May Holman

Mary (May) Alice Holman (1893-1939), politician, was born on 18 July 1893 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, first of nine children of Katherine Mary (born Row) and John Barkell Holman, a miner. Her father moved to the Murchison goldfields in Western Australia and the family followed in 1896. May was educated at convents in Dongara and Perth. She was a gifted musician, a licentiate in singing and pianoforte. She organised choirs, performed in concerts, plays and fêtes with flair and enthusiasm, and had her own band, 'The Entertainers'. She worked as a typist at the Trades Hall, as a pianist at cinemas and from 1914 on the Westralian Worker. On 9 May 1914 in the District Registrar's Office, Perth, she married Peter Joseph (Joe) Gardiner, a Labor member of the State parliament. They were divorced in 1920. May's mother was active in Labor women's organisations; her father was a Labor member of the Legislative Assembly in 1901-21 and 1923-25 and secretary of the Western Australian branch of the Timber Workers' Union from 1908. From 1918 May assisted him at the Union in clerical and bookkeeping work and in arbitration. She spent nine months in Melbourne for the hearing of the Union's arbitration case. After her father's death in 1925 she was briefly union secretary. She won preselection for his seat of Forrest, where timber was the dominant industry, and retained the seat through four elections.

She saw herself primarily as the representative of the interests of families in the small forest settlements. She spoke effectively in the House of their lack of medical care, decent housing and schooling, and their dangerous work. The Timber Industries Regulation Act, 1926, was largely her work. May regularly visited the timber camps, at first on timber trains, perched on the 'cow catcher', and later in her own 'Tin Lizzie'. She had excellent rapport with the workers, a good grasp of industrial problems and could discuss women's affairs with the housewives.

She was active in women's organisations within the Labor Party, a president and secretary of the Labor Women's Central Executive and an interstate delegate. The women were dissatisfied in 1927 at their lack of representation on the Party's central executive and under her leadership sought a percentage of the affiliation fees paid by women; they complained of being expected to do the Party's organising with inadequate funding. Their requests in 1928-29 for the appointment of a woman organiser were ignored. Their own conference resolutions featured change to the party's constitution, welfare measures, and more adequate representation of women on government bodies. May herself was appointed alternate delegate to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva in 1930.

From 1933 May Holman was secretary to the Parliamentary Labor Party. She gave evidence in 1937 to the royal commission on youth employment as convenor of her Party's committee on the subject: she supported raising the school age to sixteen, the introduction of child endowment, equal pay, and improved training and working conditions for domestic servants.

In 1938, at her instigation, a royal commission to which she was appointed was appointed to inquire into sanitation, slum clearance, and health and housing in Perth. In 1938 she attended the British Commonwealth Relations Conference in New South Wales. She believed Australia should not allow itself to be drawn into a European war. She belonged to the mainstream of the moderate Western Australian Labor movement, dedicated to the reform of society as it existed. May Holman died on 20 March 1939 following a car accident, on the day she was re-elected to Parliament.

Margaret Steadman