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Jean Primrose Whyte




showed enthusiasm and zeal, carrying out her duties with much ability and faithfulness1

Jean’s earliest memory was seeing her mother killed by a shark.2

Jean, two and a half years old, sitting on the Brighton (Adelaide) Jetty with her younger sister, watched as their mother, Kitty, was attacked and killed by a shark. Also watching from the jetty were Kitty’s swimming students, one of whom was Roma Mitchell, who would become Jean’s lifelong friend. In the family album is a photograph of Kitty, standing in the shallows with her two children, perhaps her last photograph. A memorial to her stands near the Brighton Jetty.

Kitty – Kathleen Duncan Campbell Macully3 – was a swimming teacher and a lifesaver who had saved a number of lives and earned the Royal Lifesaving Society’s Grand Diploma.4 She

was well known to swimming and Life Saving enthusiasts. The [Royal Lifesaving] Society regarded her as one of their most valued supporters, and she was second to none in her methods of teaching and instilling confidence in her pupils; she was especially interested in teaching swimming to children, who worshipped her, and her kind and gentle disposition made her beloved and respected by all.

In 1913 Mrs. Whyte gained the Proficiency Certificate and Bronze Medallion, and from that time she took a keen interest in the work, passing in turn for the Teacher’s Certificate, the Hon. Instructor’s Certificate, and the Award of Merit. And on April 8th, 1919, she gained, with honors, the highest award issued by the Society, the Diploma, being the first swimmer in South Australia to gain this distinction.5

When Kitty married Prim Whyte in 1920 she moved from Brighton to the Outback. Perhaps missing the beach, her family and her friends, she returned to Brighton for holidays. She was buried there, in the cemetery at St Jude’s Church of England, where her father, Alexander Macully, had been the incumbent.

Alexander Macully was an interesting character with a varied career, as we read in his obituary:

Mr. Macully was widely known. He was born in the cathedral city of Armagh, Ireland. When he was a child his parents emigrated to Melbourne, and there his father occupied an important position in the Civil Service for about 35 years. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and distinguished himself in English literature, and obtained the first prize in elocution. He played cricket well, and occupied a place in the college eleven. Desiring to read for holy orders, he entered the famous Irish University, Trinity College, Dublin, and gained honours and took the degrees of M.A. and LL.B. During his college course he gained a host of friends, and was acknowledged as the first interpreter of literature, particularly Shakespeare, in Dublin. He gave several recitals in the hall of Trinity College … ‘His naturally fine gifts of voice and expression were united with the gains which come from careful study …’ In 1880, at Meath, Mr. Macully was ordained [Church of England] deacon … he married a daughter of the Hon. Alexander Campbell, of Rosemont, Sydney. For some years Mr. Macully took up the role of teaching in the colleges. In 1897 he returned to his work as a clergyman … Bendigo … Brisbane … Hindmarsh and Bowden … Penola … Semaphore. From 1905 until 1908 he was in charge of St. Jude’s, Brighton … 6

I began looking for, but was unable to trace, Macully’s birth record. He may have been born in Ireland, but, as his obituaries are selective in the material they use – perhaps because Macully was likewise selective – and his Irish connections important to him, I wondered whether the Irish birthplace may have been a romantic fabrication. This concern led eventually to the discovery of early newspaper articles which referred to Macully being ‘an Australian native’, who, after studying in Ireland, returned to Australia ‘the land of his birth’.7

Alexander was an Honorary Fellow of The Society of Science, Letters, and Art in London. He taught the culture of the speaking voice and the art of reading at Trinity College, Dublin, and then in studios first in Melbourne and subsequently in Brisbane and Adelaide, and he spoke at recitals and lectured in poetry. Early in his career he was given the title ‘Professor’ when he taught ‘Elocution and Aesthetics of English Literature’ at Alexandra College and the Rutland Square Institute, Dublin. His obituary does not mention his temporary departure from the Anglican Church, when, for three years, he was minister at the Unitarian Church, East Melbourne, perhaps because his ‘aspirations toward religious freedom were not supported by any very strong convictions … he was only an enquirer in theological matters, and hence was not enthusiastically followed as a leader … Within a year a very serious falling off in attendance was manifested and before the term of his engagement was completed the congregation was fast approaching vanishing point’.8

