Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Standley, Ida (1869–1948)

by H. N. Nelson

This article was published:

Ida Standley (1869-1948), schoolteacher, was born on 19 January 1869 in Adelaide, one of six children of Hanson Woodcock, butcher, and his wife Bertha, née Franklin. Educated at Misses Lucy and Florence Tilley's Hardwicke House Ladies' College, Ida went as governess to the Standley family at Mount Wudinna station on Eyre Peninsula. On 12 August 1887, aged 18, she married George Standley, a 35-year-old farmer. Periodically left to fend for herself, with three daughters and a son to rear, in 1897 Ida became a probationary teacher at the Boothby school, near Cleve, and taught up to twenty-four children. By the time she left Boothby for Gawler River in 1903, her marriage had ended. In 1911 she transferred to Buchfelde. By 1914, after eighteen years in one-teacher schools, her salary had increased from £65 to £100 per annum and her children were old enough to be independent.

In that year the South Australian Education Department advertised for a woman teacher for Alice Springs. No one applied. After local parents agreed to cover the cost of board and washing, Standley took the post and was paid £150. In May she went by train to Oodnadatta whence she was escorted by a constable on a fourteen-day buggy trip to Alice Springs. The school, at the back of the gaol, was formerly a warder's residence, 'a little stone room with a couple of windows and a door'. White parents protested when she suggested that all children attend together, so she taught eleven White children, six mornings a week, and fourteen part-Aborigines on five afternoons. She eventually received an allowance from the Education Department and moved into 'Myrtle Villa', a slab-walled cottage in Wills Terrace.

Under the policy of separating children of mixed descent from their Aboriginal mothers, the police took them to the 'Bungalow', two galvanized iron sheds with earth floors. Mrs Standley was given charge of the makeshift institution and paid an additional £50. While the number of children at her morning classes declined, the bungalow became so overcrowded that by 1923 sixty children—aged between a few months and 16 years—slept huddled on the floor. Although Professor (Sir) Baldwin Spencer and other visitors condemned the bungalow, plans to build a new institution were postponed. By hard work, efficiency and compassion, Ida Standley gave her Aboriginal children a basic education and increased their self-esteem. A sturdy matron, prim and proper, clothed to neck, wrist and ankle, she still conveyed affection for the children, many of whom called her 'Mum'.

In 1928 the Aboriginal children were shifted to an incomplete new home at Jay Creek, about 30 miles (48 km) west of Alice Springs. Ida delayed her retirement to go with them and spent the summer in a tent. She left the Alice in 1929 and was appointed M.B.E. For fifteen years she had been the only government teacher in Central Australia. Popular and respected, she was described by the press as the 'Beloved Lady'. Retiring to Adelaide, she died at Manly, Sydney, on 29 May 1948 and was buried with Catholic rites at Frenchs Forest. Three daughters survived her. Standley Chasm, near Jay Creek, and the Ida Standley Pre-School, Alice Springs, commemorate her, and a plaque marks the site of her home in Wills Terrace.

Select Bibliography

  • School Alice Springs, A518 F241/6/11 and Bungalow, A1 27/2982 and I. Standley, A1 33/7458 and Half-Caste Home, A659 39/1/996 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

H. N. Nelson, 'Standley, Ida (1869–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 3 June 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Woodcock, Ida

19 January, 1869
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


29 May, 1948 (aged 79)
Manly, 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.