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Winifred Doris (Joyce) Wilding (1909–1978)

by Elaine Darling

This article was published:

Winifred Doris (Joyce) Wilding (1909-1978), community worker, was born on 3 January 1909 at Portswood, Southampton, England, daughter of Job Henry Harman, army pensioner, and his wife Sarah Florence, née Minty. Orphaned at the age of 11, 'Joyce' was sent to a convent. On 18 July 1932 at St Colman's Catholic Church, Cosham, Portsmouth, she married Francis James Wilding, a milk roundsman. She had met Frank when he delivered milk to the convent at which she was employed as housemaid. Next year their first child was born at Portsmouth and, shortly after, the family migrated to Australia, taking with them the proceeds of the sale of a Wilding family inheritance. They broke their journey in Burma, where they were joined by Frank's brother Harry. Reaching North Queensland, the brothers leased land on Long Island, near Proserpine, and invested all their funds in a banana-growing venture. In 1936 the business failed and they lost their money.

The Wildings lived for a time in a tent at Kingaroy while Frank worked on peanut-farms, earning 'government relief'. The family moved to Brisbane and three more children were born. By 1953 Mrs Wilding was running a boarding house for young men in the family's home at West End. She responded to a public appeal from the Anglican bishop of North Queensland, Ian Shevill, who was seeking accommodation in Brisbane for an Aboriginal youth from Townsville, Tennyson Kynuna; he had been offered an apprenticeship in Brisbane with Evans, Deakin & Co. Pty Ltd, shipbuilders. The Queensland Department of Native Affairs then requested her to take two Aboriginal trainee schoolteachers. Their arrival triggered an exodus of her twenty White guests, whose families objected to their 'living . . . with the Blacks'.

Facing what she later described as her 'first real experience of racial hatred', Wilding opened her doors to homeless Aborigines. Dependent on Frank's wage, supplemented by public donations, she refused to turn anyone away. Despite angry protests and threats to her life, the residence became over-crowded. She campaigned for a guaranteed source of food, shelter, medical care and legal representation for people in need, and in 1961 helped to form the One People of Australia League. Next year, O.P.A.L. appointed her matron of Brisbane's first purpose-designed hostel for homeless Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (O.P.A.L. House), in South Brisbane. When O.P.A.L. opened the Joyce Wilding Home, a refuge for widows, deserted mothers and children, at Eight Mile Plains in June 1970, Wilding became matron. The following year, disheartened by the policies of the new O.P.A.L. board, she resigned.

Wilding was a brown-haired, hazel-eyed woman of middle height, whose determination to help the underprivileged hid an innate shyness. A practising Catholic of wide ecumenical sympathies, she was driven by a strong urge to 'care for the needy'. She championed multiculturalism, race and gender equality, and support for unmarried mothers, but was criticized for her 'paternalism' and her 'tame-cat' endorsement of government policies, and was called a 'do-gooder'. In her diary in 1973 she expressed anguish about the bigotry of the 1950s and 1960s, and observed that 'prejudice is the curse of us all, for we are all guilty of it sometime in our lives'. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1964, and in 1966 was made the Quota Club of Brisbane's 'Woman of the Year' and the Senior Citizens' 'Gracious Lady of the Year'.

A founding member (1957) of the St Veronica Welfare Committee, Wilding visited India and East Pakistan (Bangladesh) three times between 1957 and 1975. Her daughter was living at the Anand Milk Union Ltd's dairy colony, in Gujarat, India. After one trip she founded a relief society and organized shipments from Brisbane of blankets and clothing, and health equipment, for Dr R. R. Doshi's tuberculosis clinic at Anand. In 1976 she collected goods to send to people in India suffering from Hansen's bacillus (leprosy). She was presented with a humanitarian award by the Rosicrucian Order, Grand Lodge of San José, California, United States of America, in 1977. Survived by her three daughters and son, she died of cancer on 3 December 1978 in South Brisbane, two months after her husband, and was buried with Uniting Church forms in Cleveland cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • E. Darling, They Spoke Out Pretty Good (Melb, 1998)
  • Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement News, 4, no 1, 1979, p 3
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 4 Dec 1978
  • Wilding diaries (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Elaine Darling, 'Wilding, Winifred Doris (Joyce) (1909–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Harman, Winifred Doris

3 January, 1909
Portswood, Southampton, Hampshire, England


3 December, 1978 (aged 69)
South Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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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.