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Women - When a British MP visited the Outback
Civilian Women | Women in the Armed Forces | Activities and Entertainment | When a British MP visited the Outback

Record of visit by Dr Edith Summerskill
Dr Summerskill was a British Member of Parliament (MP) and the only woman on a Parliamentary delegation visiting Australia and New Zealand in 1944.

Alice Springs, NT. 1944-06-29.
Dr Edith Summerskill at Simpson's Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges with Mrs C.L.A.Abbott and Flight Officer H.B.Darlingof the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. (Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial)

Dr Edith Summerskill, British MP and only woman on a parliamentary delegation visiting Australia and New Zealand in 1944 wrote letters to her daughter Shirley in England. She visited Alice Springs and stayed at the Residency.
“My Darling S: I am staying here with Mr and Mrs Abbott, the Administrator of the Northern Territory and his wife, in their charming, cream-washed, long bungalow home…. I addressed a meeting of the Country Women’s Association in a little hall with a corrugated iron roof, which held most of the housewives of Alice Springs. Their interest in everything I had to say about “home” was quite moving, and their questions afterwards were all about the villages and towns of Britain, and our wartime problems”.

From: “Letters to My Daughter” by Edith Summerskill (Heinemann, 1957)

Mr and Mrs Abbott wanted me to have a real Australian picnic before I left. So we set off in a powerful Vauxhall for Simpson’s Gap; the pot-holes were formidable, but we bumped successfully over them through miles of sandy desert dotted with salt bushes, past cattle gathered round water holes, and camels tethered with chains, and dominating the whole scene were the great mountain ranges which looked red, mauve and yellow in the distance. The Government have provided iron grills all over the countryside for cooking purposes. We found one of these, then a wood fire was kindled and soon the chops which we had brought with us were sizzling, and the water in the billycan bubbling. This all looked very appetizing, but eating a hot greasy chop with your fingers – as is customary – is not too easy if you are anxious not to smother your face with grease.”
From: “Letters to My Daughter” by Edith Summerskill (Heinemann, 1957)

Dr Edith Summerskill, a member of the British House of Commons and of the Empire parliamentary delegation, talking to Mardi, an Aboriginal stockboy, during the tour of the "Centre".
(Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial)

“Beds were made upon the floors of the schoolrooms: a mattress, two blankets and a pillow for each woman. Plates and cups were set ready on the desks and all would be given a cup of tea as soon as they arrived. The children had helped and seemed to think it great fun and were lingering about hoping to see the strangers coming down in such an unusual way. People had been generous in offering baths, and soap and towels were in readiness at nearby homes.

The wounded would be taken to the hospital, the men to the army camps, and the women were to be in charge of the welcoming group now waiting.

… At nine o’clock each morning, we went to the train. All women and most civilians within a radius of 300 miles of Darwin were being sent away and the North declared an Operational Area. Women from the far-out stations were taken to Larrimah and again army lorries brought them to the railhead at Alice Springs.

We went through the trains with telegraph forms and pencils, for few had been able to send any word away. Papers and books were collected from all around the town and we were able to give out cigarettes and tobacco.”
From: Goodnight All About by Mrs Hilda Abbott MSS 2207 ANL Canberra


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