Home Our History Grace Emily Munro 1879-1964 M.B.E.

Grace Emily Munro 1879-1964 M.B.E.

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Image: Grace Emily Munro 1879-1964

Grace Emily Munro 1879-1964 MBE, is arguably one of the most famous women in Bingara’s history and while this is a huge statement by any measure, she is certainly a worthy contender. Born in 1879 to Mr and Mrs George Gordon of Gragin Station, Warialda, she married Hugh Munro of Keera Station Bingara in 1898. This brought together two of the best-known families in the north and importantly, families who contributed enormously to their communities over many decades.  

While Grace is best known for her role in the formation of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) in 1922, her earlier work during World War I is also worth noting. Munro family historian Jillian Oppenheimer recorded:

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‘During World War I, Grace Munro lived mainly in Sydney at Bellevue Hill. In 1915 she was honorary organizing secretary of the Australian Army Medical Corps’ comforts fund and also worked for the Australian Red Cross Society under Eleanor MacKinnon, particularly at Holsworthy army camp. Using her Clement-Talbot car, she and her driver transported supplies to the camps around Liverpool each week. She helped to provide facilities at the Sydney showground for country volunteers during the 1917 strike and ran the post office there. She qualified in first aid, home nursing and hygiene with the St John Ambulance Association and had advanced instruction from Sister A. B. Parry. After the war, she gave first aid classes at Keera and in recognition of her work was appointed a serving sister of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. She was a member of the Bingara Hospital Board.’


Hotel Australia 1932

CWA – The Origins

An address at a Gala Dinner held in May 2012 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the CWA, provides an insight into the role of Grace in the setting up the association. Those attending were told:

 ‘In brief, the Country Women’s Association of NSW began when Miss Florence Gordon, Women’s Editor of the Stock & Station Journal and Dr Arthur, former Minister for Health, decided action needed to be taken to bring country women suffering from hardship, loneliness and depression together.

A discussion and article in the Journal attracted the attention of Mrs Hugh Munro (Grace) of ‘Keera’, Bingara. It was agreed to convene a conference at the 1922 Royal Agricultural Show in Sydney, where a decision was made to form an organisation called ‘The Country Woman’s Association’, to work towards improving the conditions of country women and children. Mrs Grace Munro was elected president and in June 1922, a general meeting was held to form the aims of the association. That is how it all began.’

Grace – the First President

Jillian described how Grace dedicated enormous time and resources to getting the association up and running. She said:

‘Elected President, she insisted that the association was to be non-political. She travelled throughout New South Wales and Queensland speaking to country women and helping to form branches. By 1923, there were sixty-eight branches, seventeen rest-rooms for mothers and children, two seaside homes and maternity centres in many towns. She met cabinet ministers to urge the establishment of maternity wards in country hospitals and improved conditions in trains and at railway refreshment rooms for women and children.

Ill health forced her to retire in 1926 after 100 branches had been formed and a membership of 4,500 attained. She continued to raise large sums of money for such causes as rest-centres and holiday homes, the Australian Inland Mission’s Aerial Medical Service, the Red Cross and St John. Appointed M.B.E. in 1935, she was a member of the advisory council of New England University College at Armidale from 1938.’

Keera House- Walter E Wearne

Another of Bingara’s most important identities, Walter E Wearne, had provided Grace with some very practicable help in the formation years. Mary Clifford in her book, Looking through our Window, said of Walter:

‘Seeing the need for such an outlet for country women in his many journeys around the state while Minister for Lands and being involved in re-settling returned servicemen, he asked Mrs Hugh Munro of Keera Station, Bingara, if she would help set up such an organisation, which she did with much enthusiasm.’

Walter had an extended role, as evident from the following article in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW) Saturday 6th October 1923:

‘The members of the CWA were “at home” in the drawing room of the Hotel Carlton yesterday afternoon and most country people in town availed themselves of the opportunity of hearing the objects and aims of the association explained. Mr Wearne promised a grant of three acres of land at Dee Why for the seaside camps and also extended the sympathetic co-operation of the Government.’

When the CWA, under Grace’s leadership, widened its activities to include rest rooms and bush nursing centres, Walter provided suitable land in the various towns. For example, the Glen Innes Examiner, Monday 17 August 1925 reported that he made available a well-positioned block for the building.

Cheap Fares to Keera House

From day one, the NSW Government got right behind the newly formed CWA, and the Hillston Spectator and Lachlan River Advertiser on Thursday 10 December 1925, published another example of this support:

‘A new by-law, which was published in a recent issue of the Government Gazette, came into operation last week. The new law allows women and children from stations of more than 200 miles from Sydney, to be issued with return tickets at single fare prices. But it is only available to male children under the age of 14 years.’

However, despite the Dee Why facility being an instant success, Grace had much more in mind and she set about implementing her plans for women in country towns. 


View from Kamilaroil

Bingara‘s Country Women’s Club

Under the heading, ‘What they do in Bingara’, the Wyalong Advocate reported on 7 December 1923, about the new facility that had been establish in the town

‘When Mrs. Hugh Munro inaugurated the Country Women’s Association she gave the city women many vital reasons for establishment of the association. The most important of them was the need of maternity wards in country hospitals. Bingara’s is a five-roomed cottage, with two large verandahs. There is a dining-sitting room, a well-equipped kitchen and bathroom, and a bedroom for members who wish to remain in town for the night or two. The two front rooms are reserved for maternity cases, for the club has been registered as a maternity hospital. It was a tiresome business to accomplish, for the rules and regulations in connection with a maternity hospital were difficult to accomplish in an inland country town. But Mrs Munro only encounters difficulties to surmount them. She got the club registered as a hospital, but even before that, a little Australian first raised his voice under the club’s hospitable roof.’ 

