Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Puregger, Marjorie Isabel (1905–1995)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published online in 2019

This is a shared entry with William John Puregger

Marjorie Isabel Puregger (1905–1995) and William John Puregger (1907–1984), community leaders, were wife and husband. Marjorie was born on 16 November 1905 at Sherwood, Brisbane, younger child of Queensland-born parents Robert Albert Bulcock, fruit grower, and his wife Emily Hemans, née Palmer, poet and journalist. The politician and businessman Robert Bulcock was Marjorie’s grandfather and the writer Vance Palmer her uncle. She began her formal education at Caloundra State School in 1914. Moving to Brisbane, she excelled at Toowong State School (1917–19) and, on scholarships, at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School (1919–23) and the University of Queensland (BA Hons, 1927); she was head girl at BGGS and the 1927 recipient of the university’s McDermott prize for English. Having briefly tried teaching, she switched to journalism with the Sunday Mail and then Truth. Her earnings, together with financial help from her family, enabled her to acquire a house at Milton and to depart in January 1935 for a tour of Britain and Europe. There, she attended concerts and plays, investigated social conditions, and observed the growing menace of Nazism, before returning to Brisbane in December.

In Vienna Bulcock had boarded with the writer Helene Scheu-Riesz, through whom she met her future husband. He had been born on 15 September 1907 at Tulln and named Wilhelm Johann Ludwig, son of Austrian-born parents Josef Michel Franz Puregger, lawyer, and his wife Ludowika Maria, née Mallin. By 1935 he was an industrial chemist and a social democrat active in opposing the Austrofascist regime. In 1937 he migrated to Australia and on 17 March that year he and Marjorie were married in a Baptist service at Hamilton, Brisbane. Bill became production manager at the West End ice-cream factory of Peters-Arctic Delicacy Co. Ltd and was later chief chemist with Queensland United Foods Ltd. A leader of his industry, he served as federal president (1952–53) of the Council of Australian Food Technology Associations and general secretary (1973–75) of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology.

After her return from Europe and in the early years of her marriage, Marjorie Puregger had engaged in occasional paid work, including broadcasting on radio and writing newspaper articles. In this period, she and Bill began the busy round of humanitarian and community activities that would characterise their lives. From 1936 she served on relief committees for war victims in Spain and China. Following the Anschluss in March 1938, Bill joined her in assisting Jewish and political refugees to migrate from Austria to Australia. The next year she was a founder of the Refugee Emergency Council of Queensland, which helped new arrivals obtain housing and employment. She enjoyed gardening, and also acted in plays, one of her parts being Florrie in Waiting for Lefty (1937). Her involvement in leftist political theatre reflected her abhorrence of social injustice, rather than an interest in socialism or communism.

One of Puregger’s early preoccupations was the civic and cultural development of Brisbane. In talks and newspaper articles, she advocated a central square, more parks and gardens, and, on the banks of the river, tree-lined boulevards, open-air restaurants, musical entertainments, and flood-lit public buildings. A conservatorium of music and a cultural centre for the city were major focuses of her campaigning. After the birth of her daughter in 1940, she broadened her endeavours to include welfare work for women and children. She helped to establish the Kindercraft Association and its Brisbane day nursery, opened in 1943. Three years later she was pressuring the government to improve conditions in maternity wards. Active in the National Council of Women of Queensland, she was a vice-president (1948–50) and convenor of several of its standing committees.

The Pureggers were members, and Bill an office bearer, of the State branches of Musica Viva and the Australian Institute of International Affairs. He was also prominent in the Queensland Marriage Guidance Council and Australian Rostrum, Queensland Zone. In 1982 he was awarded the OAM for his community service.

With Jessie (Lady) Groom and Ruth Don, in 1941 Marjorie Puregger had founded the Brisbane Forum Club to teach women public speaking, meeting procedure, and the duties of office holders; to encourage them to further their education; and to foster their increased participation in public life. Clubs sprang up throughout Queensland and interstate: in 1947 the Association of Queensland Women’s Forum Clubs was formed, followed in 1975 by the Association of Women’s Forum Clubs of Australia. Puregger was the second president (1949–51) of the State committee (known as dais). At the request of the association, in 1956 she produced a handbook on how to chair a meeting. This undertaking led to what she called ‘the most useful thing I’ve done’ (Puregger 1989), the publication of the expanded Mr. Chairman!: A Guide to Meeting Procedure, Ceremonial Procedure and Forms of Address, with Specimen Meetings, and Standing Orders (1962). Frequently reprinted, the book went through five editions in her lifetime and in 1998 would be revised as The Australian Guide to Chairing Meetings.

Bill Puregger was five feet nine and a half inches (177 cm) tall, athletically built, dark-haired, and bespectacled. He was a careful, thoughtful, and considerate man, who could talk to people no matter their background. Outwardly, Marjorie Puregger was bright, cheerful, and pleasant company; inwardly, a strong-minded perfectionist. A small woman—five feet one inch (155 cm) tall—she was always well-groomed and smartly dressed. In old age she lamented the effects of development on the pristine Caloundra environment of her childhood but applauded the establishment in Brisbane of the civic amenities and enhancements she had advocated half a century earlier. Bill died on 17 April 1984 at Taringa and Marjorie on 1 November 1995 at Seventeen Mile Rocks; both were cremated. Their daughter survived them.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Association of Women’s Forum Clubs of Australia. Forum: 50 Golden Years, 1941–1991. Brisbane: The Association, 1991
  • Fairlie, Linnet (née Puregger). Personal communication
  • Morell, Lettie. ‘City Loses One of Its Cultural Icons.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 4 November 1995, 12
  • Puregger, Marjorie. Interviews, 1989. Puregger Collection Oral History. State Library of Queensland
  • Puregger Papers. Private collection (extracts copied for ADB file).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Puregger, Marjorie Isabel (1905–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/puregger-marjorie-isabel-28992/text36265, published online 2019, accessed online 18 September 2019.

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