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Smith, Flora (Florence) Ann McDonald

Family background

Flora (also known as Florence) Ann McDonald Smith was born in Goulburn in 1875, second of six children to road contractor and hotel licensee William Smith, and farmer's daughter Mary Jamieson McLaurin, who had both grown up in the Goulburn area.

Pupil Teacher: Goulburn North

In 1891 Flora passed the pupil teacher entrance exam, but due to a lack of vacancies was required to wait for a position, being finally appointed to Goulburn North in late 1895. She was then twenty years old, described as a 'quiet and well behaved' young woman who spent her leisure time on homework and music study, and primarily associated with her sisters and cousins. Over the next four years Flora had mixed success at pupil teacher examinations, her headmaster describing her as 'a plodding worker' who lost confidence under examination.

Williamsdale Provisional School

At the end of 1899, Flora, now twenty-four, failed her final pupil teacher exam but was still eligible to apply for a small school position. In January 1900 she was appointed to Williamsdale Provisional School, which had been without a teacher for several months, the previous incumbent apparently leaving due to low attendance (although residents disputed this). Flora's tenure at Williamsdale was short-lived, however, being moved after three months, leaving the school again without a teacher.

Kimo Provisional School

At the end of April 1900, Flora commenced duty at Kimo Provisional School, located in a mining and farming community west of Gundagai. She was accommodated at the Nangus Hotel, a mile from the school. In her first year, she incorrectly recorded some occasions of zero student attendance due to wet weather, so was reminded of proper procedures. Of more concern, however, was a vindictive complaint alleging she was an ineffective teacher who allowed students 'to do just what they like'. Flora refuted the accusation, supported by the school inspector, stressing her consistent supervision, and her intention to manage the school in a way 'beneficial both to children and parents'.

Although the complaint was negated, Flora soon faced a more significant challenge. In October 1901, she requested extended leave 'suffering from debility'. The cause of Flora's absence became evident in January 1902 when she appeared in Goulburn Police Court, bringing a summons against a policeman for maintenance of an illegitimate child. The magistrate accepted Flora's testimony and issued a court order requiring the constable to pay 10 shillings a week maintenance for a year, plus court and professional costs ['Affiliation Case', Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 7 Jan 1902, p. 2].

Flora and her child were living with her mother, and while she was seemingly effective in establishing paternity and ensuring some financial upkeep, she was suspended from her teaching appointment on the grounds of 'improper conduct'. The police constable, meanwhile, appealed the court's decision, refused to pay maintenance, and unlike Flora, continued to receive his full salary. He instigated a second hearing, which again resulted in an order for 10 shillings maintenance weekly. After this second hearing Flora requested reinstatement of her teaching position, emphasising her blamelessness in the matter as the constable had 'forced himself upon her', but was nonetheless told to tender her resignation. She refused, arguing the injustice of the situation and asking for payment of salary owing, which brought her into conflict with the Department of Public Instruction as well as the constable, who still refused to accept paternity and brought the matter back to court.

Unfortunately for Flora, at the third hearing a judge sustained the constable's appeal, stating evidence given by Flora and her sister was not credible, so the maintenance order was overturned. Flora, clearly incensed, reiterated her application for salary reimbursement as well as her denunciation of the constable who she felt should be tried for perjury as 'he is guilty of the charges made against him.' She informed the Public Service Board she intended to pursue justice with the support of 'about 100 gentlemen of Goulburn ... willing to raise £90 in order to have the case brought on in the Supreme Court Sydney.'

In the face of Flora's refusal to resign, the Public Service Board held an inquiry where unfortunately (but not unpredictably), the charge of improper conduct was sustained. In January 1903, after twelve months of resistance, Flora resigned from teaching. She did not, however abandon her struggle for justice and six months later brought an action against the constable for 'an alleged breach of promise of marriage'. Unfortunately, the verdict went against her, and she stopped pursuing compensation.

Later life

Flora then seems to have lived several years with her parents in Goulburn, her daughter apparently incorporated into the family as a sibling. In 1913, aged thirty-eight, Flora married gas worker Frank Hollis, and moved to Sydney. In 1925, she purchased a house in Regents Park with a younger sister, perhaps enabled by inheritance from their recently deceased mother. She lived there until her death in 1957, her husband deserting her prior to this, and was buried in Rookwood Catholic Cemetery.

[Biography prepared by Joanne Toohey, 2023. Sources include NSW school teachers' rolls 1868-1908, NSW school and related records 1876-1979, historic newspapers, NSW births, deaths and marriages index, and 'Early Education and Schools in the Canberra Region', (1999) by Lyall Gillespie.]


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