Grace certainly had the backing of the Bingara community and a carnival was staged to help raise funds for the project. For example, the Wyalong Advocate reported:

‘It is an accomplishment which speaks highly for the civic pride and responsibility of its women citizens. It is a club which represents Bingara’s aspirations, but also one of great accomplishment that is well within the means of almost any inland country town.’

Once Grace had the Bingara club up and running, she used it as a guide for many inland towns, which quickly came on board with their own initiatives.

Resignation

In what was certainly a surprise to the members of the CWA, Grace resigned as President at an executive meeting. The Country Life Stock and Station Journal (Sydney) on Tuesday 19th August 1924 carried a report of the meeting:

‘The resignation of the President, Mrs Hugh R Munro was then considered. Mrs. Ashton moved that the resignation be received with the utmost regret. For many years, such an association had been spoken of but it had never been brought into being until Mrs. Munro threw herself into the work. She was certainly the mother of the association, and it should be put clearly in the records that the division of the state, which is to be dealt with later on, is her idea, and all those who know her will always remember kindly for all she has done for the association. It is hoped that later on when her health is re-established, she may again be able to take an active part.’

After nearly one hundred years, her name and that of the CWA remain inseparable. According to Munro family history one of the reasons she took a leading role, is the death of her youngest son in 1911. This tragic loss only sharpened her desire to improve conditions, and find the united voice which was needed to agitate for change.

 Grace – equal of men

 In considering the life of Grace, a comment by an Editor of what is titled, ‘the only official registered website of Clan Munro (Association) Australia’, provides a powerful statement:

‘We have had stories of the pioneer men of the Munro clan, but at last I have found one of our lady pioneers who was their equal!’

Another description is:

‘Grace was a strong and dynamic personality, just as determined and energetic as her husband. She had been brought up, with her six sisters and one brother, to ride, to shoot, to drive a buggy skilfully. Yet she could change from an active country life to a ladylike city lifestyle when the family visited Sydney to live in their city home, Kamilaroi in Darling Point Road. Throughout her life, Grace moved between her city homes, which, at different times, included Wyaga in Bellevue Hill, Minarua and 14 Dalley Avenue in Vaucluse, two units in Macleay Regis, Potts Point and her country properties, Middle Brook Farm at Scone and Rhynie near Bundarra. After her family was complete, Grace travelled throughout the Pacific and the East, including China, Japan and India. She also travelled to Britain and Europe and later in life, to South Africa. It is also recorded that she visited Kashmir, India, Burma, China, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, North America, Europe and South Africa. In 1928 she accompanied the administrator, Brigadier General E. A. Wisdom, on his annual tour of the ports of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, and 400 miles (644 km) up the Sepik River.’

Grace’s return from New Guinea caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph (Sydney) and the paper reported on 1st November 1929:

‘New Guinea thrills: To the delight of all Mrs. Hugh Munro’s friends, the Montro, which brought her back from her New Guinea trip, arrived a day earlier than expected. Down at the wharf to greet her were Mr Munro and her polo-playing sons, Gordon and Douglas. The Munro family are installed for a while at the Australia Hotel and have let their lovely home in Vaucluse for 12 months. Away nearly four months, Mrs. Munro has returned looking marvellously well. She called at Rabaul, and while there was a guest of the Administrator, General E.A. Wisdom, whom she accompanied on a tour of inspection up the Sepic River. Mrs. Munro proceeded further on that trip than any white woman has ever been known to go. It was one of the greatest thrills of her life, she says.’

Grace the Activist

Looking back at the achievements of Grace, it can be argued that she was certainly a very special person and the goals she had set for the CWA reflected her concern for the welfare of women. Also, one can only admire her capacity and mental toughness to marshal the forces to make change happen, especially at a time when men dominated virtually every governmental and society decision. Also, there are no doubts that Grace used her position in society, and her connections, to drive change and again, the family history is very helpful in describing her determination to break down male dominated thinking: 

‘Grace campaigned actively for maternity wards in hospitals and separate railway carriages for mothers and children, badgering and cajoling Cabinet ministers to consider women in all forms of government planning.’ 

Even long after she had stepped down as President, Grace continued to shape the CWA  and on Friday 20 December 1929, she wrote a long letter to members, seeking their support for a pet reform at the annual conference to create state divisions. She told members:

‘Almost from the very beginning of our association’s existence, I felt that New South Wales was too large to organise and manage properly as a whole, and it was my suggestion that we should divide it into smaller areas, thus making it easier to work.’

While it was relatively easy to write letters to members, Grace certainly made sure that they understood the changes she wanted. For example, the Warialda Standard on Monday 24th March 1930 published a report on a CWA branch meeting:

‘At the close of the meeting Mrs. Munro gave an interesting address on the proposed question of division of the State. She said the word division gave a false impression. Her idea was to bring about more unity, to spread the responsibility and interest into the country, and generally to decentralise’ 

It’s probably correct to suggest that Grace would have attended many branch meetings on the subject, and her efforts were rewarded on 30th April 1930, when members at the annual conference, approved the new structure by 152 votes to 95.’ 

Grace Munro Aged Care Centre

Before concluding, I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning one of the most satisfying tributes to her memory, that of the Grace Munro Aged Care Centre in Bundarra.  While we have discovered that Grace had a passion for many things, her overriding concern was for the welfare of country people and the Bundarra community acknowledged this when they named their aged care facility in her honour.

Grace Munro Aged care Facility in Bundarra NSW

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2 COMMENTS

  1. All subjects were excellent and most interesting Congratulations to you Rod. Keep up the good and important work. With kind regards Hugh

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