Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Florence Amy Willie (1922–1981)

by Carol Gistitin

This article was published:

Florence Amy Willie (1922-1981), community leader, was born on 15 July 1922 at North Rockhampton, Queensland, third of ten children of Queensland-born parents Edward (‘Bong’) VeaVea, gardener, and his wife Constance, née Wolfer. Florence’s paternal grandfather was Sam Ambrym, indicating his origin in the island of Ambrym, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), whence he came to Queensland at the age of 18. According to family tradition, he had light skin and his father may have been French. The family later changed its name to VeaVea.

As a child Florence lived with her family in Creek Street, North Rockhampton, in an area formerly known as ‘Kanaka Town’. The community of South Sea Islanders comprised about two hundred people. Creek Street was a dirt track through the guinea grass, along which six families lived in shanties made of corrugated iron with slab walls, earthen floors and roofs that leaked. They had no electricity but used carbine lights, a bathroom with no roof and a bag for a curtain, and a community kitchen. The VeaVea family was part of the congregation of the South Sea Islander church at North Rockhampton, St John’s Church of England, which had been consecrated in 1913. Florence was baptised there in October 1922 and attended Sunday school, scoring exceptionally high marks in examinations—93 per cent in 1933. Educated at Berserker Street State School, she worked as a shop assistant. On 6 June 1942 at St John’s Church she married Emil Gabriel Willie, a canecutter, also of Creek Street. They lived there and had thirteen children; after Florence’s parents died, they brought up her younger siblings as well. Her brother Len, fifteen years younger, called her ‘a remarkable woman . . . unreal’. She gave never-failing support to a large extended family and network of friends.

Willie was always closely involved with St John’s Church and with St David’s parish to which it belonged. She cleaned the church, assisted with parish fêtes, where her chocolate cakes were famous, and became a member of the parish council. Of very strong character, she continued a tradition of women holding leadership positions in the community. In 1973, the same year as bitumen was laid in Creek Street, she moved into a modern house with electricity. She died of coronary artery disease on 7 June 1981 at her Creek Street home and was buried in North Rockhampton cemetery. Her husband and six sons and four daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Gistitin, Kanakas (1989) and Quite A Colony (1995)
  • L. Willie (ed), History of Kanaka Town (1998)
  • Anglican Church, Diocese of Rockhampton archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Carol Gistitin, 'Willie, Florence Amy (1922–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • VeaVea, Florence Amy

15 July, 1922
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia


7 June, 1981 (aged 58)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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