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Devine, Matilda Mary (Tilly) (1900–1970)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Tilly Devine, mink-coated, bejewelled, who reigned as "Queen of Woolloomooloo" for more than 20,000 tumultuous days, died yesterday in Concord Hospital.

Her last illness had been long and lonely.

Tilly — in her 70s — was the big blonde Cockney girl from Camberwell who came to Sydney in 1919 and triumphed in a now almost forgotten period of sly grog and dubious late night entertainment.

And she lingered on to die in a Sydney that had become almost as remote from her era as it is from the days of the old Rocks pushes.

Tilly Devine, in her career as "Queen of the ‘Loo" knew and employed a great many people. But last night in the Tradesmen’s Arms in Palmer Street, once her drinking headquarters, nobody wanted to know.

The old pub, of course, has changed. Smoothly tailored young men now stand around the bar where once the standover men used to drink.

"Tilly Devine?" said an elegant young executive, "Who’s she?"

It was all a long way from the roaring days when Tilly and her "boys" ruled this part of East Sydney.

She swept off to see the Coronation in 1953 with her rings insured for $40,000 and told London journalists, "I have been lucky at the races and bought a few bits of property.

"That is why I have been able to get here."

Tilly came back to Maroubra, where the parties continued — often to the consternation of her suburban neighbours.

In 1955 the Taxation Department called on Tilly to pay more than $40,000 in income tax and fines.

She said then, "I’ve battled all my life to get where I am today. Now I’m in a ton of trouble."

Four years later Tilly came home from hospital and said, "I’m broke. They took $20,000 in tax last year. I sold everything I had to pay for it."

In the Tradesmen’s Arms last night some of those who had known Tilly Devine in her heyday gathered at the bar as usual.

But it was a sour party.

"She hasn’t been here for so long,” said one large lady at the bar. "She never had many friends, and no-one here is collecting for a wreath.

"She was a hard woman. I don’t want to talk about her any more."

In one corner an old lady with wispy blond hair proposed a toast.

"Here’s to dear old Matilda," she said. But no-one bothered to drink.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1970, p 18

Other Obituaries for Matilda Mary (Tilly) Devine

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Devine, Matilda Mary (Tilly) (1900–1970)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/devine-matilda-mary-tilly-5970/text24395, accessed 19 April 2014.

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