Dobbie, Alice

Alice Mary Dobbie was born in 1864 to Charles and Elizabeth Read of Lochinvar in the Hunter Valley. She attended school at the Girls High School, West Maitland where she was awarded a gold broach [1].

In 1892 Alice married Charles Dobbie in Redfern and some three years later they came to live in Beecroft.

Like her husband [2], Alice Dobbie had a deep understanding and love of English literature. With her husband they helped select the books for the Beecroft School of Arts Library. She was the first woman admitted to the committee of the Literary and Debating Society and was also a member of the Musical and Dramatic Society Committee    [3]. She was the founder and first President of the Beecroft Branch of the Australian English Association – with the Association run from the English Department, Sydney University. She gifted her Library to Sydney University and the New England University College.

To arouse the interest of young people in poetry, Alice Dobbie ran classes of poetry-reading in her home. ‘I must admit I learned more about poems there than I ever learned at school’ was the comment of one young girl. Another young Beecroft woman told of Alice Dobbie’s delight in sharing her knowledge:

‘Alice Dobbie had never been out of Australia and yet she had the most complete and famous library of English poetry in Sydney. She was passionately fond of poetry and various University people used to come up for lunch. Alice’s sister Lill (Elizabeth Read, who lived with them) was a magnificent cook, so all those people had the most divine lunch and then talked poetry to Alice in the drawing room or on her delightful back veranda.’ The same lady recalls how, during the years of World War 1, when she was living in Strathfield with her young children, Alice Dobbie:

 ‘Once a fortnight filled a basket with poetry books, came by train to Strathfield and by taxi to my house and renewed my books until the next time she came. I would have starved if it hadn’t been for Mrs Dobbie’    [4].

Alice Dobbie corresponded broadly including with diverse figures such as Dr Eris O’Brien (Catholic Archbishop and historian), Kurt Offenburg (a journalist and broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1936 and 1946) and Dr Churchward Minister, Beecroft Methodist Church 1941-42) [5]. She gifted a translation by Christopher Brennan of Offenburg’s These Glorious Crusaders to R G Howarth the Editor of Southerly [5].

In her obituary in Southerly it was said that:

“Mrs Dobbie was above all a humanitarian. A student of world events, she felt acutely the sufferings of remote oppressed peoples and always did the best within her means to assist in relieving their needs … Though this sometimes made her unpopular, she never waivered in her convictions …. Of the best and highest in life and in literature she had the surest judgment. Her penetration and clarity of mind – traits which she kept to the end – were truly remarkable …. Many a young Australian owes encouragement and kindly advice to her. If sometimes her feeling became to o much for the occasion, this was only the generous excess of her qualities. Many will remember the benevolence, wisdom, fine taste, selfless sincerity and intense love of beauty and nobility that made Mrs Dobbie and outstanding personality of her time” [6].

Her letters to the Editor were about world peace, liberty, scientific research, free trade [7].

Alice Dobbie retired from the Executive (as Vice President) of the Australian English Association at the time of the death of her husband. She died almost exactly seven years later on 10 December 1948.

[1]    NSW Police Gazette 1896 recorded its theft from her husband Charles Dobbie.

[2]    For further information on her husband see elsewhere on this web site under People – Dobbie, Charles.

[3]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 1 July 1905, 27 July 1907.

   [4]    Stories from Miss Helen Macready of Castle Hill and Mrs Joan Redshaw of Beecroft.

[5]    Southerly, Volume 10, page 218.

[6]    R G Howarth “In Memory: Alice M Dobbie” Southerly Volume 10, Number 3, p 169.

[7]    Maitland Mercury, 4 November 1939 p 6; Sun, 21 March 1940 p 12; Daily Telegraph, 8 March 1943 p 6; Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 1943 p 3.