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Joyce Enid Clarke (1915–2008)

by Harriet Veitch

Joyce Clarke lost her job in 1939 for getting married and returned to work in 1949 after the Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Dismissal Act of 1932 had been repealed. She taught mathematics and became principal of Kogarah High School.

Philosophically, she started out as an evangelical Christian. She joined the Student Christian Movement at university and later became a Christian Socialist.

Active in the NSW Teachers Federation for many years, she counted every improvement in teachers' conditions as a win for the students as well. She became a communist and, in retirement, the national director of the Australian Peace Committee.

Joyce Enid Frew, who has died aged 93, was born in Marrickville to Walter Frew and his wife, Letitia Moorhead, both primary school teachers. Joyce went to St George Girls High School, where she won scholarships to the University of Sydney in 1933. Her father recommended teaching mathematics as there were few women in that field and he thought it would offer good prospects for promotion.

She majored in mathematics and English literature, but Frew also studied psychology, economics and geology. She regretted that illness had stymied her English honours chances (she scraped through with third class), but she was less willing to admit that time spent on sport and the Student Christian Movement might have interfered with her results.

While studying a diploma of education in 1936, scholarship officers mistakenly placed her in infants training. By the time they realised, she had found its academic demands minimal, which allowed her to catch up on Australian poets and Russian novelists, and represent the teachers college in debating and hockey. By the time she had finished her studies, she was lively and articulate, well-educated and politically aware.

Frew first taught at Cootamundra High, in 1937, then went to Kandos High, where she was one of the first school counsellors in NSW. In 1939 she married John Johnston, a French teacher. They moved to Tamworth and became members of the Society of Friends, but were looking for an approach that campaigned more effectively for a better world.

When they arrived in Sydney in 1943, they joined the Communist Party; they regarded themselves as Marxists for the rest of their lives, even after the Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), the splits in Australia between communists following Russian or Chinese lines, and the collapse of the Communist Party of Australia.

In 1945 their younger son, Frank, died, and soon afterwards the marriage broke down. In 1949, Joyce started teaching again, at Harbord Infants. In 1958 she married Raymond Clarke, for many years secretary of the Wool & Basil Workers Federation of Australia (now part of the Australian Workers Union).

Clarke taught mathematics at Canterbury Girls, then was deputy principal of Marrickville Girls and Sydney Girls High and finally principal of Kogarah High School (1971-76), one of the first women heads of a co-educational high school in NSW.

Kogarah was quite a challenge. The school was in poor repair, and facilities were limited. Getting the Department of Education to solve the problems required all of Clarke's political and organisational skills and experience, but even people who disagreed with her political position respected her energy and commitment.

After the Soviet Union became an ally in World War II, being a communist was no longer a problem at work, but in postwar Sydney the climate was different. As Clarke embarked on campaigns for improved school facilities, more teachers and better working conditions, Cold War antipathies were loudly voiced — being an activist demanded courage.

Clarke was elected to the state executive of the Teachers Federation in 1963. She was a foundation member of the equal pay committee and took up a position on the department's secondary promotions committee as well as the NSW Labor Council. She was vice-president of the Teachers Federation from 1969 to 1976, and made a life member in 1971.

In 1977, after retirement, the Clarkes bought a campervan and toured Europe. They brought the van home and used it until the driving became too much for Raymond. Joyce continued to travel, including trips to Mexico and Cuba in her 80s.

As national director of the Australian Peace Committee, she attended in 1982 the United Nations Special Session on Peace in New York as a non-government representative. She sat on a consultative committee for the International Year of Peace in 1986. In 1997 the Cuban government awarded her the Castro medal for her work with Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad, the overseas aid agency of the ACTU.

In 2002 Clarke published a memoir, Kogarah High School: Our Struggle For Quality Education.

Joyce Clarke is survived by children Stephen and Mary, stepson Jon, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. John Johnston died in 1975 and Raymond Clarke in 1998.

Original publication

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Citation details

Harriet Veitch, 'Clarke, Joyce Enid (1915–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Frew, Joyce Enid
  • Johnston, Joyce Enid

Dulwich Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 August, 2008 (aged ~ 93)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism