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Frances Wheelhouse (1924–2010)

Frances Wheelhouse was born in Leongatha, Victoria, on 11 February 1924, to Frank and Alice Wheelhouse.  She had two siblings, Wendella and Allen.

The family moved to Sydney, where Frances attended Hornsby Public School and Carlingford District Rural School.  After school, Frances received her secretarial diploma from Miss Hales Business College in Sydney.

While working during the day, Frances took evening classes for three years at Sydney Technical College, where she completed an Agricultural Diploma (with Honours) in 1952. 

Frances then gained a position with the CSIRO Entomology Division in Canberra where she worked for five years.

In 1958 she returned to Sydney Technical College and worked at the School of Biological Sciences.  Frances, together with a colleague, was instrumental in researching the development of a technique for embedding specimens in perspex for preservation.  This technique was later used by students within the faculty, and remains a favoured technique for specimen preservation today.

Frances lectured widely in Agriculture and Museum Techniques and was a specialist consultant to many museums across Australia.

During this time she wrote her first book, Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe, detailing several world-first Australian inventions in agricultural machinery.  She initiated a committee to preserve early farming items throughout Australia and helped to establish the Museum of Agricultural Progress and Rural Technology (MOPART).  This is now housed in the Millthorpe Golden Memories Museum in Orange, New South Wales.

Other books followed;  Hugh Victor McKay: Young Inventor, Eleanor Mary Hinder, Mastering the Land, Lasseter’s Dream of Millions (with Mary Mansfield), Collecting Australia’s Past (with Douglass Baglin), Raymond Arthur Dart: A Pictorial Profile and Dart: Scientist and Man of Grit (with Kathaleen Smithford).

Frances’s books covered a wide range of topics.  Her research demanded extensive travel throughout Australia and abroad.  She appeared on television, was broadcast widely and wrote numerous articles on agricultural machinery.  Frances also assisted other authors in the editing and publishing of their work.

On retirement, she completed her Masters Degree (with Honours) at James Cook University in Townsville.  The subject of her thesis was 'The Evolution of the Australian Wheat Harvesting Machine'.

Frances was then invited by the University of Sydney to complete her PhD on 'The Life and Work of Raymond Arthur Dart'.

Her final book, My Murky Past, to be published later this year, is a biography of her aunt, Arabella Scott.  The book chronicles her contribution to the Suffrage Movement with Emmeline Pankhurst in Great Britain at the turn of the last century. 

Frances’s interests were wide and varied.  In her youth, she was the New South Wales Snooker Champion. She was able to play the piano by ear and enjoyed a round of golf.  Frances dabbled in photography and spent many happy hours in her bush garden.  She lived to learn: her later years were spent discovering and conquering the computer and all its possibilities.

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Citation details

'Wheelhouse, Frances (1924–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

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