Deborah Hackett

Deborah Vernon Hackett (1887-1965), mining entrepreneur and charity worker, was born on 18 June 1887 at Guildford, Western Australia. Her father was surveyor Frederick Drake-Brockman and her mother Grace (born Bussell) heroine of the 1876 shipwreck near Margaret River, where Deborah herself spent much of her youth. She was educated as one of the few girl pupils at Guildford Grammar School for boys. She was an intrepid bareback rider, an explorer of caves and later, a skier. On 5 August 1905 she married 57-year-old lawyer Dr John Winthrop Hackett at Busselton. The marriage was happy. They had five children of exceptional ability: of their four daughters one became a lawyer, one a doctor and one a linguist. Their son, General Sir John Hackett, became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on the Rhine, Deputy Chief of the Imperial Staff and, on retirement, principal of King's College, University of London.

Dr Hackett was editor and part proprietor of the West Australian newspaper. When knighted in 1911 after he had refused a knighthood in 1902, it was thought his acceptance was due to the influence of his young and social wife. He was appointed KCMG in 1913. He died in 1916, leaving nearly half a million pounds to the University of Western Australia. Lady Hackett published the Australian Household Guide, a large compendium of household lore and cookery, in 1916, the proceeds going to war charities, for which the French government honoured her. A second edition of the Guide in 1940 raised funds for the Red Cross.

In 1918 Lady Hackett married Frank Moulden, solicitor and Mayor of Adelaide from 1920-22. She was known as Lady Hackett-Moulden until he was knighted in 1922 and she became Lady Moulden. She called and presided over the meeting in May 1920 when the South Australian National Council of Women was reestablished after a lapse of over 12 years. She was also State Commissioner of the Girl Guides Association. In 1923 she joined shearing contractor F.W.Young to form a syndicate to mine tantalite at Wodgina, 105 km from Port Hedland. This mine had been the major world source of high grade tantalum ore since 1905 and produced 70 tons between 1925 and 1929. Lady Moulden became Chairman of Directors of Tantalite Ltd in 1931; her other interests included wolfram and beryl mines in the Northern Territory and a partnership in the 275,000 ha Minilya Pastoral Co. Ltd property north of Carnarvon. She was a pioneer in the use of air travel and was a passenger on the first commercial flight from Australia to England in 1934. She sometimes travelled up to 40,000 km a year in single engine charter planes in outback Australia. She loved flying: 'I'll be flying till I die, my last flight will be feet first to Karrakatta,' she told a journalist.

She inherited her love for and knowledge of geology from her father, and took an active and forceful role in promoting the development of her mines in both Britain and the United States. The main buyer for the Wodgina ore was a Chicago company which sent the refined product to Britain to use in radar. Attempts to refine tantalite in the British Commonwealth were unsuccessful. The mines closed in 1940 and were taken over by the Australian government in 1943 for urgent war supplies.

The University of Western Australia conferred an honorary LLD on Lady Moulden at the opening of Winthrop Hall in 1932. As her husband had recently died, she did not attend in person. She married Justice Basil Buller Murphy, nine years her junior, in 1936 and became known as Dr Buller Murphy, as a newspaper snidely reported: 'No doubt having become accustomed to something more distinguished than Mrs'. She was a prominent Victorian society hostess in her Toorak and Kilsyth homes and active in many hospital and welfare charities. She published An Attempt to Eat the Moon, a book of Aboriginal legends, in 1958 and compiled the vocabulary, songs and music of the extinct Dordenup people whom she had known in her youth. She died aged 77 on 16 April 1965 and was buried at Karrakatta cemetery, Perth, next to her first husband.

Deborah was a versatile woman who was equally at ease in the remote desert as she was as a notable hostess who served lavish and exotic food at her unusual and original parties. She was a tireless worker for charity, raising thousands of pounds for welfare work. Her interest in the neglected girls of Perth and in war orphans was possibly aroused by early widowhood and consciousness of her own good fortune. Asked if she were Australia's wealthiest woman, she replied: 'Nonsense. Never was. I'm certainly not a pauper, but I'm not really wealthy.' A true philanthropist, she had given much money to various good causes, many of which were concerned with the welfare of women and children.

Prue Joske

Prue Joske, Lady Hackett's Household Guide Early Days 1978 pp 68-83.