Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Mottram, Elina Emily (1903–1996)

by Judith M. McKay

This article was published online in 2022

Elina Mottram, c.1930

Elina Mottram, c.1930

image coutesy of Board of Architects of Queensland

Elina Emily Mottram (1903–1996), architect, was born on 28 April 1903 at Oughtibridge, near Sheffield, England, only child of Arthur Mottram, builder and contractor, and his wife Annie, née Barnes. Migrating to Brisbane with her parents in 1914, Elina had, in her words, a ‘practical upbringing’ (1982) and was encouraged to enter architecture. After attending Nundah State School, she enrolled in 1920 at the Brisbane Central Technical College, where her teacher and future mentor was the British-trained architect C. F. Whitcombe. She graduated with a diploma of architecture in 1925.

While studying, Mottram had been employed for a time by the Brisbane architect F. R. Hall, and in early 1924 she achieved a milestone for women architects in Queensland by establishing her own practice. The city was enjoying a building boom and she was kept busy, with some of her clients being women. Her early work was mostly domestic and included the Scott Street Flats, Kangaroo Point (1924–25), for the charity leader Zina Cumbrae-Stewart; and Monkton, William Dunlop’s residence, Corinda (1925)— both later placed on the Queensland Heritage Register. Mottram went on to have a long and successful career, unlike the fragmented careers of many pioneer women in the profession. After joining the Queensland Institute of Architects in 1926, she became a foundation member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1930. That year she registered as an architect in Queensland; she was to remain on the roll for the next fifty years.

In 1926 Mottram had begun practising at Longreach, in the State’s central west, where her parents had settled following her father’s engagement as contractor for the Winchombe, Carson Ltd offices. Her parents left Longreach in April 1927, when scarcity of building work forced them to move to Rockhampton, and she later followed. From 1930 to 1936 she was the postmistress at nearby Raglan, while undertaking some architectural work at Rockhampton. On her family’s return to Longreach by 1938, she joined in partnership with her father as Elina E. Mottram, registered architect, & Arthur Mottram, works superintendent, and was her father’s ‘foreman’ of works for construction of the first stage of the Longreach Base Hospital (1939–41). Her Longreach buildings included the Masonic Temple, for the Meteor Masonic Lodge (1928–29), of which her father was a member; the premises of the Longreach Motor Co. Ltd (1937–38); and, in association with the Brisbane architects H. W. Atkinson & A. H. Conrad, the Dalgety & Co. Ltd offices (1938–39). She was also architect of the Isisford Shire Hall (1938–40).

The Mottrams moved back to Rockhampton in 1941. Elina worked as a draftswoman with the United States Army Services of Supply, arranging accommodation for American troops encamped in the area in World War II. By 1949, having lived briefly in Sydney, she had settled in Brisbane, joining the architectural branch of the Queensland Railways’ chief engineer’s office. As a railway architect for the next twenty-one years, she designed signal cabins, fuel pump houses, and sewerage installations, as well as several passenger stations. Her station buildings included Mundubbera (1951), Sarina (1955), Oxford Park (1957), and Eagle Junction (1962–63). The latter two were Modernist style island-platform, precast concrete buildings with butterfly roofs, part of the postwar upgrading of Brisbane’s suburban railways.

In 1967 Mottram was one of the initial students to enrol in Queensland’s (and Australia’s) first professional landscape architecture course, at the Queensland Institute of Technology; but she soon withdrew, unable to cope with both studies and full-time employment. After leaving the Railways in August 1970, she moved to Scarborough on the Redcliffe Peninsula, north of Brisbane, and became a founding partner in Peninsula Architects Pty Ltd, a small practice offering mostly residential work, including landscaping. On retiring from the firm in 1975, she concentrated on community work, as a member (1974) and sometime secretary and trustee of Peninsula Animal Aid, a voluntary organisation established to care for abandoned sick and injured animals; and as president of the local horticultural society. She loved animals and found relaxation in painting, camping, and gardening.

Mottram died on 13 June 1996 in Redcliffe Hospital and, after a Uniting Church funeral, was cremated. A spirited, enterprising woman, rather like Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher in appearance, she had prized her health and independence, and never married. When asked early in her career whether a woman architect could supervise her own work, she responded that she had ‘climbed about her father’s buildings since childhood, and would even attempt a crane’ (Gore Jones 1925, 13).

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Architectural and Building Journal of Queensland. ‘With the Architects.’ 7 June 1924, 70
  • Bennett, Helen. ‘Taringa Railway Station: Historical Context.’ Report prepared for Queensland Rail, June 2019
  • Bennett, Helen. ‘Vanishing Heritage: Queensland’s Precast Reinforced Concrete Railway Buildings 1910s to 1960s. Report for Queensland Rail, February 2019.Gore Jones, A. ‘Women & Architecture: A Coming Profession.’ Telegraph (Brisbane), 3 January 1925, 13
  • McKay, Judith. ‘Designing Women: Pioneer Architects.’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 20, no. 5 (February 2008): 169–77
  • Gore Jones, A. ‘Women & Architecture: A Coming Profession.’ Telegraph (Brisbane), 3 January 1925, 13
  • McKay, Judith. Early Queensland Women Architects.’ Transition, no. 25 (Winter 1988): 58–60
  • Mottram, Elina. Interviews by the author, 13 and 21 July 1982
  • Peninsula Post (Redcliffe, Qld). ‘Architects Day.’ 30 June 1994, 12
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Judith M. McKay, 'Mottram, Elina Emily (1903–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mottram-elina-emily-32219/text39834, published online 2022, accessed online 4 July 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022