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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allnutt, Marion Ellen Lea (1896–1980)

by Helen Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Marion Ellen Lea Allnutt (1896-1980), welfare worker, was born on 8 September 1896 at Woodville Park, Adelaide, daughter of Earnest Allnutt, merchant, and his wife Marion Anderson, née Fowler. The family moved to Fremantle, Western Australia, in Marion's infancy and returned to Adelaide in 1914. Nicknamed 'Polly', she studied piano at the Elder Conservatorium of Music and accompanied soloists in concerts at the Adelaide Town Hall: her wealthy father refused to allow his daughters to work. Dark haired, with a broad smile and strong features, she was confident, quietly spoken and a devout Anglican.

Following a broken engagement, Marion cared for her mother and did voluntary social work, especially for children. She served on the committee of the Walkerville Church of England Boys' Home (1927-52) and on the executive of the Kindergarten Union of South Australia (1928-38), and acted as a transport officer in 1939-41 for the South Australian division of the Australian Red Cross Society. In 1949 she became a charter member of the Soroptimist Club of Adelaide (president 1951-53).

Marion had been a founder in 1941 of the South Australian unit of the Women's Australian National Services whose motto was 'Pledged to unity and service'. As its full-time secretary and commanding officer (from 1942), she proved a natural leader. During World War II she directed women in pre-enlistment training for the armed services, and instructed members in air-raid precautions work and fire-fighting; she also supported the dispatch of food parcels to victims of the Blitz in Britain. Wearing blue uniforms and peaked caps, some three thousand members of the South Australian W.A.N.S. worked for the St John Ambulance Brigade, undertook transport duties for police and military authorities, performed secretarial tasks, and cared for elderly people and those in hospitals and children's homes. They financed their own operations. In July 1944 Commander Allnutt answered the Royal Adelaide Hospital's call for the W.A.N.S. to replace striking domestic workers. At a few hours notice, she arranged a complete service for nine days, despite accusations of 'scab' labour.

Next month she proposed that the W.A.N.S. should establish Wanslea, an emergency home for children, on a Western Australian model. Fund-raising began with the renovation of a yellow, horse-drawn pie-cart that traded briskly in the city; Marion stoked the fire daily to heat pies and drinks. Through money from badge days, catering enterprises and the support of other women's groups, the W.A.N.S. opened Wanslea at Payneham in March 1947; the home was later moved to Kingswood. The matron and staff cared for about thirty children in times of family crises; girls were trained as 'Wanslea aids' to take over the mothers' home duties when necessary.

Miss Allnutt continued her work on Wanslea's council (1947-69 and 1975-80), on management and training committees, and in fund-raising. In 1951 she was appointed M.B.E. She died on 10 November 1980 at Wynwood Nursing Home, Norwood, and was cremated. Her relations donated funds for a rose garden at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Walkerville, in her memory. Marion had bequeathed a generous legacy to Wanslea. In 1991 Marion Allnutt House at Wanslea Child Care Centre, Kingswood, was named after her.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Angus, History of the Women's Australian National Services (Adel, 1981)
  • Church of England Boys' Home, Walkerville, Annual Report, 1927-52
  • Kindergarten Union of South Australia, Annual Report, 1928-38
  • Wanslea Inc, Annual Report, 1946-47, 1980-81
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Apr 1917, 1 Jan 1951
  • Soroptomist Club of Adelaide, Executive committe minutes, 1949-58 (held by the club)
  • WANS, South Australian unit, minute book, 22 May 1941, 1, 8 Aug, 5 Sept 1944 (State Library of South Australia)
  • Wanslea newsclippings (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Allnutt, Marion Ellen Lea (1896–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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