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Mary Alice Ward (1896–1972)

by David Nash

This article was published:

Mary Alice Ward (1896-1972), by unknown photographer

Mary Alice Ward (1896-1972), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L81586

Mary Alice Ward (1896-1972), teacher and pastoralist, was born on 1 September 1896 at Kooringa, Burra, South Australia, eldest of eight children of John McEntyre, an engineer from Victor Harbor, and his wife Margaret Anne, née Kelleher. By 1904 the family had moved to the Western Australian goldfields, living first at Kalgoorlie and then Coolgardie. Mary began teaching at Tunneys State School in June 1915, and gained her junior cadet training certificate in September next year. In 1918-24 she taught at Kalgoorlie, Boulder and Carlisle. Promoted to head teacher in 1924, she moved often—to Parkfield, Pingrup, Cottesloe, Wyering, Keysbrook and Latham—before transferring to Wyndham in 1932. On 27 December that year at the office of the district registrar, Wyndham, she married Philip ('Ted') Ward, a stockman.

For two years the Wards lived at Jack Kilfoyle's Rosewood station, 120 miles (193 km) south-east of Wyndham. With Mary's brother Stuart they joined the gold-rush at Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, in 1935. Prospecting at a mine site that they called Blue Moon they struck gold, reputedly worth £80,000. In 1941 the Wards bought the cattle station Banka Banka, a property of almost two thousand sq. miles (5180 km²) located 60 miles (97 km) north of Tennant Creek. Mary supervised the development of an extensive garden, and during World War II Banka Banka supplied the army (which had a staging camp nearby) with meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables. The homestead, close to the Stuart Highway, was a regular stopping place for travellers and Mrs Ward's hospitality became legendary. In 1945 Ted Ward was among the first to truck cattle by road, and in the early 1950s the Wards acquired Lilleyvale in western Queensland (soon replaced with Fermoy, near Longreach) for use as a fattening station.

Having no children of her own, Mrs Ward cared for the babies of her Warumungu employees. In the 1950s a native affairs branch inspector wrote that 'youngsters on this station look the picture of health, and this is entirely due to the unremitting personal care and attention given by Mrs Ward'. She and her husband did not agree with the policy of removing part-Aborigines from their mothers. They sent children to school at Alice Springs at their own expense until 1961, when due to her efforts a government school opened at Banka Banka.

After her husband's death in 1959 Mrs Ward ran the stations. Known as 'the missus of Banka Banka', she also owned a butcher shop at Tennant Creek, supplying it from an abattoir on the property. One of her cattle managers recalled that she spent money on the welfare of her Aboriginal staff—many of whom she trained in domestic and station duties—while economizing on repairs and improvements, and eschewing new management methods. She was known to have dismissed White employees because of their ill treatment of Aborigines. She acquired five houses at Tennant Creek for her old retainers and, despite objections from the local town management board, arranged for construction in 1968-69 of a large red-brick building to house former employees and their relations. The 'Mary Ward Hostel' (also known as the 'Pink Palace') was later used for a range of community purposes. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1968.

Mrs Ward was short, with a 'ready smile'. Her delicate appearance belied her strength of character and confidence. In 1970, suffering ill health, she sold Banka Banka—she had already disposed of Fermoy—and moved to Adelaide. She died on 27 July 1972 at her North Adelaide home, and was buried with Catholic rites in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Tuxworth, Tennant Creek Yesterday and Today (Tennant Creek, NT, 1978)
  • T. Cole, Spears and Smoke Signals (Darwin, 1986)
  • A. Smith, Convoys up the Track (Adel, 1991)
  • 'A Big Country—Missus of Banka Banka', ABC TV, 6 Nov 1969 (ABC Archives)
  • Liz Evans, taped interview with Albert Hooker (c1981, Northern Territory Archives)
  • Banka Banka station journals in H. Tuxworth collection, boxes 6 and 7 (University of Queensland Library)
  • Lilleyvale, Fermoy and Banka Banka station journals in Tuxworth-Fullwood collection (National Trust Museum, Tennant Creek, Northern Territory).

Citation details

David Nash, 'Ward, Mary Alice (1896–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 April 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

Mary Alice Ward (1896-1972), by unknown photographer

Mary Alice Ward (1896-1972), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L81586

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • McEntyre, Mary Alice

1 September, 1896
Burra, South Australia, Australia


27 July, 1972 (aged 75)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.