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.

Clara Jane Shumack (1899–1974)

by Perditta M. McCarthy

This article was published:

Clara Shumack, in fancy dress, 1941

Clara Shumack, in fancy dress, 1941

Northern Territory Library, 10070/​17114

Clara Jane Shumack (1899-1974), army matron, was born on 17 June 1899 at Dark Corner, New South Wales, eighth of eleven children of native-born parents John William Shumack, farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Lewis. Educated at a Bathurst school, Clara trained at the St George and the Coast (Prince Henry) hospitals, Sydney, and was registered as a nurse on 4 November 1926. She worked, in turn, at the St George, as assistant-matron at Canterbury hospital and in a private doctor's surgery. Late in 1935 she left Australia to spend a working holiday in Europe.

In 1937 Shumack returned to the St George where she gained a reputation as a first-rate theatre sister. Five ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall and broad shouldered, she had a 'purposeful stride and upright bearing'. On 20 July 1940 she was appointed matron, Australian Army Nursing Service, and posted to the hospital ship Manunda. After a 'shakedown' voyage to Darwin in August, the vessel made four trips to the Middle East between October 1940 and September 1941. The Manunda sailed for Darwin in January 1942. During the first Japanese air-raid on the town on 19 February, she suffered several hits; twelve people on board were killed and eighteen seriously wounded. Throughout the attack Shumack calmly and efficiently supervised the nursing of the wounded and dying.

Following a period ashore while the Manunda underwent repairs, Shumack reboarded the ship in August for what was to be the first of twenty-seven voyages to Papua and New Guinea. On the second of these trips the hospital ship anchored in Milne Bay, Papua, on 6 September. Enemy warships entered the harbour that night and fired over the Manunda while patients were being ferried from the shore in her lifeboats. Although 'no splinters' came 'near enough to hurt', Shumack expressed her fury 'at the Japs for interrupting our work'.

Appointed major in March 1943, Shumack was transferred to the 128th Australian General Hospital, Port Moresby, as matron in April 1944. She was evacuated to Sydney suffering from a skin disorder in July, but rejoined the hospital—which had been relocated at Redbank, Queensland—in January 1945. Promoted temporary lieutenant colonel in April (substantive in September), she was awarded the Royal Red Cross in June: the citation emphasized her 'exceptional devotion to duty', especially when the Manunda was bombed in Darwin. On 5 September 1945 she was sent as matron to the 113th A.G.H., Concord, Sydney, a post she held until December 1946. She was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 17 January 1947.

Shumack served as matron, first of the Lithgow District Hospital and then of the Lucy Gullett Convalescent Home, Bexley. A foundation fellow (1950) of the College of Nursing, Australia, she was a member of the Royal Empire and the Musica Viva societies. To her staff in the Manunda she was loyal but 'very regimental'; while she was 'strict', she 'often unbent afterwards'. She died on 23 December 1974 at Strathfield and was buried with Catholic rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (Brisb, 1988)
  • R. Goodman, Hospital Ships (Brisb, 1992)
  • E. White, A Shumack Family c.1668-1992 and Connected Families (Syd, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 June 1945
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Perditta M. McCarthy, 'Shumack, Clara Jane (1899–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Clara Shumack, in fancy dress, 1941

Clara Shumack, in fancy dress, 1941

Northern Territory Library, 10070/​17114

Life Summary [details]


17 June, 1899
Portland, New South Wales, Australia


23 December, 1974 (aged 75)
Strathfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Events
Key Organisations