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Annie Mildred Mocatta (1887–1984)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

Annie Mildred Mocatta (1887-1984), kindergarten teacher, medical practitioner and art patron, was born on 23 November 1887 at St Leonards, Sydney, third of six surviving children of New South Wales-born parents George Voss Mocatta, surveyor, and his wife Emmeline Mary Gertrude, née Hollingdale. Sturdy, dark-haired and sociable, Mildred attended Woodstock, a private girls’ school at North Sydney, until she was 18. Tired of ‘boring’ social activities, she found a purpose in kindergarten work. In 1910 she completed the three-year course at Kindergarten Training College, having ‘got to know practically every slum in Sydney’ through the free kindergartens. She moved to Perth and taught in a Cottesloe private school until 1913, when she was appointed inaugural director of the city’s second free kindergarten, in Marquis Street. Influenced by Lillian de Lissa, she introduced Dr Maria Montessori’s methods and equipment, and planned future developments with the Kindergarten Union of Western Australia’s organising director, Constance Finlayson.

Deciding that medical science would open further understanding of early childhood, Mocatta and Finlayson in 1917 studied first-year science subjects at the University of Western Australia, and next year transferred to the medical faculty at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1922). Dr Mocatta was appointed junior medical officer at Adelaide’s Parkside Mental Hospital in January 1923. Although disturbed by the practices of restraint and confinement, she increased her skills. She became a founding member (1922) of the Adelaide Lyceum Club, having been an associate-member of the Melbourne club; she was to enjoy the company of other professional women all her life.

In 1925 Mocatta resigned from her hospital post to establish a medical practice. Refused a bank loan, she borrowed from her father to buy a house at Medindie. She gave anaesthetics to children for a female dentist on North Terrace, undertook locums, and built a medical practice from her home, driving a small bull-nosed car on home visits. Countrywomen patients brought their children to her, and she worked with Dr Helen Mayo as honorary physician at Mareeba Babies’ Hospital, Woodville. She joined the new South Australian Medical Women’s Society in 1928, and became a ‘long-standing and loyal’ member. In 1936, based in London at the Hammersmith Hospital, she gained membership of the Royal College of Physicians. Back in Adelaide, she established a practice on North Terrace; she was dedicated to her patients and was considered a fine diagnostician. In 1940-45 she was assistant honorary anaesthetist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. She retired in 1961.

Mocatta had a passion for Australian art that had begun in girlhood; she started collecting seriously in 1927 when she bought an etching by (Sir) Lionel Lindsay. Her ‘good eye for a good painting’ enabled her to build a significant collection, including, she said, ‘quite a number of Lloyd Rees’; she also helped promising artists. She enjoyed theatre and ballet. In 1940 she invited the lawyer and actress Patricia Hackett to share her house. Next year Hackett purchased and renovated an old house at 69 Hackney Road, Hackney; Mocatta became a joint tenant in 1950. In 1953 they opened the Torch salon theatre in the spacious cellars, once a distillery’s store. A play by Hackett was performed there as a fringe production in Adelaide’s first Festival of Arts in 1960. Mocatta customarily gave Festival parties for musicians and artists. In 1963, when Hackett died, she inherited Hackett’s share of the house. That year she was diagnosed with glaucoma. Soon becoming blind, she coped, ‘with good grace’, for some years.

In 1981 Mocatta bequeathed her house, most of the contents and a sum for maintenance to the National Trust of South Australia, subject to the life tenancies of herself and her companion, Marjorie Marchant. Discussing her gift of valuable paintings, she told Lyceum friends, ‘I owe it to South Australia’. She died on 15 February 1984 at home and was cremated. The outcome of her generosity was unforeseen. After Mrs Marchant’s death, the trust found that the house, zoned ‘residential’, could not be used otherwise and sold it in 1994, provoking indignation from both members and the public. Mocatta’s art collection was stored but became a burden because of high insurance premiums. In December 2002, despite further protests, 170 of her paintings were sold at auction, and the proceeds deposited in the Dr Mocatta Trust Fund. Next year the Mildred Mocatta award for exceptional service to the National Trust was instituted. Her portrait by Rex Wood hangs in the trust’s Adelaide office.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Cockburn, The Patriarchs (1983)
  • C. Turney (ed), Pioneers of Australian Education, vol 3 (1983)
  • South Australian Medical Women’s Society, The Hands of a Woman (1994)
  • R. Kerr, A History of the Kindergarten Union of Western Australia 1911-1973 (1994)
  • C. Cosgrove and S. Marsden, Challenging Times (2005)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 18 Feb 1984, p 10
  • S. Sobels, interview with M. Mocatta (typescript, c1980, State Library of South Australia)
  • A. G. Geddes, taped interview with M. Mocatta (1983, State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Mocatta, Annie Mildred (1887–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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