Fanny Brownbill (1890-1948)

Fanny was born at Modewarre to James and Ann Alford nee Abbot. She was educated at local state schools, but grew up in poverty.

She became a housekeeper to widower William Brownbill and his four children, later marrying him. William was a Geelong City Councillor and Mayor and later the Labor member for Geelong in the Legislative Assembly.

On Williams death in 1938 Fanny became the Labor candidate in the by-election. In the lead up to the election, R.G. (Baron) Casey stated that “a woman could not stand up to the ‘rough and tumble of Parliamentary Life’ and that the subdued atmosphere of the Senate would be more suitable than the House”.

Fanny’s response was:

“I am perfectly confident that my sex can do most things as well as men”.

She went on to win the seat by a whopping three thousand votes over her male United Australia Party rival. The first woman to win a parliamentary seat for Labour in Victoria the first woman elected from a non-metropolitan area, and the second Labor woman to do so in Australia.

Fanny was re-elected in 1940, and again unopposed in 1943 and 1945 and, against her Liberal opponent, in 1947.

From 1943 to 1948 she was the sole female Member of Parliament after Country/Independent Ivy Weber resigned.

Her success and popularity was due to her hard work and meeting the needs of her constituents. She was concerned for the welfare of children and youth; of education and the curriculum and was President of the Mathew Flinders Girls’ School for a year whilst in parliament. She also urged the Railways Commissioners to allow perambulators on the railways.

A member of the Geelong Ladies Benevolent Society she was the only woman in the 1930’s on the public assistance Committee and was appointed in 1935 to the managing committee of the Glastonbury Orphanage. Fanny also took a leading role in the local Red Cross branches and the Australian Comforts Fund during WW2 and in 1945 helped the establishment of Grace McKellar House.

Her activities were a mix of social worker and parliamentarian, with deliveries of food to poor people in her electorate; on foot as she did not drive.

She observed during her parliamentary career that:

“I cannot claim to have had any specific bill introduced but

it is not necessary to have legislation brought down to make your presence felt”.

 In 2003 Fanny Brownbill was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Sources: Joanne Thomas. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol 13 (MUP) 1993

Rosemary Francis. Australian Archive Project. The Australian Women’s Register 2019