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Wardle, Patience Australie (Pat) (1910–1992)

by Verona Burgess

Patience Australie Wardle, born Tillyard, died on April 22.

The crowd that gathered at St John's Church in Reid on a cool autumn day just a week later to bid farewell to this tiny, indomitable person carried as much of the flavour of old Canberra as Pat did herself.

She was the eldest of four daughters of Robin Tillyard, who came to Canberra in 1928 from Nelson, New Zealand, to set up the Division of Entomology at what is now the CSIRO.

Born on June 20, 1910, she would have been 82 this month had she not, somehow, gone through a red light in her little car, much to the distress of a truck driver, for whom a prayer was said at the service.

It wasn't a small gathering — her church was filled to overflowing and still the people came, eventually settling for seats outside in the autumn sunshine.

At a time when few women went to university, Pat went to Sydney University in 1929 where she studied English, Latin and history, living at Women's College and playing hockey and cricket. She was a University Blue in hockey, and later played international hockey in England.

She lived in England after university until 1937, growing especially fond of Cornwall and returning to Australia for just a brief spell to work in the Customs Department. She went back to England after the outbreak of war.

With her sister Hope (Lady Hewitt) she drove ambulances in London and became involved with helping child evacuees from Britain.

Back in Australia Pat joined the WAAAF and was a commissioned officer from 1942 until 1946, a very important phase of her life. In 1946 she went to live with her mother at the Spinney, 2 Mugga Way, named after the little copse of trees that are still there, though the Canberra cottage has long since been bulldozed and rebuilt.

Pat helped her mother set out the garden and many older Canberrans remember the sight of them both up stepladders pruning happily.

In 1955 she married Bob Wardle, a widower who was Director of Veterinary Hygiene with the Department of Health. They lived at 49 Melbourne Avenue until his death in 1979. Pat never had her own children but was a devoted stepmother, aunt, stepgrandmother and great aunt.

Pat was involved in all sorts of nooks and crannies of Canberra life, from the Canberra and District Historical Society through to gardening, church, the women's movement and the setting up of Blundell's cottage. She was a keen natural historian and, it turns out, an author whose secret ambition was to be a professional writer.

She was, as David Oliphant told the congregation, someone who had come to terms with life, who knew how to find contentment in the little things. She kept up tradition but always with a sparkle and a wry twist of insight and humour, striking a balance between a deep respect for human life in all its glories and foibles, and a keen observation and humorous critique of all that was human.

Finally, at her own request, everyone stood quietly while The Dambusters' March filled the little stone church. Tears were shed then, as the tune swelled and ebbed, along with the flickering memories of this staunch Canberra lady, whose hall mark was her integrity.

"You look alone," said a kindly young woman who had been standing nearby, "Are you a stranger here?"

I looked around at the people of my childhood, many old now and standing together as if against the winds of age, scattered throughout that sizeable gathering of Canberra old and new.

"No," I said, "We were family friends." "Oh," said the young woman, "She was such a quiet person, I thought I must be one of the only friends she had. But just look at all these people."

Original publication

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Citation details

Verona Burgess, 'Wardle, Patience Australie (Pat) (1910–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wardle-patience-australie-pat-17092/text32098, accessed 22 August 2019.

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