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Yates, Camilla Virginia (1930–2013)

by Tome Yates

Camilla [Virginia Dalrymple] Yates, known in Victoria and Britain as a woman of distinction, a politician's wife and a figure of flair and determination in Victoria's north-east, has died peacefully in Melbourne after a short illness. She was just two weeks short of her 83rd birthday.

Camilla was enormously proud of her heritage. She was born in Cambridge, England, the youngest daughter of Ernest Tennant, an English industrialist, and Eleanora Fiaschi, whose father, Brigadier-General Dr Thomas Henry Fiaschi, DSO, migrated at the age of 22 from Florence to Australia, where he had a distinguished career in medicine and the military.

Indeed, whenever Camilla visited Sydney, it was customary for her to meet family members outside the entrance to Sydney Hospital, beside the life-size bronze of a wild boar, a replica of Florence's famous Il Porcellino, given to the hospital in 1967 by Clarissa (Marchesa Torrigiani), a daughter of Dr Fiaschi. The bequest was not only to honour Dr Fiaschi's teaching of advanced surgical techniques and his contribution as an eminent chairman of the board of medical studies and honorary surgeon to the governors-general, but to form a unique link of friendship between Australia and Italy.

Camilla also gleaned great pleasure from being a direct descendant of the Reverend William Dalrymple, who christened Robbie Burns and who was the central character in Robbie Burns' famous Scottish enlightenment poem, The Kirk's Alarm.

Camilla married William (Bill) Yates, then the Conservative member for The Wrekin in Shropshire, on April 25, 1957. Her early married life was delightfully busy as an MP's wife but she could not resist the temptation to enter local politics in her own right, and was elected county councillor for Dawley in Shropshire in 1966.

Following the loss of The Wrekin seat in that year, the Yates family decided to migrate to Australia. They arrived in Melbourne in April 1968.

After experimenting with a few part-time jobs, Camilla joined the personnel department of Philip Morris Australia in Moorabbin, later becoming one of the multinational's first female managers in Australia.

In 1975 Camilla's already busy schedule became even more so as the wife of an Australian federal MP when Bill won the seat of Holt in Victoria, becoming the first parliamentarian to be elected to both the British House of Commons and the Australian Federal Parliament. In 1982 she resigned from Philip Morris to join Bill, following his appointment as administrator of Christmas Island.

Camilla worked tirelessly for the Liberal Party, forming the women's action group within the Holt electorate, and was voted as a delegate to the Victorian Liberal Party's state council. She continued to work for various Liberal Party branches, especially during elections, until she turned 80. At the Liberal Party's state council meetings in the early 1970s, Camilla, always a progressive thinker, supported her husband in pushing for the introduction of random breath testing.

Bill's posting on Christmas Island ended when the Hawke government came into power in 1983. Within a couple of years Camilla and Bill had decided to settle in Tallangatta, near the Albury-Wodonga region where, not surprisingly, they became involved in the local community and its politics.

They bought a 1890s colonial house overlooking the Tallangatta Valley. Camilla's talent for renovation and painting the interiors of all Yates family homes was highly regarded — at Tallangatta, with local assistance, she transformed what had been a largely unoccupied blank canvas into a warm and welcoming residence, overlooking colourful garden beds and lawns. So for almost 25 years she and Bill enjoyed their country life, often entertaining ambassadors, politicians, friends and family at ''The Old House''.

A particular attribute of hers was that she always seemed at ease, whether she was at the top of a ladder in her 60s, sanding and painting five-metre-high timber ceilings, or debating a political issue with guests.

In her senior year at The Godolphin School in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Camilla won the coveted gardening prize and, true to form, also won respect for her gardening expertise at Old Tallangatta, where she recreated the orchard on their property, and paid particular attention to maintaining her vegetable garden and yellow rose beds. It was therefore no surprise that she developed a small, practical garden when she returned to Melbourne after Bill's death and remained a devoted gardener to the end.

Camilla will be well remembered by her family for her drive and dedication, for her favourite quotation of ''No half-done jobs here'', her strident views on right and wrong, and use of unambiguous language in this era of political correctness.

As an immigrant to Australia, Camilla was concerned about each of her four sons — Tom, Peter, Mark and Oliver — but believed in the opportunities Australia could offer them. She was proud of the roles in which they have succeeded in the diplomatic, medical, banking, media and climate-change arenas and their involvement in the wider community.

Bill died in Tallangatta in April 2010. Camilla is survived by her four sons and 10 grandchildren.

On February 2, a memorial service to celebrate Camilla's life will be held at Christ Church in Tallangatta for family and friends, before her ashes are scattered in a forest overlooking "The Old House''. A passionate and engaged woman — it is now time to rest.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2013

Citation details

Tome Yates, 'Yates, Camilla Virginia (1930–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/yates-camilla-virginia-16158/text28105, accessed 25 November 2017.

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