Bea Miles

Beatrice Miles (1902-1973), rebel, was born at Ashfield, Sydney, on 17 September 1902, third surviving of five children of Maria Louisa (born Binnington) and William John Miles, public accountant. She was educated at Abbotsleigh School. An independent income from her grandmother's estate enabled her to escape the violent scenes that characterised her relationship with her father. She enrolled in Arts at the University of Sydney but discontinued after a year 'because they did not teach enough Australian stuff'. Conflict with her father over her lifestyle and sexual 'freedom' continued. She contracted encephalitis and in 1923 he had her committed to the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, where she remained until publicity in Smith's Weekly led to her release in 1925.

Thereafter, Miles became notable for her outrageous, disruptive conduct in public places, and her outspoken criticism of political and social authorities. Irresolvable differences over her behaviour and lifestyle occasioned the end of her long relationship with Brian Harper when she was 38. He wanted to marry, and she did not.

Bea Miles had 'no fixed address'. Well-known in Sydney, she could be seen about city and suburban public transport wearing a green tennis shade, tennis shoes and a scruffy greatcoat over a somewhat ample body. She had a number of ingenious methods of obtaining goods, services and daily support. One method was to give recitations from Shakespeare, with a sixpence to 3/- price range. She became notorious for refusing to pay fares, especially in taxis; cabbies often refused to pick her up. Sometimes in retaliation she would leap on their running-boards, bumper-bars or bonnet, or hurl herself against their sides, detaching doors from hinges; however, in 1955, she paid a female taxi-driver 600 pounds to drive her to Perth and back, taking nineteen days. From the 1940s her closest friend was taxi-driver John Beynon, but this could not prevent the ire of unpaid drivers; she was assaulted several times in the 1950s.

Bea was constantly harassed by police and she claimed to have been falsely convicted 195 times, fairly 100 times. She haunted the Public Library of New South Wales, reading many books each week, until she was banned from the building in the late 1950s. The final years of her life were dogged by ill health, and in 1964 she entered the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged at Randwick. In old age she reputedly claimed: 'I have no allergies that I know of, one complex, no delusions, two inhibitions, no neuroses, three phobias, no superstitions and no frustration'. After renouncing her lifelong atheism and receiving Roman Catholic rites, she died of cancer on 3 December 1973.

As well as advocating free love Miles was a fervent nationalist. At her request Australian wildflowers were placed on her coffin and a jazz band played 'Waltzing Matilda', 'Tie me Kangaroo down Sport' and 'Advance Australia Fair'. In 1984 Better known as Bee, a musical comedy based on her life was performed by the Q theatre Co., Penrith. Her portrait by Alex Robertson was entered for the 1961 Archibald prize.

Judith Allen