Florence Cardell-Oliver

Annie Florence Gillies Cardell-Oliver (1876-1965), politician, was born at Ararat, Victoria, daughter of Annie Thompson and Johnson Wilson. She was educated in Victoria and England. Florence married Arthur Cardell- Oliver, medical practitioner, in England and they had two sons. They left London c. 1913 for Perth. During the war Mrs Cardell-Oliver participated in recruiting campaigns and after the war returned to England to oversee her sons' education.

Following her husband's death in 1929, Florence returned to Western Australia, where in 1934 she contested the federal seat of Fremantle, standing against John Curtin who was elected. She published Empire Unity or Red Asiatic Domination (1934). In 1935 she travelled abroad to Spain, Italy and Germany, and in 1936 stood as Nationalist candidate for the State seat of Subiaco, winning by one vote in an election which returned a Labor government. She is said to have selected the seat because a majority of electors were women. When asked why she did not live in her electorate, she said, 'but I do live in Subiaco, I only sleep in Perth'.

She commented in her maiden speech on having been required to remove her hat in the House: she had been told there were no 'women' in Parliament and she hoped that that meant there were no men. Her political opponents tried to embarrass her by drawing attention to her ignorance of Parliamentary procedure, but usually she had a sharp reply.

She followed her party's line but on occasions took an independent initiative: in 1936 she introduced a private member's bill to amend the Child Welfare Act, intended to give greater protection to mothers where custody of children was in dispute. She took a lone stand against the 1939 Contraceptives bill which, on the model of an earlier Victorian Act, imposed a total ban on all forms of advertising. She called for a consumer representative on the Milk Board. While the depression lasted she gave her parliamentary salary for relief of unemployment.

In 1947 Cardell-Oliver was made an honorary minister; in 1948 she was given responsibility for supply and shipping and in 1949-53 was Minister for Public Health as well as for Supply and Shipping; she was the first female member of an Australian cabinet. She effected the introduction of compulsory testing for tuberculosis and the distribution of free milk for schoolchildren. In every session of Parliament she had pursued the availability of milk to poorer families, stressing its nutritional value. She is also credited with having persuaded the Western Australian Government to offer research facilities to Dr Gye and Dr Mann (q.v.). Cardell-Oliver was created DBE in 1951.

Dame Florence retired from politics in 1956. She was active in many community organisations including the Women's Service Guilds, the West Australian Painters and Arts and Craft Society, the Progressive Education League, the Victoria League and the Women's Hockey Association. She left for England in 1959 returning in 1965 shortly before her death. She was a woman who seemed never to doubt her own ability, an anti-socialist with a deep distrust of bureaucrats.

Heather Radi