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Smith, Bertha Chatto (1892–1984)

by Robert Tierney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Bertha Chatto St George Machattie Smith (1892-1984), Country Women’s Association leader and author, was born on 25 February 1892 at Kew, Melbourne, seventh of eight children of Irish-born James Sproule, squatter, and his English-born wife, Mary Brodie, née Smith. Bertha enrolled at Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in 1908. In 1909 she was appointed a probationer (junior prefect) and in 1910 was school captain and captain of the tennis four. The following year she passed first-year medicine at the University of Melbourne but discontinued her studies after the death of her father in 1912.

On 18 March 1915 Bertha married Lancelot Machattie Smith (1885-1956) at St John’s Church of England, Flinders, Victoria. A former Australian rugby union representative, he was a grazier at Boree Cabonne, Borenore, New South Wales, and the grandson of John Smith. In 1908 Boree Cabonne had been divided in two; Mirridong went to his older brother, Cecil Machattie Smith, and Lancelot retained the name Boree Cabonne for his share. He was known as Mac Smith and his wife as Bertha Mac Smith or Mrs L. Mac Smith.

Bertha Mac Smith was an early member of the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales, joining the Orange branch, established in 1924. She was active and influential in the association over several decades and played a significant part in the formation of Orange district branches, including Cheeseman’s Creek, Cudal and Borenore. In 1937 the State conference, held in Orange, passed Mac Smith’s motion to set up a CWA newspaper, Countrywoman in New South Wales; she was the first editor (1937-39).

In 1945 Mac Smith was elected CWA State president. During her two-year presidency she purchased at the Sydney showground an old building which became the show kiosk. She served (1947-48) as national president. Her influence within the CWA was reflected in her successful battle to amend the constitution, replacing the phrase ‘non political’ with ‘non-party political’. She believed that all women living in regional New South Wales should be allowed to join, irrespective of class, religion or political party allegiance. This did not prevent her from fighting political battles outside the CWA; on 3 October 1950 she spoke at a graziers’ meeting at the Royal Exchange, Sydney, against the government’s proposed reserve pricing scheme for wool sales.

In 1942, after learning that the majority of Australian servicemen could not recite the Lord’s Prayer, Mac Smith compiled Someday, a pocket-sized book of prayers, hymns and poems. The proceeds of £1800 were donated to the Australian Prisoners of War Fund. On 14 August 1946 she participated in a debate on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, advocating the transmitting of Federal parliamentary proceedings. Her books, The King Who Walked With God (1952) and By Love Serve One Another (1953), drew on her own and the CWA’s loyalty to, and veneration of, the British monarchy.

While living at Boree Cabonne, Mac Smith worshipped at St James’s Church of England, Cudal. After her husband’s death in 1956, she and their children donated an east window in his memory. In 1958 she moved to Orange, leaving the management of Boree Cabonne to her eldest son. A foundation member of the Cancer Patients’ Assistance Society, she set up the Canobolas committee of the Children’s Medical Research Foundation. She also promoted the establishment of girl guides in Orange and surrounding districts and supported the local Australian Red Cross Society.

As president (1961-67) of the Orange and District Historical Society and patron from 1968, Mac Smith nurtured the growing interest in local history and helped to persuade the Orange City Council to provide premises for a cultural centre and historical museum. In 1964 she wrote a play, Banjo and His Grandmother, commemorating the centenary of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s birth. She continued to write, despite being almost blind for her last seventeen years. Quench Not the Spirit (1972) featured John Smith’s letter-book and journal in a history of merino sheep breeding in New South Wales. Letters of John Maxwell (1982) published correspondence of the government stock superintendent in central western New South Wales in the 1820s.

Mac Smith was appointed OBE in 1964. A tall imposing woman, she dressed elegantly, her appearance matching her eloquence, determination and influence. She died on 30 December 1984 at Orange and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Cudal, survived by two sons and two daughters; one son had predeceased her by a few months and another son had died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • Country Women’s Association of New South Wales, The Silver Years (1947), The Golden Years (1972) and The Diamond Years (1997)
  • 100 Years of Worship: St James, Cudal (1976)
  • H. Townsend, Serving the Country (1988)
  • Central Western Daily, 2 Jan 1985, p 3
  • 7 Feb 1985, p 5
  • Land (Sydney), 24 Jan 1985, p 33
  • Melbourne Girls’ Grammar School Archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Robert Tierney, 'Smith, Bertha Chatto (1892–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-bertha-chatto-15742/text26930, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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