The Macullys were wealthy, their home ‘Cullymont’ in Melbourne, built in 1889, now listed by the National Trust, is possibly Victoria’s largest semi-detached pair of mansions, bearing the Macully coat of arms with the motto ‘Vi et Animo’ (by strength and courage)9 and featuring ‘intricately detailed stained glass roundels in the sidelights and transom of the front door depicting Shakespearian characters … one of the finest grand family residences’.10

Alexander married Maria Julia (Minnie) Campbell, the daughter of the Hon. Alexander Campbell, MLC, JP, born in Scotland, who sailed to Sydney ‘to seek his fortune’. He found it. He became a director and, several times, the Chairman, of the Sydney Stock Exchange and a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, founded the Mercantile Bank of Sydney, was manager of Agra and Masterman’s Bank, was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and had various pastoral interests. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales and later of the Legislative Council, Postmaster-General and associate of Sir Henry Parkes. Campbell ‘was prepared to give the working classes such liberties as did not affect the revenue. He was a vital member of Sydney’s mercantile world and a shrewd businessman whose main concern both in private and in public was the advancement of the colony’s commerce and trade’11 (Jean avoided staying with her Sydney relatives: ‘they are just so bloody “upper-class” that I should have to live on alka-seltzer’).12

Alexander and Minnie had another mansion built, in Brighton, Adelaide, which they named ‘Dunluce’ after the Northern Irish castle on which it was modelled. The Brighton ‘Dunluce’, built on twelve acres, looked like a castle, with coach house and stables – it still looks grand but now has little land. It is difficult to single out the grandest mansion: the Campbells’ ‘Rosemont’ (which later became the home of Sir Charles and Lady Lloyd Jones), ‘Cullymont’ or ‘Dunluce’.

The Macully family moved to Brighton in 1905 when Alexander took up the incumbency of St Jude’s Church of England (built in 1855 but not consecrated until over a century later, in 1977, because £100 was owed to the builders),13 while continuing to teach elocution and to lecture at the South Australian Institutes. He later developed dementia and became a ‘wanderer’, shouting ‘Macully’s lost! Macully’s lost!’ until rescued.14 He died in 1921 – ‘so dear old Professor Macully has joined the angels! A most lovable man, and such a mixture of contradictions! Believed all things, hoped all things; to him nothing was impossible but what was impracticable’.15

Alexander and Minnie had three daughters, of whom Kitty was the youngest, and a younger son, Arnold, who died in France in World War I.16 Dunluce was not far from a mansion owned by the wealthy and childless John and Louisa Whyte, so it is likely that their proximity resulted in Kitty meeting her future husband, their nephew, Ernest Primrose (Prim) Whyte.

A question often asked about Jean was the origin of her name ‘Primrose’: Primrose was a name from Kinross, Scotland,17 which Prim’s father, William Whyte, left for the Victorian gold diggings, arriving in 1852, followed by his brother John a year later. They soon moved to Adelaide, where John found work in a draper’s shop and married the shop’s widowed owner Louisa Heath. William, John and Louisa, together with Louisa’s brother, James Counsell, set up the very successful grocery firm Whyte, Counsell and Company, which also had a large interest in the paddle steamers which transported their goods along the Murray River. They also owned land in the dry north of South Australia – John Whyte held 21 pastoral leases totalling 3,343 square miles in 1877, which led to a number of places being named in his honour.18

William married Sarah Hodge, who died giving birth to their first child, Frank. William then married Eleanor May McDonald, with whom he had at least twelve children, Prim being one of the youngest. An undated newspaper clipping about Prim is entitled ‘Our great northerner’ – there is a handwritten note at the top ‘exaggerated’ (no doubt about that, and a lot of mistakes as well):

Picture a man of about five feet ten inches in height, with a figure that might easily be the envy of a Greek God, who walks with the lithe springy stride of youth … Less than 40 years ago he was christened Ernest Primrose Whyte … He first made his infantile voice heard at North Adelaide … received his education at … Prince Alfred College … On leaving school ‘Prim’ went to Mundowdna Station, near Hergott Springs … owned by Mr. John Whyte … moved on to Lake Torrens … remained there for ten years … ‘Prim’ was among the first to enlist in the A.I.F. 1914 … He was on active service for four years, attaining the rank of Warrant Officer … when feed was very scarce he … [drove] sheep in search of scant herbage … During the twelve months that the sheep were on the road ‘Prim’ did not once sleep under a roof. ‘Prim’ Whyte is typical of your true Northerner … strong, self-reliant, courageous almost to the point of foolhardiness in time of danger, hospitable, and – a fine sportsman … ‘Prim’ Whyte is a superb horseman and, as a younger man, he rode many winners round the North.19

