‘A magnificent bunch of women’: The International House Auxiliaries


For more than sixty years, a group of women worked to raise money and support for Melbourne’s International House. This exhibition highlights some of the activities of the International House Auxiliaries. You can read more about some of the women involved with the International House Auxiliaries on the Who’s Who page.


The groups of volunteers who worked to raise money for International House are referred to as the Women’s Auxiliaries, Ladies’ Auxiliaries and Women’s Committee(s). Here we use ‘International House Auxiliaries’ the name specified by the International House Council (International House Council, 1955).

Before the Auxiliaries

In December 1951, members of the University of Melbourne’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC) hosted an afternoon tea meeting to plan fundraising for a new ‘international hostel’. (“Foreign students homeless”, 1951; “People, parties: students’ hostel”, 1951). At the meeting were students, their parents and others who shared concerns about housing for the city’s international students. The SRC president Sam Dimmick (who later became the second Warden of International House) used the meeting to suggest holding a ‘fête and carnival’ to raise funds for the hostel (“People, parties: students’ hostel”, 1951).

Sam Dimmick’s ‘fête and carnival’ became an International Fair held in ‘wintry conditions’ on 27 and 28 June 1952. Opened by the Minister for External Affairs R. G. Casey, the fair included glass blowing, fortune telling, clowns, pony rides, a hypnotist, an ‘archaeological display’ and an ‘international stall’ (International House appeal, 1952). A group of ‘mothers and academic wives’ provided afternoon tea and supper (International House appeal, 1952). This was the first major fundraising event of the group of women who became the International House Auxiliaries.

Forming the International House Auxiliaries

The following year saw the establishment of the International House Auxiliaries. Formed by volunteers who ran stalls at the 1952 International Fair, the group was headed by Kathleen Sloane as president and Mavis Jackson as honorary secretary (“International House plans”, 1953; Jackson, 1998). Constance Duncan and Olive Wykes were ‘liaison officers’ between the Auxiliaries and the central International House Committee (“International House plans”, 1953).

The Auxiliaries’ Constitution set out the group’s aims as ‘to raise money for the building, equipping and furnishing of International House, University of Melbourne, and to provide such other assistance to International House and its members as may be requested and approved by the International House Council’ (International House Council, 1959, July 15).

One group of volunteers, headed by Gwen Stahl, began selling coffee and biscuits to visitors to the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne (“International House Plans”, 1953). This was the beginning of the International House Refreshment Group, one of the busiest of the Auxiliaries. Dorothy Dean established the Law Group, while Mavis Jackson headed the Medical Wives. There were also suburb-based groups in Dandenong and Ivanhoe.

Cover of the program for the 1953 International House Market Fair. International House Archives.

1953 also saw a second fundraising fair. The 1953 Market Fair committee was headed by Lady Mabel Grimwade and dominated by the wives of prominent Melbourne men. Lady (Clara) Lowe, Lady (Gladys) McConnan, Lady (Molly) Medley, Janet Clunies Ross, Lady (Mary) McDonald and Alice Paton were all members of the organising group. The ‘burden of organisation’ fell to the honorary organiser Kathleen Sloane (“House fair”, 1952). Constance Duncan arranged radio publicity, and Marjorie Tipping was the newspaper liaison officer (“International House market fair”, 1953, 31). Women supporters from around Victoria contributed homemade goods to sell (“Their handwork is individual”, 1953).

Though it might have a far-away sound about it, the International House appeal of the University of Melbourne is one that will go right to the heart of every country woman. It is an appeal to abolish loneliness; a move towards understanding; a step towards peace; three things about which every woman feels deeply.

‘Miranda’ (1952)

Calls for volunteers to support the fair often appealed specifically to women. An article in the Weekly Times described the International House appeal as ‘one that will go right to the heart of every country woman’ (“A home that our women can make”, 1952). The University of Melbourne Gazette called on women in particular to support the event: ‘It is hoped that all women who have been connected with the University in any way will take part in this fête… We appeal especially to country women to support the fête, as International House is designed to accommodate half overseas, half country students (“International House appeal”, 1952, July 15).

Some of the stalls at the International House Market Fair, 1953. International House Archives.

Most of the stalls were overseen by women volunteers. Mrs Henning Metes of the International Club of Victoria sold ‘foods of all nations’. Ysolde Plant (Mrs Lindsay Plant) sold hats, and Dorothy Dean offered cakes. Mavis Jackson and a group of other women graduates sold men’s clothing. Mrs A. C. Moyle organised a display of ‘arts and crafts’ from India. Most profitable was the refreshment stall organised by Gwen Stahl (“International House market fair”, 1953, 33).

[The committee] had already done a great deal of preparatory “underground” work to raise money for their individual stalls, by those subtle and devious methods at which most women excel, and which men seldom understand.

“International House market fair” (1953), 31
‘They manage the tickets’, The Herald (Melbourne), 16 July 1953, 21. Reproduced with the permission of Newspix.

A group of younger women supporters, the ‘International House Younger Set’, hosted dances, cocktail parties and other events to raise money for the International House appeal (“In town and out”, 1953; “People, parties”, 1953).

