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Vera Forde

Vera and Frank Forde with their children, 1940

Vera and Frank Forde with their children (left to right) Mercia, Mary, Gerard and Clare at their home in Strathfield, Sydney in 1940.

NAA: M4267, 16

Vera Forde had been a ‘political wife’ for twenty years when Frank Forde served briefly as Prime Minister in July 1945.

The family, with four children of school age, moved from their Rockhampton home to Sydney when Forde was Army Minister in the Curtin government. This long absence from Forde’s Capricornia electorate was cited as a factor in Forde losing the seat in 1946. While not filling the electorate role that Elsie Curtin undertook, Vera Forde’s public role can be glimpsed in the official trips she took with Forde when he was deputy Prime Minister.

In April 1945, Vera Forde accompanied the Australian delegation to the conference that established the United Nations. In a radio interview on her arrival in San Francisco, she was greeted as ‘the first woman delegate’ at the conference. While she was not one of the 20 official members of the Australian delegation, she was required to undertake the usual ceremonial and social duties. In addition, she was required to do press and radio interviews and to give speeches in the United States and in London. She spoke on the impact of the war on families, on facilities for US servicemen in Australia, on wartime rationing, and on women serving in Australia’s defence forces.

From 1947 to 1953, Vera Forde filled another official role for Australia, as wife of the High Commissioner to Canada. The Fordes lived at Ottawa’s Australia House, a 1910 mansion at 407 Wilbrod Street purchased by the Australian government in 1940 when the High Commission was established. Unlike his two predecessors, William Glasgow and Alfred Stirling, Frank Forde brought a lively family to the house. Their three daughters, Mary, Mercia and Clare, were aged 15, 17 and 19, and their son Gerard was 12. The ground floor of the house was the scene of the many official functions at the High Commission, and for special family celebrations. There Gerard Forde met Leneen Kavanagh, whom he married in 1955, and who was Governor of Queensland from 1992 to 1997.

On their return to Australia the Fordes lived in the Brisbane suburb of St Lucia, where Vera Forde died in 1967 at the age of 73.

From the National Archives of Australia collection

Radio interview transcripts, press releases and speech notes of Vera Forde for visits to New Zealand and the United States, NAA: M4267, 11.

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