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Gertrude Winifred Ruston (1897–1985)

by G. C. Bolton and Geraldine Byrne

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Gertrude Winifred Ruston (1897-1985), community worker, was born on 15 April 1897 at East Ham, Essex, England, younger daughter of Percy Rockliff, law clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, née Lewis.  After leaving school Winifred undertook secretarial and language training and during World War I worked as private secretary to the chairman of the royal commission on the sugar supply.  She was also a nurse with a Voluntary Aid Detachment.  On 22 December 1917 at Woodberry Down Baptist Church, South Tottenham, London, she married Henry Thomas Ruston, a clerk at the sugar commission.  Henry was a widower with a 6-year-old son.  The Rustons migrated to Western Australia in 1920 and took up land at Narrikup, near Albany.  There they endured similar hardships to those of other inexperienced English settlers in the south-west, including two successive weeks when, first their house burnt down and then their land was flooded.  Winifred became very skilful with an axe and, to make ends meet during the Depression, she and her husband sold firewood at Albany.

After Winifred's health suffered, in 1937 the Rustons moved to Perth. Henry worked as a salesman before purchasing a shop in Swanbourne. From 1954 the couple lived separately.  He died in 1971.  Mrs Ruston’s interest in nursing led her to volunteer work with the Australian Red Cross Society at (Royal) Perth Hospital.  In 1948 she was employed by Bessie Rischbieth, then president of the Women’s Service Guilds of Western Australia, as her secretary.  Becoming Rischbieth’s 'right-hand woman', from about 1951 she was also State secretary and a member of the guild’s executive.  She was founding president (1951-54) of the Slow Learning Children’s Group of WA and helped to form (1959) the Council of Social Service of Western Australia, serving as honorary secretary for twelve years and as executive officer (1963-68).  Made an honorary life member of both organisations, for some years she was a vice-president of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Having established the Citizens Advice Bureau of WA in 1962, Ruston was employed as director from 1963 to 1973.  Also in the 1960s she was involved in setting up and managing the Children’s Holiday Association of Western Australia, the Wardle Recreation Centres for after-school care of children, and the Perth Emergency Housekeeper Service.  In 1973 she helped to found Beehive Industries of Western Australia, a sheltered workshop for elderly and sick people; she served as honorary secretary/manager until 1977 and as patron (1977-85).  She was a member of the Western Australian committee on access for the disabled for many years, until 1974.

'Gwin' Ruston had been a founding member (1949) of the Soroptimist Club of Perth, holding office as secretary (1949-51), president (1952-53) and national deputy-chairman.  In 1954-61 she was secretary of the Swan River Conservation Committee and in 1961, on its replacement by a government board, she wrote a short history.  A justice of the peace from 1965, she was appointed MBE in 1970.  In retirement she travelled to Central Australia and wrote an autobiography, The Clock of Time (1983).  Survived by her daughter and stepson, she died on 7 January 1985 in Perth and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections: Profiles of 150 Women Who Helped Make Western Australia’s History, 1978
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 15 October 1972, p 51

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Citation details

G. C. Bolton and Geraldine Byrne, 'Ruston, Gertrude Winifred (1897–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rockliff, Gertrude Winifred

15 April, 1897
East Ham, Essex, England


7 January, 1985 (aged 87)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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