Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Conlon, Patricia Anne (1939–1979)

by Elizabeth Windschuttle

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

Patricia Anne Conlon (1939-1979), feminist, labour movement activist and public servant, was born on 2 November 1939 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, eldest of five children of Sydney-born parents John Hoare Carden, woolclasser, and his wife Patricia Anne, née de Coque. Young Anne was educated at St Joseph's Convent School, Neutral Bay, Monte Sant' Angelo College, North Sydney (dux 1956), and—on a teacher's scholarship—at the University of Sydney (BA, 1961; MA, 1973) where she became senior student at Sancta Sophia College. Renowned for her soprano voice, she competed in the City of Sydney Eisteddfod, and performed in choral and musical productions at school and university.

Disappointed at missing first-class honours in history, Carden taught in public high schools (which she found unrewarding) before and after spending 1964-65 on a postgraduate scholarship at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. At St John's College, Sydney, on 29 September 1967 she married Telford James Conlon, a physicist belonging to a Labor-connected family. In 1968 she became research assistant to John Manning Ward, professor of history at the University of Sydney, and in 1973 completed her master's thesis, Eyewitness Accounts of Australia—1815-1850. Her son was born in 1971 and her daughter in 1974.

A founding member (1972) of the Women's Electoral Lobby, Conlon stood unsuccessfully as the Australian Labor Party candidate for Mosman at a by-election for the Legislative Assembly in July 1972. Next year she was a convener of W.E.L.'s first national conference in Canberra. She helped to produce submissions on conciliation and arbitration legislation to the Federal government, on the disadvantaged position of single mothers to R. F. Henderson's commission of inquiry into poverty, and—with Edna Ryan—on the minimum wage for women to the 1974 national wage case.

Awarded a grant by the Australian National Advisory Committee of International Women's Year 1975, Conlon and Ryan expanded their research into a book, Gentle Invaders (1975), which was notable both for the depth and quality of its evidence, and for its pioneering work on the history of women and labour in Australia. Conlon published articles on issues involving women in the Electrical Trades Union's E.T.U. News, Catholic Weekly and Australian Quarterly. An article based on her thesis had appeared in 1970 in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. In 1976 she was appointed lecturer at the Australian Trade Union Training Authority.

A founding member (1977) of the New South Wales Women's Advisory Council, Conlon became special projects officer with the government's Women's Co-ordination Unit in February 1978. She worked on the Anti-Discrimination Act (1977), on an amendment to the maternity-leave provision and on the welfare of women prisoners. Her achievements impressed the premier Neville Wran.

Tall and striking, auburn haired and freckled, Conlon was witty, energetic, compassionate and extremely loyal. At Sancta Sophia she had been volatile and chronically unpunctual. Although she retained her Catholic faith, she broke for a time with the institutional Church because, she believed, it had failed to respond to the women's cause. She was a good debater, and had presence and authority, but did not seek the limelight, preferring to be a 'backroom operator' and to rely on an impressive network of friends and supporters. Politically astute, she was one of the few women in W.E.L. who belonged to the A.L.P.; she disavowed the prevailing philosophy that women should remain lobbyists and not join political parties.

To her profound grief, her marriage collapsed and in January 1979 she was divorced. Six months later she was diagnosed as suffering from cancer. Survived by her children, she died on 13 December 1979 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital, North Sydney. Hundreds of people packed a requiem Mass at nearby St Mary's Church; typically, she had meticulously arranged her own funeral, even the hymns sung by the choir of her old school. She is commemorated by an annual memorial lecture sponsored by the W.A.C. and by a building at Mulawa Training and Detention Centre for Women which bears her name.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Ryan and A. Conlon, Gentle Invaders (Syd, 1975)
  • Women's Advisory Council, Proceedings: Anne Conlon Memorial Lecture, 24 Nov 1980 (Syd, 1980)
  • Monte Sant' Angelo College, Register of Ex-Students (Syd, 1988)
  • Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal, 55, pt 1, Mar 1969, p 43
  • Australian Quarterly, Sept 1977, p 11
  • Women's Electoral Lobby, Newsletter, 1972-80.

Citation details

Elizabeth Windschuttle, 'Conlon, Patricia Anne (1939–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/conlon-patricia-anne-9805/text17333, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 December 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017