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Porter, Unice (Una) (1900–1996)

by Ann Blainey and Geoffrey Blainey

One of the few women in the official list of 200 great Australians issued for the Bicentenary in 1988, Una Porter, who died on June 24, was a psychiatrist, philanthropist, author and an international leader of an earlier women's movement.

She was born in Melbourne on October 17, 1900, in her father's East Hawthorn mansion, now Stephanie's restaurant. Not long ago, Porter aroused a room full of diners when she said in a loud whisper to her guest: "I was born in this room."

Her father was F. J. Cato, co-founder of the grocery business of Moran and Cato, the first chain of stores of any kind in Australia.

The youngest of four girls and four boys, Una's childhood was clouded by the death in 1904 of a sister, Lois, who drowned in a pond adjoining their home.

She was sent to Methodist Ladies College but missed much school because of illness. Later, she spent a year at a boarding school in south-east England, which she loved. Back in Melbourne she developed a close relationship with her father. Like him, she was deeply religious and dedicated to the philanthropic work of the Methodist Church. She assisted him in his financing of hospitals and missions in Arnhem Land, Fiji and particularly in India.

In the 1930s, her niece was diagnosed with diabetes and Una became interested in its treatment. In 1933, she entered Melbourne University to study medicine. On completing her degree she continued with studies in psychiatry, becoming the senior psychiatrist at the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1949.

In 1936, Una became a member of the council of Queen's College at Melbourne University, serving for 28 years. After the death of her father, she became trustee and secretary of the Fred J. Cato Charitable and Benevolent Funds, which gave away large sums annually. From 1925 she became prominent in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Australia. She was elected world vice-president in 1959 and then served as world president from 1963-67. In 1971 she served a term as Australian president.

History was one hobby. She edited the collection of letters between her parents when they were courting across the Tasman. Growing Together was published in 1981.

Una married James Porter in 1946; there were no children. She was awarded an OBE in 1961 and a CBE in 1968.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, p, 6 July 1996

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ann Blainey and Geoffrey Blainey, 'Porter, Unice (Una) (1900–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/porter-unice-una-15694/text26892, accessed 18 October 2019.

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