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Ethel Ellen (Judy) Tudor (1910–1998)

by Nicholas Hoare

This article was published online in 2023

Judy Tudor, 1945

Judy Tudor, 1945

Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

Ethel Ellen Tudor (1910–1998), journalist, editor, and publisher, known as Judy, was born on 16 May 1910 at Granity, New Zealand, eldest of four children of Victorian-born parents Murdoch McDonald, sawmiller, later engineer, and his wife Mabel, née Wallace. Her upbringing ‘on a saw-mill in the New Zealand bush’ (Tudor 1949, 55) shaped her worldview. Ethel was determined to see more of the world; her schoolgirl years were spent dreaming of colonial Africa—‘the mecca of all my youthful yearnings’ (Tudor 1966, 9). The first move came in 1927 when the family shifted across the Tasman to Canberra. She recalled being halfway through her matriculation exams when the decision came; her mother allowed her to finish the term before embarking on ‘a life … that turned out very different indeed from the academic one that had been planned’ (Tudor 1993).

With secondary education complete, McDonald entered the Commonwealth Public Service, spending three years as a statistics officer on the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia in Canberra. She met Lionel ‘Len’ Tasman Tudor, an Australian Rules football-playing mechanic who was working at his family-run Queanbeyan bakery. On 16 May 1934 they married in a Presbyterian service at Surrey Hills, Victoria. After a stint as a housewife at Hawthorn, Melbourne, while Len worked as a mechanic, she jumped at the chance to join her husband and other Tudor men on their search for gold in the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea. Here she would find ‘fulfilment of many of my youthful dreams’ (Tudor 1966, 73).

On the voyage north in 1936, a fellow passenger, Ted Fulton, described Tudor as ‘a very quiet, uncommunicative girl’ who ‘made very little conversation’ and ‘kept to herself’ (Fulton 2005, 47). He struggled to understand why a young woman would venture where few men dared to go, but she had always distanced herself from ‘female pursuits’ (Roberts 1996, 15). She lived at various camps including the ‘Number One’ gold mine at Maprik, East Sepik, and ‘never complained about anything’ (Fulton 2005, 47). After about three years, with her marriage having broken down, she went to Rabaul and worked as a bookkeeper. Of her time in the Sepik, she wrote: ‘I never ceased congratulating myself that I was where I was, seeing and doing strange things and not back in Melbourne being a suburban wife’ (Tudor 1968, 73). A member of the ‘befores,’ the exclusive club of white Australians who lived in New Guinea before World War II, she would become critical of Australia’s administration of Papua and New Guinea, and sceptical of the ‘afters’: the ‘false intellectuals’ (Tudor 1968, 16) who arrived with anti-colonial sentiments.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Tudor was evacuated to Melbourne. Back in Australia she filed for divorce in February 1941. She had found work first in a munitions factory and then as a statistics officer for the Shell Oil Co. of Australia Ltd. Both jobs failed to inspire so in 1942 when R. W. ‘Robbie’ Robson, another transplanted New Zealand South Islander and the editor of the Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM), invited her to help produce a Pacific Islands Year Book, she seized the chance and was headed for Sydney within a week. Impressed by Tudor’s work ethic, Robson kept her as a regular contributor. By 1955 she was editor and by 1964 overseer of the business’s publishing arm, Pacific Publishing. The magazine’s frank and fearless journalism mixed with Pacific Islands gossip became well known and she was called Robson’s ‘Girl Friday.’ Tudor’s 1966 travel memoir Many a Green Isle—‘dedicated to all Pacific Islands Empire-Builders’ (Tudor 1966, 6)—drew widespread acclaim.

Direct Pacific experience was central to PIM’s approach, and Tudor travelled constantly collecting stories and information for her year books. The ninth (1963) and tenth (1968) editions were unique for their inclusion of a Pacific Who’s Who. She never formally retired, but stepped aside in 1974 when Robson sold most of the business to the Melbourne Herald. The pair continued their partnership in retirement, travelling and living together at Avoca Beach, New South Wales—always occupying separate rooms (contrary to rumour, they were not in a romantic relationship). After Robson’s death in 1984, she became active in the Central Coast Family History Society and was involved in setting up a local newspaper.

‘Independent, pragmatic, direct, with a droll turn of phrase’, Tudor ‘had little small talk’, nor was she ‘given to exchanging personal confidences’, the PIM co-editor Stuart Inder remarked, and she expressed herself ‘best through the written word’ (Inder n.d., 6). At five feet two inches (157 cm) and seven and a half stone (48 kg), she compensated for her lack of size with biting prose and a supreme confidence. While deserting her New Zealand roots relatively early, the self-described ‘defrocked Kiwi’ (Tudor 1977, 46) embraced her New Guinea experiences and never shed her identity as an ‘old Territorian’ (Tudor 1968). She died at Tarragal House nursing home, Erina, on 24 March 1998 and was cremated.

Research edited by Kiera Donnelly

Select Bibliography

  • Fulton, E. T. W., ed. No Turning Back: A Memoir. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2005
  • Inder, Stuart. Unpublished memoir, n. d. Stuart Inder Papers, MLMSS 10017, box 11 (16). State Library of New South Wales
  • Lawrence, Bob. A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine. Chatswood, NSW: Chatswood Press, 2019
  • Roberts, Jan. Voices from a Lost World: Australian Women and Children in Papua New Guinea before the Japanese Invasion. Alexandria, NSW: Millennium Books, 1996
  • Tudor, Judy. ‘An Aussie’s Search for Something Different (review of Wake up to New Zealand by Colin Simpson).’ Pacific Islands Monthly 20, no. 3 (March 1977): 46
  • Tudor, Judy. ‘Introduction.’ District Officer: From Untamed New Guinea to Lake Success, 1921–46, by G. W. L. Townsend, 9–16. Sydney: Pacific Publications, 1968
  • Tudor, Judy. Letter to A.M. Broadbent, 2 December 1993. Stuart Inder Papers, MLMSS 10017, box 12 (16). State Library of New South Wales
  • Tudor, Judy. Letter to Paul McGuire, 4 October 1968. Papers relating to the Publication of District Officer, MS 10131, box 1. National Library of Australia
  • Tudor, Judy. Many a Green Isle. Sydney: Pacific Publications, 1966
  • Tudor, Judy. ‘Of Falling Leaves, and Trees and Other Things.’ Pacific Islands Monthly 20, no. 5 (December 1949): 55

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Nicholas Hoare, 'Tudor, Ethel Ellen (Judy) (1910–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tudor-ethel-ellen-judy-32477/text40289, published online 2023, accessed online 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Judy Tudor, 1945

Judy Tudor, 1945

Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • McDonald, Ethel Ellen
Birth

16 May, 1910
Granity, New Zealand

Death

24 March, 1998 (aged 87)
Erina, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

pneumonia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Occupation
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