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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Octoman, Janette Hannum (1879–1971)

by Philippa L. Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Janette Hannum Octoman (1879-1971), community worker, was born on 14 November 1879 at Port Lincoln, South Australia, daughter of Caleb Provis, a farmer from England, and his South Australian-born wife Janetta, née Patterson. Named after her mother, Janetta was to change (1940) her name to Janette. She was educated by her grandfather Joseph Provis, a schoolteacher who lived with them. At the Methodist Church, Tumby Bay, on 11 April 1903 she married Charles Mashon Ochtomann (Octoman from 1919), a 32-year-old blacksmith; they were to have four sons. About 1920 the family moved to Marden, Adelaide; Charles worked as a builder and farmer, and the boys furthered their schooling.

Early in 1927 the Octomans returned to the Eyre Peninsula. Mrs Octoman served as a justice of the peace. A member of a policy-forming committee of the Liberal Union of South Australia for the 1927 State elections, she was appointed to the State executive of the Liberal and Country League in 1932. Five years later she unsuccessfully sought endorsement for the Legislative Assembly seat of Flinders. She was a founding member (1933) of the Tumby Bay branch of the South Australian Country Women's Association and president (1937-40, 1943-46) of the Eyre Peninsula division. In 1938 she represented the S.A.C.W.A. on the executive-committee of the Associated Country Women of the World at its meetings in London, and at the Jubilee conference of the International Council of Women, held in Edinburgh.

Concerned to ensure that women had a voice in parliament, Octoman came home and resumed her battle for party endorsement. As a member both of the C.W.A. and the National Council of Women of South Australia, she became known for her efforts to help women and children, and to improve education, transport and postal services on the Eyre Peninsula. During World War II she also threw her energies into the Australian Red Cross Society, the Fighting Forces Comforts Fund, the Wheatgrowers' Protection Association and the Mothers and Babies' Health Association. She again stood for endorsement in 1939, 1940 and 1944 at State level, and in 1943 for the Senate. Despite her ability and perseverance, she never won pre-selection. Her final attempt to enter parliament (in 1944) was as an unendorsed L.C.L. member when she polled only 410 votes.

After her husband died in 1949, Octoman served (1949-52, 1955-56) as State president of the C.W.A. (honorary life member 1954). During her first term of office she visited all 236 State branches, a formidable undertaking for a woman in her seventies. She helped to acquire land for holiday cottages at Port Lincoln and Tumby Bay, and initiated the establishment of homemakers' schools. In 1953 she was appointed M.B.E.

A skilled needlewoman, and a keen gardener and cook, Octoman won prizes at the Adelaide Royal Show where she sometimes had as many as 150 entries. In 1970 the C.W.A. and the Tumby Bay District Council planted an avenue of native trees at Lipson in her honour. Survived by two of her sons, she died on 23 October 1971 at Leabrook and was buried in Lipson cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Parker, The First Fifty Years (Adel, 1979)
  • Farmer and Grazier, 28 Oct 1971
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Jan 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

Philippa L. Fletcher, 'Octoman, Janette Hannum (1879–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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