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Thoughts on our History, Barry Novy (POA)

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From what I can see, Americans and Aussies feel easy with each other. They simply like each other and have for a very long time. We live with each other in either country, often with greater ease than moving from one part of our own country to another. At the time that I was asked to speak today, I started to inquire about the formation of AWA. I eventually ended up with Bronwyn Hewitt, the Hospital Archivist. She cautiously produced the first Minute Book, in neat handwriting and beautiful script, which recorded the beginnings of AWA. At the time it was for the Children's Hospital, as Royal ascent was not given until 1963. I was not only interested in the Minute Book but to try to get some insight as to how AWA was created and possible some insight into it success. In the meanwhile, the minutes were pretty good reading. And as with most historical information,everything is different and yet the same. I thought that a brief review of the first set of minutes in the early years of AWA might be of interest.

The first meeting was on 1 June 1931, which was the start of the depth of the Depression. The first meeting elected Mrs. G. H. Peabody as President. Entrance fees were set at 2/6d. The current equivalent in coinage to 25 cents with a monthly subscription of one shilling, or ten cents. It was a modest beginning although a lot more than its current equivalent, especially during the Depression.

It would appear that they were a rather lively group. The Minutes of 31 August state "A suggestion was made that it should be possible to play bridge at our meeting. The dues would be increased to two shillings." The AWA made a visit to the Hospital on 24 August 1931. As a result it was decided unanimously to give as much money as possible to the Hospital for maintenance,which at the time was very badly needed.

August 1932. As reported in a Melbourne newspaper--"Members have been that the busy making pajamas, knitted jackets and bandages-- and it was decided that the next donation should be 100 flannel shirts for the small patients and flannel was distributed for this purpose. Afternoon tea was served at a table which had a centre piece a large bowl of Iceland poppies." No details were left out of the Minutes.

Sometimes, the work of the AWA was as basic as being asked to supply items such as jams and babies bottles. As the Hospital came to recognize the new resource, they began to ask the AWA for more favors. For many years, several of the members were involved in the transportation of patients from one part of Melbourne to another for treatment (e.g.. from Frankston Orthopedic home to the Carlton Hospital). This was at a time when not everyone had a car and so it really was a big ask. In November 1932, Mrs. Hoyt moved that two shillings be collected from each member to buy Christmas toys for the children. This is still done by the AWA today.

These were party girls. Planning for a bridge party commenced in June 1933 sold. At the Hotel Windsor. One hundred tables at one pound a table were to be sold. A stall with cakes and sweets was planned as well as a raffle. "A discussion followed whether we raffle a fur coat or a diamond and platinum wristlet watch from Hardy Bros....a ballot was taken and the wristlet watch had the majority."

Entry for May 1933...A request for the Hospital. Could the AWA assist in selling flags on Empire Day?

The wife of the American Consul, Mrs. Margherita Pye, took the minutes for several years and was President until her husband was given another posting. She gave a journalist the scoop on the latest successful bridge party. "Mrs. Walter Findlay took charge of the sale of candles and cigarettes" (Lillian Frank needn't have been worried.)

April 1935 brings up the first mention of a ball. "A motion was made and unanimously carried that the ball be held at the Palais de Danse, St. Kilda on the 4th July and the tickets to be sold at 10/6d each". The profit was 317 pounds, eleven shillings and sixpence. Mr. Barrett, Secretary of the Children's Hospital stated that the financial result of the 1936 ball was as good as any effort made by an auxiliary for the Hospital. It went towards the purchase of 6 new beds.

An interesting entry for October 1937 "Owing to the Infant Paralysis epidemic, no meetings have been held for the past two months."

In October 1938, Lady Latham, the Hospital Chairman, addressed an AWA meeting. She spoke of the "marvelous work of the Auxiliary and complimented us on our wonderful effort of the Ball in raising so much money and thanked us on behalf of the children...without our help and intense interest, (the Hospital)could not carry on this work".

By 1938, the hospital had 448 beds. It was the largest children's hospital in the British Empire. The 1939 ball, on the eve of war, was going to be something special. By June, 1361 tickets had already been sold with 200 people on the waiting list. It was without doubt one of the premier events on the social calendar. However, this ball was remembered for something else. Some American flags, on loan from the American Consulate and General Motors Holden, disappeared on the night of the ball. An appeal of the their return was placed in "The Sun" and one was duly returned. By the end of that year the AWA as able to present the Hospital with a check for 950 pounds. A fortune at the time in anyone's language.

The final entry for the Minute Book was recorded on 27 May 1940. As Mrs. Pye left Australia, she expressed the following "that this work would continue and grow as long as there were American residents in Melbourne." I think in retrospect, she'd be pretty pleased.

The minutes therefore go up to the start of World War II. In his recent historic compendium of the Children's Hospital, Peter Yule spoke about the 1930's and 1940's. The work of the Auxiliary was often covered in newspapers and he points out that from the beginning, the AWA raised very large sums of cash for the Hospital, inspired by the fundraising genius of Marion Picot. The Auxiliary's 4th July Ball became one of the leading events on the social calendar and the wartime sports meetings with the American and Australian servicemen were very successful. By its 10th anniversary, the AWA had raised 5,617 pounds,and in 1943/44 alone, it raised 4,000 pounds.

In 1943, a "Sun" article described Marion Picot as well known in philanthropic circles for her organizing ability, her charm and tact, and her surprising energy. Interestingly, in December 1940 she was appointed the Hospitals first Public Relations Officer. She was responsible for the groundwork fora large scale public appeal, carrying out the public relations through the press, contacting prospective donors and liaising with all of the Auxiliaries. She remained in the position until 1948 at the time of her husband s death when she returned to the United States. From the start, AWA was a productive organization. Its members were influential in Melbourne and always took their work seriously. Please accept the children s Hospital s sincerest and most heartfelt appreciation for the continuing good work of the American Women's Auxiliary.

Thank you to Barry Novy; Bronwyn Hewitt, the Hospital Archivist; Annie Rahilly of the RCHF and Gigi Williams of the Educational Resource Centre for helping us know more about our beginnings with the Royal Children's Hospital.