[T]he enthusiasm and hard work of the women’s auxiliaries was a challenge to all the men working for International House.

“International House appeal” (1953)

The ‘International Revue’ of 1954 was another fundraising activity supported by the Auxiliaries. Constance Duncan, Olive Wykes and a group of University of Melbourne students toured the Western Districts of Victoria with their concert of international songs and dances (“Ex-school inspector in concert party”, 1954). Student performers included Tikiri Banda, a physical education student from Sri Lanka; Ranee Doray, a music student also from Sri Lanka; Manu Bannag, an arts student from Thailand; Mang Toe from Burma; and members of the University German Club (“Ex-school inspector in concert party”, 1954).

Music student Ranee Doray from Ceylon [Sri Lanka] speaking to a man in Colac, Victoria during a concert tour to raise funds for International House, 1954, International House Archives.
Olive Wykes (centre front) with a group of University of Melbourne students, 1954. International House Archives.

Making the House a reality

A group of people standing at the foot of the first building at International House (later named after Ian Clunies Ross), c. 1957. International House Archives.

There’s a great personal pride in this International House among the women’s auxiliaries’ members, for they’ve raised £35,000 for it in the past four years. And credit for £9,000 of it goes to a magnificent bunch of women – the 100 members of the refreshment group.

Irving (1956)

The Auxiliaries remained active following the arrival of IH’s first residents. Speaking at the official opening of International House on 24 May 1958, chair of the International House Council Ian Clunies Ross remarked on the ‘many hundreds of devoted women’ who ‘worked without ceasing for the last seven years to make the House a reality’ (Clunies Ross, 1958). In the first few years of the House’s operation, members of the Auxiliaries continued their work. They sewed curtains, provided refreshments at the students’ end-of-year dance and cooked Christmas dinner (International House Council, 1959, February 18).

The women go on, week after week, working unremittingly… They have shown tremendous interest and support.

Ian Clunies Ross quoted in Sayers (1958)

‘Equal opportunities’: The 1961 building appeal

Women were again active in raising money for a new building for International House in the early 1960s. Some volunteers felt that the proposed new building should house female students as well as male (Humphreys, 2000, 180-181). Letters to the student newspaper Farrago supported this view. One student wrote: ‘We would make a great contribution, both for Asians and Australians, if women and men could share the facilities of International House instead of being forced to live in inferior digs around the University’ (Boardman, 1961; see too Johnson, 1961). Despite this, it was decided to postpone the admission of International House’s first female residents.

A women’s committee of the building fund was established to work specifically on raising money for the new building. The women organised bridge parties, a flower show, fashion parades and luncheons at members’ houses. Many fundraising events had an ‘international flavour’: a German evening, a Chinese luncheon and a ‘Japanese floating fair’ (Jackson, 1961).

Some of the functions held by the Women’s Committee of the International House Building Appeal, 1961. International House Archives.

By June 1961, the group had raised more than £30,000 for the building appeal, more than a quarter of the total amount raised (“Women’s group exceeds target”, 1961).

It was noted with deep and sincere appreciation that the Women’s Auxiliaries had donated £30,680 towards the Building Appeal, which was 27% of the total amount received.

International House Council, 4 July 1961
Black and white photograph of a group of people on the pathway leading to the entrance of International House at the University of Melbourne.
Mavis Jackson and other visitors arriving at International House for the opening of the Samuel Wadham Wing, 1963. UM 805/295, International House Archives.

‘Plain hard work’

Dishwashing and baking could not be undertaken for a better cause than international understanding.

Winifred Gardner, President of the Refreshment Group, to Robert Menzies, Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, 28 July 1971

In 1971 one of the most active of the volunteer groups, the Refreshment Group, ended its activities. The group’s membership was declining, and there was no longer such an urgent need to raise money and enthusiasm for the International House project (Dexter, 1971).

President of the Group Winifred Gardner wrote of her sadness in disbanding the group, but also of members’ pride in having supported International House and helped to welcome international students to Australia.

Draft of letter from Winifred Gardner to Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Robert Menzies, 1971. International House Archives.

This refreshment group, which dissolved last year, has done more for the House than anyone else… It was plain hard work with no glamour.

Dimmick (1972)

The Central Committee too ceased at the end of 1981, but the Law Group continued on (Larkins, 2018, 107). In 1984 the Law Group established the Lady Dean Scholarship, named after their first president Dorothy Dean, to recognise her contributions to International House (Larkins, 2018, 107 ). The Law Group also funded the canopy at the main entrance to International House and provided furniture and shelving for the International House Library.

Members of the International House Law Group including Anne Bobeff, Judy Adam, Sue Ryan, Lady Valerie Stephen, Loris Fewster, Helen Phillips, Rhonda Lewis and Frances Duckett with Brian Corbitt (Head of College) and Jacqui Jones, 1998. International House Archives.

The exceptional contributions by women are deeply etched into the foundation of International House.

