Mary later recalled the physical freedom of her childhood in the bush, the hard labour of farm work and regular Methodist religious observance in an affectionate family. She first visited Sydney in 1879 with her sister to see the Sydney International Exhibition. When their money ran out, for six months they worked as domestic servants, a humiliating experience. By next year the family had settled at Marrickville and Mary became a nursemaid in the household of Colonel Charles F. Roberts. Later she established a dressmaking business at Homebush. On 3 September 1889 at the Salvation Army barracks, Burwood, she married with Wesleyan Methodist forms Henry Hill Ling, a postal clerk. The marriage was childless. She and Henry separated in 1897 and divorced in 1906.

A niece later described Mary as 'a compulsive writer of poems, short stories, fact and fiction, using all her resources to buy pen and paper'. A novel she had written was rejected by London publishers about 1890. A Woman of Mars; or, Australia's Enfranchised Woman by 'Mary Ann Moore–Bentley' was published in Sydney in 1901. A committed follower of Henry George, she joined the Sydney Single Tax League, formed that year, addressed its Georgian evening in December 1902 and promoted his views in her Sketched from Life (self-published 1903). One of eight women appointed to the league's executive council, she attended only two meetings.

Women in New South Wales were to vote for the first time in December 1903 (for the Commonwealth elections). Mary joined the newly formed Women's Social and Political League and stood for the Senate— as Mary Ann Moore Bentley— but failed to gain the league's support. She spoke at Granville Town Hall and addressed open-air meetings in the Hawkesbury area and at Bathurst and Lithgow. Introducing herself as 'the working woman's candidate', she said she was 'a democrat first', who believed that 'Australian democracy will yet lead the world'. The only tax should be that on land values. She supported free trade, advocated the abolition of State parliaments and proposed the establishment of a state bank. Her books were sold at her meetings to defray expenses. In Sydney she spoke on street corners, on hotel balconies and in the Domain. Appearing first on the ballot paper (under Bentley), she received 18,924 votes, some 400 more than the State's only other female Senate candidate Mrs Martel, and 166,793 votes short of being elected in third position.

By 1906 Mary was living at Bangor, near Menai, in 'a small . . . two-roomed hut'. Relations with her brothers—her nearest neighbours—grew increasingly strained. She continued to write, the subject matter becoming increasingly esoteric. In January 1917 her A Psychological Interpretation of the Gospel was published in Boston, United States of America. Mary sailed to America later that year, hoping to obtain a publisher for 'An Original Hypothesis of the Origin of Life'. The following February, alone in a New York boarding house, she sought assistance to return to Australia and was repatriated at government expense, reaching Sydney on 7 May 1918. She blamed the U.S.A.'s 'Secret Service' and 'misrepresentation' by the Australian government (because of her anti-conscription activities) for her failure in America.

Tall and slender, Ling was described as 'a woman of pleasing presence'; she retired to the isolation of Menai, at intervals issuing in typescript children's stories and poems and an attempt at a fortnightly journal, 'Something to Amuse'. Her last ten years were spent in the Mental Hospital, Stockton, Newcastle, where she died on 1 September 1953. She was buried in Stockton cemetery with Methodist forms. Journey to Durran Durra 1852-1885, by Mary Moore-Bentley, her memoir written about 1935, was published in 1983.

Select Bibliography

  • Evening News (Sydney), 19 Dec 1902, p 3, 16 Mar 1906, p 4
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 Oct 1903, p 5, 6 Nov 1903, p 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Oct 1903, p 11
  • Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 31 Oct 1903, p 9, 7 Nov 1903, pp 3, 9, 13
  • Bathurst Daily Times, 6 Nov 1903, p 2
  • Hawkesbury Herald, 6 Nov 1903, p 7
  • Nepean Times, 7 Nov 1903, p 4
  • Lithgow Mercury, 10 Nov 1903, p 2
  • A1, item 1919/1567, A11804, items 1918/304 and 1919/59 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Freetrade and Land Values League minutes, 1901-05 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Margaret Bettison, 'Ling, Mary (1865–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bentley, Mary
  • Moore-Bentley, Mary Ann

6 January, 1865
Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia


1 September, 1953 (aged 88)
Newcastle, New South Wales, 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.

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.