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Dally-Watkins, June Marie (1927–2020)

from Guardian

June Dally-Watkins, by Greg Barrett, 1993

June Dally-Watkins, by Greg Barrett, 1993

National Library of Australia, 11653556

Australia’s etiquette queen, June Dally-Watkins, has died at the age of 92.

Her family has announced she died peacefully on Saturday night with her loved ones by her side.

In 1950, she established the June Dally-Watkins School, which eventually trained hundreds of Australian women in deportment and etiquette.

After winning Australia’s Model of the Year in 1949 she used her fame to start a business empire, based on her belief that young people needed to present themselves the best way possible.

She later expanded the June Dally-Watkins School of Education and Training to teach young men and women to be “the best you can be” in business. In 2013 it opened a branch in China.

Dally-Watkins was born June Marie Skewes on 12 June 1927. Her unmarried mother, Caroline Mary Skewes, had left the family sheep property at Watsons Creek, in the New South Wales New England region, to give birth in Sydney. Caroline returned home with baby June, who was raised with the help of her grandparents.

The stigma of illegitimacy lingered. Dally-Watkins wrote in her 2002 autobiography, Secrets Of My Smile, that “the hush-hush surrounding my father and my identity became deafening and continued to echo throughout my life ... So I masked my shame and buried my self-consciousness with a smile — something I’ve done all my life, on and off the catwalk.”

In 1940 her mother married David Dally-Watkins. The marriage did not last, but June’s new surname did.

She and her mother arrived in Sydney in 1944. Modelling work was scarce, so they worked initially in a dress shop. One lunchtime her mother marched into Farmer’s and convinced the department store to hire her daughter as a model. Her first assignment — half a day modelling hats — paid 10 shillings and sixpence.

The camera loved Dally-Watkins’ fine features and slim frame, but her height (about 168cm) would be too short for a model today.

Dally-Watkins featured in fashion parades and catalogues for many department stores and designers. Her success and sophistication grew and in 1950 she started her personal development school. Six students did the first course, but numbers grew rapidly.

In 1952 she travelled to the US and Europe, devising a “one-woman fashion show” to fund her travels as she visited overseas model agencies and charm schools. She met many Hollywood stars on the trip, and had a brief romance with Gregory Peck in Rome.

In June 1953 Dally-Watkins married navy lieutenant John Clifford. The wedding, at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, was front-page news.

In private life she became Mrs Clifford, but in business she remained June Dally-Watkins, running the modelling agency by day, and teaching at her school at night. “Most wives didn’t work in those days,” she wrote in her autobiography. “John, however, had no qualms about me pursuing my passion, even in the event of motherhood.” The marriage ended in 1969, but Dally-Watkins had no regrets about her decision to keep working.

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Citation details

'Dally-Watkins, June Marie (1927–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dally-watkins-june-marie-30098/text37349, accessed 25 July 2021.

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