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Freda Mott (1905–1998)

by Stephen Wilks

This article was published online in 2024

Freda Mott (1905–1998), community leader and political party organiser, was born on 13 August 1905 near Armidale, New South Wales, youngest of ten children of George Davis, master butcher and sheep overseer, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Ferguson, both New South Wales born. Freda was raised by her eldest sister, Emily, who was twenty years older than her. She was educated at Thalgarrah Public School, where she won praise for raising funds for local charities, and at Armidale High School, where her hockey playing was considered ‘sometimes a little rough’ (Acorn 1921, 20).

While training as a nurse at Armidale Hospital Davis met Colin Douglas Mott, a grazier and World War I veteran, whom she married in a Presbyterian service on 11 September 1926 at Armidale. The couple settled at Stockton, Colin’s nearby grazing property, and had two daughters, Peggy and Patricia. Freda never finished her training, but frequently nursed her husband, who suffered from depression related to his war service; in April 1930 he also endured a leg amputation after a car accident. In 1940 the Motts bought a hotel at Uralla, where Freda became active in the local branch of the Australian Red Cross Society and in 1949 joined the Country Party.

Colin’s deteriorating health led the Motts to sell both Stockton and the hotel in 1951. They retired to Armidale, and Freda joined the local branch of Torch Bearers for Legacy (president 1964–66, 1980–83; life member 1983). Her role in the community grew rapidly, bringing her renown as an organiser and fund-raiser. She helped establish a local auxiliary of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (1953), the Armidale City and Dumaresq Shire War Memorial Library (1954), a district association of Torch Bearers branches (president 1958–72), and the local Legacy House (1960). Her commitment to the Armidale community survived the shock of Colin’s death in 1961 following a fall from a horse. She was also a member of the Armidale Pastoral, Agricultural and Horticultural Show Auxiliary, and president of the New South Wales Housekeeping Emergency Service (1963–66).

After the family’s move to Armidale, Mott increased her political activism. She was vice-chair of the electorate councils for the State seat of Armidale and the Federal seat of New England, and directed election campaigns for the parliamentarians David Drummond, (Sir) Davis Hughes, David Leitch, and Ian Sinclair, who in his first Federal election campaign found that she ‘seemed to know everyone’ (Fletcher and Sinclair 2001, 120), and expected the same of him. As an inaugural member of the Women’s Federal Council (WFC) of the Country Party (1959) and New South Wales women’s representative on the party’s Federal Council (1959–80), she did not play a major role in policy deliberations, but as president of the WFC (1964–65, 1971–73) she was concerned about its lack of influence in the wider party. In June 1967 she became the party’s first woman member to receive life membership.

Mott was appointed a director of the Armidale and New England Hospital in April 1968, but after her daughter became its director of nursing in 1969, she resigned to instead revive the United Hospitals Auxiliary in Armidale. She was awarded the BEM in 1971 for her work in the Armidale community. As acting president of the WFC in 1970 she called for women to ‘use our influence at the grass roots level’ to build ‘concern for social problems’ in a party that otherwise gave priority to ‘industrial and economic questions’ (NLA MS 7507). Yet some assertive younger women in the party considered her too conservative. In 1976 she thought that in her home State ‘women have been accepted by the Party organisation as citizens in their own right,’ and that ‘as candidates they have been accepted on an equal basis’ (NLA MS 7507). But she was nonetheless concerned by the lack of women in the party’s senior organisational ranks, and was pleased by a 1976 decision to alter its constitution to increase representation on the Federal council. She chaired the party’s Armidale branch from 1973 until 1976.

The physically very large Mott was ‘strong-willed and domineering,’ someone to whom others ‘weren’t game to say no’ (Coventry 2023). She shunned the public spotlight but was proclaimed Armidale Citizen of the Year for 1991. In 1993 she was awarded an OAM for services to the United Hospital Auxiliary. Late in life she kept pet sheep that included an old merino dubbed Robert Gordon Menzies, and enjoyed attending horse races. She maintained a close interest in politics until her death on 20 May 1998 at an Armidale nursing home. Survived by her daughters, she was cremated, and is commemorated in the city to which she gave so much by the Freda Mott Centre for childhood health.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Acorn: A Magazine of the Armidale High School. ‘Sports Notes.’ 1, no. 1 (1921): 20
  • Coventry, Suzie. Personal communication
  • Davey, Paul. The Nationals: The Progressive, Country and National Party in New South Wales 1919 to 2006. Sydney: The Federation Press, 2006
  • Fletcher, Peggy, and Ian Sinclair. ‘Freda Mott, OAM, BEM (1905–1998).’ In New England Lives II, edited by J. S. Ryan and Bruce Cady, 119–26. Armidale, NSW: University of New England in association with the Armidale and District Historical Society, 2001
  • Kirkwood, Fred G. Legacy in New England 1945–1998. Armidale, NSW: Legacy Club of Armidale Inc., 1998
  • National Library of Australia. MS 7507, Records of the National Party of Australia

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stephen Wilks, 'Mott, Freda (1905–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 19 July 2024.

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