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Hardie, Mario Rheta (Mickie) (1918–2012)

by Malcolm Brown

Mickie Broun, as she was in 1939, relieving switchboard operator in Sydney for a Dutch company, Phillips Lamps, was astonished when she put a call through to the general manager and forgot to close it off, instead hearing him greet the caller with the words: ''Heil Hitler''.

Two weeks later, two men clad in black went into the general manager's office, clicked their heels and gave the Nazi salute, confirming in her mind that all was not quite right with her boss, who had recently arrived from Germany.

She confided to her mother what had happened. That got to the Premier, Bertram Stevens, who in turn alerted army intelligence. Two intelligence officers visited Broun and recruited her as a spy, telling her to listen to conversations, watch comings and goings at the man's office and keep a special ear out for the words ''Messerschmitt'', ''Luftwaffe'' and ''Panzer''. Generosity of spirit … even in later years, Mickie Hardie remained involved in the world around her.

Mickie Hardie, as she later became, spied for eight months and when war was declared in September that year, the general manager was arrested for espionage. Hardie went on to serve four years as a private and confidential secretary to the district censor for NSW, dealing with many highly secret matters, some so upsetting to her that she did not talk about them for 60 years, when she was interviewed by National Archives.

But it was not the end of her public career. Years later, with the problem of an asthmatic child, she helped establish the Asthma Foundation of Australia.

Mario Rheta Broun was born on August 27, 1918, daughter of a farmer, William ''Jim'' Broun, and his wife, Miriam (nee Perryman). ''Mario'' was because her uncle Mario was declared missing in France during the Great War and Miriam had decided that the next child, boy or girl, would be named after him.

Uncle Mario survived and his namesake was nicknamed ''Mickie'' after a song, Mickie, Pretty Mickie, which was popular after the war. She was raised on the family property, Bassendean, at Tingha in northern NSW, and educated on the property, then came to Sydney for her Leaving Certificate.

In 1936, the Broun family left Bassendean and settled in Mosman. Mickie attended business college, then at the end of that year, aged 18, landed the job with Phillips. In 1939, she met army officer Max Halliday and married him in 1943. In 1944, he returned from New Guinea with malaria and Mickie was released from army service to look after him. She also busied herself with social work, joining the Women's Pioneer Society, the Penguin Club and the Heart Foundation. In 1960, she became interested in asthma, which afflicted members of her family. She and Leila Schmidt were approached to set up a fund-raising committee for the Children's Medical Research Foundation and they decided to collect money for asthma.

Mickie was active in the campaign, travelling around the state. The first doorknock appeal was on March 31, 1963. In the meantime, she met Justice Martin Hardie, who was to launch the appeal.

Later she beat 200 men to become the director of the International Centre Foundation. Part of her job was to set up the Miss International Quest, co-ordinating more than 4000 students in five quests.

Mickie's marriage to Max ended in divorce and in 1970 she married Martin Hardie. In 1972, she became the first woman to serve on the Salvation Army Red Shield Committee.

Martin Hardie died in 1974 and later Mickie bought a property, Wolli, near Tamworth. She ran a stud farm, assisted by family members, and continued community work. In 1983, she sold Wolli and bought a smaller property, Orroroo.

In 1986, Hardie was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for establishing the Asthma Foundation. She sold Orroroo in 1996 and settled in a retirement village in Tamworth but remained active, serving as president of the Tamworth Town and Country Club. In 1999, she received a Commonwealth Senior Australian Achiever award.

Mickie Hardie is survived by her siblings Wilga, Dot, June and Malcolm, daughters Vicki and Katie, four stepchildren, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hardie, Mario Rheta (Mickie) (1918–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 3 July 2022.

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