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Davies, Natalia (Nat) (1907–1951)

by Helen Jones

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

Natalia Davies (1907-1951), by unknown photographer, c1928

Natalia Davies (1907-1951), by unknown photographer, c1928

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B54538

Natalia (Nat) Davies (1907-1951), schoolteacher and defence worker, was born on 25 January 1907 at Lampeter, Cardiganshire, Wales, only surviving child of Latimer Morgan Davies, divinity student, and his South Australian-born wife Florence Germain, née Morgan. A precocious reader, Natalia attended St David's College School, Lampeter, and immersed herself in British and military history. Having separated from her husband, in 1919 Florence brought her daughter to South Australia where they spent a year at Warrow, the Morgans' property near Coulta on Eyre Peninsula. Natalia studied privately and learned to ride. Solitary and regarded as odd, she entered Adelaide High School in 1921 and became a probationary teaching student next year. Her mother worked at dressmaking. After Florence died in 1923, Natalia boarded at hostels and took her holidays at Warrow.

She attended Adelaide Teachers' College in 1924-25 and enrolled at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1930; Dip.Ed., 1940). Slight but erect, with dark eyes and a deep voice, she wore her light-brown hair in an Eton crop and dressed in blazer, collar and tie: fellow students dubbed her the 'Card'. Nat 'hated being a woman'; she retained her boyish hairstyle, always wore tailored clothes, and had a passion for mastering facts and acquiring practical skills.

From 1926 Miss Davies taught at Uraidla Public School until April 1928 when, possibly protecting a pupil, she claimed responsibility for deliberately lit fires at the school. She remained calm while she was arrested, charged with arson and taken into custody. Police confiscated the .22-inch (5.5 mm) calibre revolver she used to practise shooting. Although she was suspended from duty, the director of education W. T. McCoy offered to provide bail and vouched for her 'unimpeachable' record. Eight weeks later the prosecution entered a nolle prosequi. Davies resumed teaching at Pennington Public School. Following her appointment in 1939 to Croydon Central (later Junior Technical) School, she taught only in girls' technical schools, ending her career as senior mistress (1949-51) at Port Adelaide. Ruth Gibson consistently found her to be meticulous and thorough, and noted a mellowing in her brusque, commanding manner.

Davies had been treasurer (1934-37) of the Women Assistants' Association. In February 1937 she drafted and presented a detailed motion to the South Australian Public School Teachers' Union to admit women's associations—with the object of facilitating equal-pay negotiations. When her motion was defeated, female unionists resigned en masse and formed the Women Teachers' Guild under Phebe Watson. Davies was its liaison officer (1938-42), delegate (from 1938) to the National Council of Women and vice-president (1945-49). As the guild's advocate before the Education Salaries Board, she gained substantial pay increases, particularly in 1947.

Foreseeing that Nazism would mean war, in February 1933 Davies had founded the Defence Society. Its initial membership of twelve increased to 130 by the time World War II began. As president, Davies obtained current information from the British Home Office, and lectured on air-raid and poison-gas precautions. From 1940 she organized and often taught evening classes on first aid, home nursing, motor engineering, elementary electrical work and fire drill. The society's members were predominantly women, without uniform and drawn from all walks of life. Natalia's full-time, voluntary staff officer Amylis Laffer became her close friend. Charging a shilling an hour, the society taught hundreds of women to shoot and maintain a rifle. In 1942, after Japan entered the war, classes extended to pistol shooting, map-reading and unarmed defence. Each night members went on duty at a roof-watching post in the city.

The sole female civil-defence area officer in Adelaide, Davies advised the Education Department; military authorities accepted her camouflage designs; and at Keswick Barracks society members made snipers' suits from hessian. In 1940 Davies had been appointed deputy-commandant of the State's Women's Air Training Corps and next year joined the Women's War Service Council. Despite her intensity, women found her an inspiring leader.

After the war Davies wrote historical plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission's educational programmes. In 1947 she became a national quiz champion on radio. She died of septicaemia on 29 April 1951 at the Willard Guest House, Wakefield Street, Adelaide, and was buried with Anglican rites beside her mother in North Road cemetery. Miss Laffer subsequently endowed the Natalia Davies prize for first-year history at the University of Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • Port Adelaide Girls' Technical School Magazine, 1951
  • Women Teachers' Guild (South Australia), Guild Chronicle, June 1947, p 11
  • South Australian Teachers' Journal, Feb 1937, p 10
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 Apr 1928, 29 Aug 1939
  • News (Adelaide), 11 Apr 1928
  • Register (Adelaide), 12 Apr 1928
  • South Australian Education Department, Teachers' history sheets, N. Davies (State Records of South Australia)
  • Director of Education, correspondence files (State Records of South Australia)
  • University of Adelaide, student records, N. Davies, and correspondence files, no 510, 1951-82 (University of Adelaide Archives)
  • Davies papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Davies, Natalia (Nat) (1907–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/davies-natalia-nat-9915/text17557, 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

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