Dame Rachel Cleland MBE, CBE, DBE (Evans)

1921 Collegian | Deceased 2002


Rachel Evans' mother forced her into kindergarten teacher training, despite being part of a generation of women who usually did not work.

She told the ABC's Australian Story in 1999 that she was never asked what she wanted to do.

"I was very, very cross at the beginning but I ended up by absolutely loving it. And the life that I was destined to lead, I couldn't possibly have had a better background. Because it makes you, helps you to understand people," she said.

In 1928 Rachel married Donald Cleland, and from 1936 to 1939 they lived in Craig Muir in Claremont, the former home of Judge Robert Burnside, with their two sons, Robert and Evan.

Donald was, in 1944, a founding member of Robert Menzies' Liberal Party. Rachel worked tirelessly with her husband on his campaign.

"It was a very exciting campaign and that threw me into being, I suppose, the first Liberal wife who'd ever done any door knocking. And did I door knock!" she said.

Rachel moved to Papua New Guinea in 1951 with her husband who was administrator of the territory until 1967. Her book, Papua New Guinea: Pathways to independence, chronicled official and family life from 1951 to 1975, and was published in 1983.

It was during her time in Papua New Guinea that Rachel's contributions were recognised. She was awarded an MBE in 1959, a CBE in 1966 and in 1981 she became a Dame Commanderof the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her work with woman and children in PNG.

In 1996 she published another book, Grassroots to Independence and Beyond, which examined the contribution of woman in Papua New Guinea from 1951 to 1991.

Her many interests included the preservation of the South West forests and Aboriginal reconciliation. Dame Rachel was often found at the forefront of the protest movement mixing with those known as "ferals" whom she said were "wonderful young people. They're real, real heroes."

"I never thought I'd be doing anything like this ever," she told the ABC in 1999. "I don't think Menzies would ever have taken the same attitude as the present Federal party does about logging. I do feel that Menzies began a party that was a truly small 'L' liberal. The word liberal aptly described the thinking of the time and all of that has gone."

Despite her commentary on the road the Liberal Party travelled, Dame Rachel inherited a title which "amused" her; Matriarch of the Liberal Party.

At the age of 93 she said: "I'm the luckiest woman alive. I've had incredible experiences and I'm lucky enough to be hale and hearty and only 93. I don't ever think of being old ever.

Dame Rachel Cleland died at the age of 96 in April 2002.