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Hay, Lady Alison Marion Parker (1920–2002)

by John Farquharson

When Australian diplomats serve abroad, their wives also have a role to play in representing their country primarily alongside their husbands, but also independently. As a senior Australian diplomat and colonial administrator, Sir David Hay could not have had a more perfect partner than his wife, Alison.

Lady Hay, who died in Melbourne on April 11, aged 81, after suffering for some years from Parkinson’s disease, brought a sense of style, elegance, natural beauty and a determination to see that things were done well. This was complemented by an ability to move comfortably in any society.

With a background rooted deeply in Australia’s rural landscape, she possessed an innate Australianism. This was manifest in that wherever she found herself, her priorities were not only to create a home base for the family, but also a recognisably Australian space where colleagues and visiting Australians could feel at ease. In later years, her feeling for country and heritage was evident in her work for the National Trust in Canberra.

Born on June 4, 1920, she was the eldest child of Arthur Parker Adams and Nancy Maslin, both of pioneer stock –the Parkers as successful shipowners, the Adams and Maslins as pastoralists with holdings in South Australia, Victoria and the NSW Riverina. She went as a border to Clyde School, Woodend, where the formalities of dress and decorum were implanted firmly.

With the death of her mother in 1930, Alison devoted herself to helping her father run his property ‘Gilgai’, at Nagambie, between Seymour and Murchison, Victoria. There, and among her contemporaries in Melbourne, her gaiety and zest for life, as well as her skill at tennis (she was taught by Davis Cup player Pat O’Hara Wood) won her many friends.

In 1943 when the 6th Division’s 17th Infantry Brigade marched through Melbourne on its return from the Middle East, she renewed an old acquaintance with David Hay. They fell in love, became engaged and were married in Southport in January 1944 while David was undergoing an army-training course at Beenleigh. In 1946 she moved with her husband to Canberra upon him resuming his career in the Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs). With their first child they joined families who pioneered the then isolated suburb of Turner and dealt with chip heaters, wood-fired coppers and the hard Black Mountain soil.

Overseas postings soon followed; the first to Ottawa just after the birth of their second son, David, then to London for a year at the Imperial Defence College, before their first ambassadorial appointment to Bangkok. She revelled in that environment – receiving ministers and business people from Australia and putting them in touch with Thai contacts at her dinner table. She also took in her stride being confronted at 5.30 one morning by the Chief of Protocol, dressed in tails and white tie, to inform her of a coup d’etat as tanks assembled in her garden.

Two years in Canberra followed, during which she watched over the building of her own home in the suburb of Forrest and her second Canberra garden before the family returned to Ottawa where her husband had been appointed High Commissioner. From Ottawa, she was invited to launch one of the new RAN destroyers, HMAS Hobart, at Bay City, Michigan, in January 1964. The ceremony took place in a blinding snowstorm. After the launch went smoothly, she signalled Navy HQ in Sydney, ‘Hobart launched in blizzard’. The swift reply, ‘Cold hands, warm heart’, confirmed her belief that the Navy knew how things should be done. Thereafter Hobart became one of her major interests. She kept in touch with the ship for the next 40 years, attending the freedom of the city celebrations in Hobart in 1965, being piped aboard in Singapore in 1992 to be greeted by her brother, Captain Harry Adams, who commanded Hobart in a year in which it was judged the most efficient unit in the RAN, and finally being present at its decommissioning in Sydney last year.

While in Ottawa, Alison presided over the renovation and refurnishing of a splendid old mansion bought 20 years before as the High Commissioner’s residence, distinguished each winter by a pair of sculpted ice kangaroos. Then she had to accompany her husband to the United Nations HQ in New York, where once again she was confronted with establishing a new home base.

When Sir David went to Port Moresby as PNG Administrator in 1967, she found a strange culture and a difficult climate. Running a household in the way she felt right for Government House, tested her patience in the first few months. But when the time came to leave she had the warmest possible relations with household staff, as well as politicians and officials. 

Back in Canberra in 1970, as a member of the National Trust, she presided over the restoration of Lanyon homestead, taking a detailed interest in the choice and placing of the furniture in what is now an important heritage attraction. In 1981, she became president of the Trust’s ACT branch, having negotiated its legal separation from the NSW body. As president, she had great satisfaction in arranging with rural property owners for members of the Trust to visit their homes and gardens. A small Canberra book-reading group, of which she was a founding member, still bears her name.

Beyond Canberra she was an active partner with her husband in the restoration of  ‘Boomanoomana’ homestead, on the Murray River, near Mulwala, NSW, once owned by Sir David’s great grandfather, William Hay, a pioneer pastoralist. Here again her experience and good taste brought back to life a part of the Riverina heritage.

The mid-eighties saw a move to Melbourne as family ties and old friends called. With yet another household established, this time at South Yarra, early signs of Parkinson’s disease was confirmed. She fought the scourge bravely before recently having to leave home for treatment in hospital, where her life ebbed away.

Her husband, her two sons, Andrew and David, her daughter-in-law, Marianne, and three granddaughters, survive her.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, April 19, at Christ Church, South Yarra, at 11.30am.

Alison Marion Parker Hay, born June 4, 1920; died April 11, 2002.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 17 April 2002
  • Canberra Times, 19 April 2002
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2002

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Hay, Lady Alison Marion Parker (1920–2002)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hay-lady-alison-marion-parker-473/text474, accessed 17 October 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019

Lady Alison Hay, 1960

Lady Alison Hay, 1960

National Archives of Australia, A1200, L36263

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Adams, Alison
Birth

4 June 1920

Death

11 April 2002
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

Parkinson's

Education
Occupation
Key Organisations
Stately Homes