Prim’s war service records show that, at the time of his enlistment in January 1915, he was 33 years old, 5 feet 10½ inches tall, had fair hair, grey eyes and a ruddy complexion, was a member of the Congregational Church, had never married, and his rank was Sergeant. He left Adelaide on HMAT Afric, in 1915. He joined the 4th Light Horse Brigade and, like most members of the Brigade, he had worked with horses.20 He served in various Australian Army Service Corps known as ‘the train’, transporting food and supplies to soldiers, serving in the main theatres of war – mostly in France – for more than three years without injury (he did have the mumps). He was discharged as medically unfit (peritoneal adhesions) and returned to Australia in August 1918.21

Prim returned from the War to manage Wirraminna Station (which he part-owned) on the East-West railway line in Outback South Australia. He married Kitty at St Jude’s Church of England, Brighton, on November 30th, 1920, when he was thirty-nine years old and Kitty was twenty-nine. Their first child was Jean Primrose, born in the MacDowell Ward of Quambi Nursing Home, South Terrace, Adelaide, on June 27th, 1923, who was followed by Phyllis Primrose (Billie) on May 6th, 1925. Following Kitty’s death in 1926 Prim sold Wirraminna and moved to Yadlamalka Station, where he was Manager for the rest of his working life.22

Yadlamalka was the first home Jean could remember, a three-hundred-and-thirty-square-mile sheep station, carrying about 10,000 sheep, forty miles north of Port Augusta in South Australia, fifteen miles from the nearest neighbour and with few roads and few people, but in good spells there were kangaroos, emus, horses, foxes and camels. It was hot, dry, dusty, flat country, which relied on rainfall, but Prim’s reports to the station owners, T.H. Doman & Co. Ltd, tell of drought years, with an average annual rainfall of only five inches, not enough workers during World War II, and the need for more land to keep Yadlamalka viable – nearby stations Marachowie, Kalliota and Lake Hut were added during Prim’s time. Yadlamalka appears to have been relatively successful – Prim, in encouraging Domans to buy nearby Wilkatana station to increase the holding, said that it would make Yadlamalka ‘second to none’.23 One visitor to the station was Bejah Dervish, a famous South Australian camel-train driver, the ‘grand old man of the desert’, whose life is commemorated with a plaque in North Terrace, Adelaide. Kitty wrote of a ‘lovely moonlight night & camel bells are tinkling’, and she was photographed seated on a camel, holding Jean, then only a few months old.

Although Kitty’s sisters offered to care for the girls following her death, Jean and Billie returned to live at Yadlamalka with their father. Prim later married Kitty’s older sister Eileen (Jean and Billie called her ‘Auntie’). Eileen and Prim remained at Yadlamalka until Prim’s retirement, then they moved to ‘Wintabatinyana’, a house in exclusive Unley Park, Adelaide.24

Jean and Billie were educated at home by correspondence courses and a series of eight governesses – ‘for whom one must confess a sneaking sympathy’;25 Jean said that ‘as the governesses were the only women on the property most of my early years were spent in the company of men’.26 Then Jean left Yadlamalka, aged 11, to board at St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School, Adelaide. Apart from holidays she was never to return to the Outback, but yearned for it for the rest of her life. She wrote of its influence on her life:

it taught me to ride a horse, to class merino wool, to follow tracks, to fix almost anything with a piece of wire and a rusty nail, and to be content with my own company and a book. Perhaps too some of my patience with slow students was learnt when drafting sheep or coaxing young lambs and kangaroos to drink!27

That Jean’s move from the Outback to boarding school was not easy is not surprising: ‘at first I was a rebel against the unaccustomed discipline, and I found it difficult to adjust myself to life among other children, who played what I considered foolish games; but I soon learnt to like it and to share all their activities’.28 Jean did very well at St Peter’s: she was Captain of the debating team, Chair of the Literary and Dramatic Society, an actor in school plays, a member of the Music Club (she gave a paper on ‘Romantic Music’), a member of the Library Committee, a boarders’ prefect for her house, Kennion, Vice-Captain of Kennion, then Captain in her final year; she captained both the first hockey team and the second tennis team, edited the annual Chronicles of St Peter’s Girls, wrote the Old Scholars Association Essay in her final year and published her poems in the Chronicles.29 She wrote: ‘School for me meant debating, writing poetry, tennis and hockey’30 (sporting ability may have been aided by her height).

