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Ilma Thornber married Arthur Fadden on 27 December 1916. Like him, she had been born in north Queensland. Also like him, she was active in local community affairs. After their marriage they moved to Townsville.
Ilma Fadden was an active ‘political wife’ and well known in the Townsville community in the 1920s. When Arthur Fadden won the Darling Downs seat in the federal parliament, the family moved to the Brisbane suburb of Toowong in 1936. Ilma Fadden then became active in state and national organisations. A renowned campaign worker in the nine federal elections Fadden contested, Ilma Fadden also accompanied Fadden on many of his official trips overseas.
Ilma Fadden supported her husband’s long parliamentary career. During this time he was Australia’s longest-serving Treasurer (1949–58), leader of the Country Party, Prime Minister for 40 days and, by his own count, acting Prime Minister for 692 days.
As Prime Minister, Fadden moved into The Lodge on 14 September 1941, two weeks after his swearing-in. The family did not move from their north Queensland home during his brief term in office, though Ilma Fadden received communications including a request for the Canberra hospital garden party to be held as usual in the Lodge grounds.
Throughout her life she remained active in community organisations, including the Country Women’s Association and the Young Women’s Christian Association.
Ilma Fadden accompanied Fadden on many of his overseas trips, including the final trip in 1958, for a trade conference on sugar in Geneva, meetings in New Delhi, and then an official visit to the United States.
That year Arthur Fadden retired from parliament. The couple lived in retirement in the Brisbane suburb of Toowong, where Arthur Fadden died in 1973.
Ilma Fadden died fourteen years after her husband, on 14 May 1987.
Melbourne Herald, 1 December 1976.
From the National Archives of Australia collection
Prime Minister’s residence 1931–41, NAA: A461, E4/1/12 Part 2
Sir Arthur Fadden, Treasurer, visit abroad August 1958, NAA: A463, 1948/2880