Alice Anderson

Alice Elizabeth Foley Anderson (1897-1926), garage proprietor, was born on 8 June 1897 at Malvern, Melbourne, one of five children of Ellen (born White-Spunner) and Joshua Noble Anderson. Though a brilliant engineer who had once lectured mechanical engineering at the University of Melbourne, her father was inept at business. After various ventures, including a trip around the world, a partnership with John Monash and a post at Dunedin, New Zealand, he secured the position of shire engineer at Healesville, Victoria, in 1908, taking a cottage for his family at nearby Narbethong.

The Anderson girls enjoyed country life. Alice who had previously been tutored by a governess, attended the state school, rode a pony and roamed the countryside with her brother Stewart, back from school in England. He taught her to handle a fishing rod and a shotgun. This was not mere sport, as fresh rabbit was welcome at the table.

Alice's mother was a well-read woman who encouraged all her daughters to take up careers. In 1913 she used some of an annuity to pay for five terms for Alice at Church of England Girls Grammar School, Merton Hall. Although homesick, Alice did well, but had to leave at the end of 1914 with a Junior Public Certificate, when the money ran out. During 1915 Alice stayed home in Narbethong helping her father in his office and acting as his 'chainman' on surveying jobs around the district. She also coached her younger sisters for their time at Merton Hall.

In 1916 Alice became a clerk in the office of the Town Clerk of Caulfield Municipality, earning about 30 pounds a week. She had learned mechanics and driving from employees in one of her father's unsuccessful business ventures, the Healesville-Alexandra Motor Service. In 1915 Anderson had put a deposit of 250 pounds on a 750 pounds Hupmobile limousine hoping to start a passenger service for the shire. When this failed he gave Alice the car (and its debt) for her eighteenth birthday.

In 1918, after further mechanical training and some success with weekend excursions, she started a garage and hire-car service in Cotham Road, Kew. Borrowing money, she bought more cars and employed young women as mechanics and drivers. By 1919, 'Miss Anderson's Motor Service' was established in a large brick garage. For the next seven years, though often in debt, the all female business successfully provided driving tuition, mechanical check-ups, hire cars, motor tours and specialised chauffeuring. Other activities for Alice included membership of the Lyceum Club for successful professional women; inventing and patenting a trolley for easy access under cars; writing on motoring for the magazine Woman's World and in August 1926 a six week round tour to Alice Springs in a Baby Austin. She returned 'sunburnt and happy', and had plans to start a flying school after completing her pilot's licence. Tragedy struck soon after, when hurriedly cleaning some firearms she had borrowed for the trip, she accidentally shot herself on 17 September 1926. After her death, her friend Ethel Bage (sister of Freda Bage (q.v.)) became proprietor and with her staff of six drivers and three mechanics continued the business for another thirteen years. It then passed into male ownership. The trade name 'Alice Anderson' is still used for a Melbourne driving school.

Alice Anderson was a small, energetic young woman with a cheerful personality. Her hair was cut in a shingle and her usual dress was the breeches, leggings, coat and peaked cap of a chauffeur. She laughed off rumours that, on the one hand, her business success was backed by a 'boyfriend' or, on the other, that as she wore men's clothes and employed women, she must be lesbian. She placed her career above emotional ties, however, and refused at least one offer of marriage.

Mimi Colligan

'Double Time edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly 1985 ch 33.