Larkins (2018), 13

References and further reading

Art and history on display (1954, May 1). The Age, 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205387216

Asian students will get a new break in this home (1953, September 9). The Argus, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23312914

Bargain sale of pictures (June 27, 1952). The Age, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205403767

Boardman, E. (1961, March 17). Why not women? [letter to the editors]. Farrago, 2.

Cakes wanted (1954, April 13). The Argus, 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26602741

Clunies Ross, I. (1958, 24 March). Speech at the opening of International House in Melbourne. Robert Menzies Collection. National Library of Australia MS 4936. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-222147088

Country help promised for International Fair (1953, February 18). Weekly Times, 42. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224030228

Dexter, N. (1971, July 1). Volunteers bow out. The Age.

Duncan, C. (1954, June 2). International House is important to nation. Horsham Times, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74787579

Dimmick, S. (1972). Interview. Satadal, 10-14.

Exhibition preview (1961, April 19). The Age, 18.

Ex-school inspector in concert party (1954, May 26). Horsham Times, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74787291

Foreign students homeless (1951, December 13). The Argus, 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23097590

Graduates help fair (1953, March 5). The Argus, 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23231357

Harper, N. D. (1953, May 7). Men first [letter]. The Argus, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23242854

Helpers thanked (1954, June 16). The Age, 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205382360

Her hobby is a money-saver (1953, February 18). Herald (Melbourne), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article249187398

Hoffman, J. (1954, December 13). Tackling a new problem of White Australia. Courier-Mail, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50614810

House fair (1952, December 30). The Age, 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205435331

Humphreys, L. R. (2000). Wadham: Scientist for land and people. Melbourne University Press.

Humphreys, L. R. (2004). Of many nations: a history of International House, the University of Melbourne. International House.

In town and out (1953, May 5). The Herald (Melbourne), 21. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245156083

International fair (1954, April 28). Weekly Times, 46. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224911645

International food (1954, May 6). The Age, 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205380725

International House (1953, December 9). The Age, 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206910378

International House appeal (1952, July 15). University of Melbourne Gazette, 8(5), 49-50.

International House appeal (1953, December 9). The Age, 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206910334

International House Council (1955, November 14). Meeting No. 5. International House Council Minute Book. International House Archives.

International House Council (1959, July 15). Meeting No. 4. International House Council Minute Book. International House Archives.

International House fair (1954, May 8). The Argus, 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23422737

International House market fair (1953, May 9). University of Melbourne Gazette 9(4),31-33.

International House ‘a necessity’ (1953, December 3). The Argus, 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23321644

International House plans (1953, July 16). The Argus, 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23256179

International House step to understanding (1952, June 28). The Age, 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205406963

Irving F. (1956, November 14). Dig deep is order of day. The Argus, 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71765538

Jackson, M. (1961, June 19). International House Building Fund Women’s Committee, President’s Report, International House Council minutes, 4 July 1961, International House Archives.

Jackson, M. (1998, April). Early reminiscences of the founding of International House. International House Auxiliaries, unit 3, International House Archives.

Japanese-style luncheon (1959, July 29). The Age, 9.

Johnston, J. (1961, April 28). Inequality at IH [letter to the editors]. Farrago, 4.

Kilpatrick, J. (2000). Jackson, Mavis (1913–2000). In Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/jackson-mavis-27510/text34912

Larkins, F. (2018). International House Melbourne: Sixty years of fraternitas. Melbourne University Publishing.

McWhinnie, G. E. (1953, April 25). Asian women at university [letter]. The Age, 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205716712

‘Miranda’ (1952, November 12). A home that our women can make. Weekly Times, 48. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224874946

Oakman, D. (2002). ‘Young Asians in our homes’: Colombo Plan students and White Australia. Journal of Australian Studies, 26(72), 89-98. https://doi.org/10.1080/14443050209387741

People, parties. (1953, May 6). The Age, 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206440415

People, parties: Thailand meal (1958, June 13). The Age, 8.

People, parties: students’ hostel (1951, December 13). The Age, 5 (final edition). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205660630

Rennie, B. (1961, April 14) Internat’nal [sic] House does want women [letter to the editors], 2.

Sayers, S. (1958, May 24). International House: Where men from many lands work together. The Age, 2.

Schaffer, M. (1961, April 28). Window on the (Jewish) world. Australian Jewish News, 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article262406446

Seen at the University fair (1952, June 30). The Age, 3.

Serving supper in many settings (1958, July 22). The Age, 8.

7,000 workers for fair (1953, May 2). The Argus, 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23242005

Stalls at fair well stocked (1954, May 6). The Argus, 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23423298

Stone, C. (2017, December). This experiment in international living: International House Melbourne and its collection. University of Melbourne Collections, 33-37.

Support appeal for International House (1953, October 23). Horsham Times, 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72774051

These caterers are in demand (1961, October 10). The Age, 11.

Warden speaks out: An interview with J.F. Hopkins, Warden of IH (1976). Satadal, 16-20.

What can you do with a fattigmannsbakkel? (1953, May 1). Herald (Melbourne), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245155506

Windows on the world (1961, March 30). The Age, 11.

Women’s group exceeds target (1961, June 20). The Age, 7.