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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Berry, Dame Alice Miriam (1900–1978)

by Helen Taylor

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

Dame Alice Miriam Berry (1900-1978), Country Women's Association leader, was born on 28 April 1900 in Sydney, eldest daughter of Charles Roy McKenzie, a native-born mining engineer, and his wife Matilda, née Abram, from New Zealand. Alice was educated at a one-teacher school at Cobar, where her father was the gold-mine manager, and at Waverley Superior Public School, Sydney. Following business-college training, she was employed as a secretary to a real-estate agent at Wentworthville. On 11 June 1921 she married Henry Berry at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. Henry had successively been a woolclasser, grazier and merchant; he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in March 1916 and served in the 1st Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East.

After the birth of two daughters, the family moved to a sheep-property near Tumut and lived there until 1927. When it was apparent that the health of one of their daughters would benefit from a warmer climate, the Berrys went to Queensland and took up land opened for closer settlement in the Mount Abundance district, near Roma. Alice gained first-hand experience of the problems which beset women in rural areas: lack of facilities, bad roads, poor communications, fitful mail and inadequate medical care. At the time that she became a founding member and secretary of the Mount Abundance branch of the Country Women's Association of Queensland in 1928, the locality had no township. She quickly came to appreciate how the C.W.A. could bridge isolation, and find ways of improving life for women and children.

As adept at outdoor work on their sheep station, Sheria, as in 'all the things that housewives feel they ought to do', she was capable of swimming her horse across a swollen creek to attend C.W.A. meetings. In 1932 the family moved to Woolabra—a 42,000-acre (16,997 ha) property in the Charleville district—where she continued to juggle domestic and C.W.A. responsibilities. Her initiative in getting a stationhand's wife to hospital, when a flooded creek blocked the way, was to be long remembered throughout the region: the sick woman was ferried in an old, tin bath, propelled by men swimming at either end of the tub, to the ambulance on the opposite bank. Mrs Berry worked tirelessly for those projects dear to countrywomen—education, mothers' hostels, the aerial medical service and access to seaside cottages. Involved in other organizations, during World War II she worked for the Red Cross Society and the Australian Comforts Fund; she was also a commissioner of the Girl Guides' Association.

Henry Berry's indifferent health brought a return to Brisbane in 1945, but Alice maintained her ties with the country as the C.W.A.'s councillor for the Western Division of Queensland. In 1948 she was appointed State international officer. That year, after Henry's death, she took on the management of Woolabra. Deputy-president (1951-52) of the State C.W.A., she was its president in 1953. Having led the Queensland delegation to the conference of the Associated Country Women of the World in Copenhagen in 1950, she did so again, to Toronto, Canada. There, in 1953, she was the first Australian to be elected president of the A.C.W.W. Re-elected unopposed in 1956, she served its six million members in twenty-seven countries for a further three years. During her term of office she twice toured the world to visit member nations. She returned to Queensland and was president (1961, 1962) of its C.W.A.

Very tall, dark haired, dark eyed and vivacious, a fluent speaker with a rich, deep voice, Alice Berry became a well-known spokeswoman. Her conviction that women 'in any country and of any race are much the same' derived from her breadth of vision, and from her interest in internationalism and world peace. Within the C.W.A. she was admired for her practical accomplishments and experience, and for strong leadership that was combined with humour and warmth. She was appointed O.B.E. in 1954 and in 1960 elevated to Dame Commander of that order. In 1962 she was elected national president of the C.W.A. Retiring from office in 1963, she worked on the State association's archives for ten years. In 1971 she was made a member of honour of the A.C.W.W.

Survived by her daughters, Dame Alice died on 18 September 1978 at Royal Brisbane Hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland Countrywoman, 1947-53, 1960-65, 1970-72
  • South Australian Country Woman, 1969
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 10 May 1952, 21 Aug 1953, 1 Jan, 17 May 1960
  • Alice Berry, State Library of Queensland files
  • newclippings collection (Queensland CWA Archives, Brisbane)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Taylor, 'Berry, Dame Alice Miriam (1900–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 2 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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