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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Varley, Gwendoline (1896–1975)

by Marion Consandine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Gwendoline Varley (1896-1975), sports organizer and broadcaster, was born on 8 November 1896 at Kew, Melbourne, eldest child of English-born parents Charles Edward Varley, printer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Purves. Gwen was educated at Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School, where she distinguished herself as an athlete. She then spent two years as sports mistress at Geelong Church of England Girls' Grammar School (the Hermitage) before taking up welfare work. Moving to Sydney in the early 1920s, she became organizing secretary of the City Girls' Amateur Sports Association in 1925 and inaugurated Girls' Week to raise funds. Her efforts brought her to 'the notice of the studios' and by 1928 she was broadcasting with radio-station 2BL.

As founding secretary (from 1928) of the 2BL Women's Amateur Sports Association (later the Australian Broadcasting Co. Women's Association), Miss Varley used the wireless to co-ordinate activities, which included golf, tennis, 'motor picnics', bridge, handicrafts and social functions. By 1930 the association had five hundred members. In May 1933, ten months after the Australian Broadcasting Commission was established, she began the women's sporting session on radio 2FC. Hundreds of clubs in the city and country sent her news and results. She interviewed prominent sportswomen, and also directed 2FC's health session.

Varley captained an A-grade tennis team and served on the women's executive of the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association. She was a committee-member of the New South Wales Women's Hockey Association, secretary and president of the New South Wales Women's Basketball Association and a member of the committee of the New South Wales Women's Cricket Association. She also swam, rowed, ran, fenced and skated, played golf, hockey and croquet, and drove her own car.

Returning to Melbourne in l935, Varley joined radio 3AW and, in the following year, began its Women's Association to run sporting and social activities. Membership began at 750 and grew to seven thousand by August 1937. Her sister Joyce had joined her at 3AW in 1936 and taken charge of a similar project for 'the Younger Set'. Flying to Sydney, Gwen helped to set up the Australian Women's League, attached to 2CH. She arranged competitions between the association and the league in golf, tennis, bridge and dancing. In October 1937 she organized celebrations to mark the association's second birthday: a garden party, attended by Dame Enid Lyons, highlighted a 'gala Carnival Week' of social functions and sporting events.

Gwen Varley was described as a 'Sport Who is a Sport' and as 'typical of what an out-of-doors, sports-loving Australian girl should be'. Both in broadcasting and in organizing, she was a leader in what her contemporaries saw as 'the golden age of women's sport'. At the Presbyterian Church, St Kilda, on 21 June 1938 she married Hector Maximus Greig, an importer and a widower with two sons. Thereafter, although she continued to be active in numerous organizations, especially the Young Women's Christian Association, she gave her first priority to family life. Survived by her husband and stepsons, she died on 24 May 1975 at North Balwyn and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. K. Stell, Half the Race (Syd, 1991)
  • Wireless Weekly, 19 Jan 1934
  • Listener In, 7, 28 Apr 1934, 12 Sept, 17 Oct 1936, 21-27 Aug, 2-8 Oct 1937, 25 June-1 July 1938
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 21 Jan 1928
  • Australian Tennis Museum Archives (Sydney)
  • ABC Document Archives (Sydney)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marion Consandine, 'Varley, Gwendoline (1896–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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