Of her academic work Jean wrote: ‘As a scholar I was not outstanding. I usually topped the class in English and History and came close to bottom in Latin and Mathematics’.31 She gained her Intermediate Certificate with passes in English Literature and Botany and credits in History and Physiology (only one other student gained a single credit). In her Leaving examination Jean passed English Literature, Economics, Modern History and Physiology, and in Leaving Honours she passed English, Modern History and Economics, but she did not complete her Leaving Honours Certificate until she passed her Latin examination in 1946,32 five years after she left school. She won South Australia’s Tennyson Medal for Matriculation English and left St Peter’s with a glowing reference from the Principal, Sister Persis.

Jean and Billie (also a student at St Peter’s) returned to Yadlamalka for holidays, sometimes taking school friends with them, one of whom was Mavis Crawford, who became Jean’s lifelong friend and mother of Jean’s godson, Bruce. Mavis told of gracious standards being kept at Yadlamalka: in the Outback, listening to the dingoes howl at night, the Whyte family dressed for dinner in formal clothes, the girls usually wearing their black velvet boarding school dinner dresses. The cook prepared meals for the staff in the men’s quarters and, wearing a chef’s hat, would carry the evening meal into the house on a tray held high. He prepared the main course, Auntie the dessert.33

At the end of Jean’s schooling comes a curious episode. The school’s records show that, in Jean’s final year, she was a prefect, but the Head Prefect was Christobel Williams.34 Jean, in her 1952 scholarship application, wrote: ‘In my last year at school I was Head Prefect (that is Captain of the school)’. And, in his speech at her retirement, Harrison Bryan referred to her as having been Head Girl at St Peter’s.35



1   Sister Persis. [Reference for Jean Whyte], 1942. NLA: MS 9616.

2   ‘there are sharks … my earliest memory is watching my mother being attacked and killed by one here at Brighton. I was on the jetty’. Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 2nd, 1959. SU: M 465.

3   The surname is variously spelled M’Cully, McCully or Macully. Campbell was Kitty’s mother’s birth name.

4   Brighton: a walk through history, 2001.

5   [‘It is with sincere regret’]. [Newspaper clipping], [1926]. SLSA: PRG 1335/1.

6   ‘Obituaries. Rev. Alexander Macully, M.A., LL.B.’. The Observer [SA], January 15th, 1921, 34b.

7   Joseph Fraser. ‘Pen and ink sketches of prominent persons’. [Newspaper clipping], [1888?]. SLSA: PRG1288.

8   Quoted in Dorothy Scott. The Halfway House to Infidelity, 1980, 38.

9   The coat of arms can still be seen from the street.

10  [Estate agent’s promotional pamphlet], [1999?]. SLSA: PRG 1335/10/2–9.

11  Douglas Pike, ed. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 3: 1851–1890, 1969, 341–342.

12  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, February 5th, 1959. SU: M 465. I assume that she was referring to the Campbell family, as I have not found references to other Sydney relatives.

13  Brighton: A walk through history, 2001.

14  Interview: Douglas Muecke, 2005.

15  [‘From “One of his many friends”’]. [Newspaper clipping], [1921]. SLSA: PRG 1335/10.

16  Pioneer Index. Victoria 1836–1888 records the death of an Oscar Campbell Macully, aged 7 months, son of ‘AlexR’ and ‘Minnie’ Campbell Macully in 1887. Although this name does not appear in family records I assume that Oscar was Minnie and Alexander’s child (could ‘Oscar’ have been in honour of Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer who was a contemporary of Macully at Trinity College, Dublin?). Minnie and Alexander appear not to have registered the births of any of their children except Arnold.

The Macully daughters were born between 1885 and 1891; the explorer Sir Douglas Mawson was born in 1882 and lived nearby in Brighton from 1904. I wonder whether the Misses Macully in the ‘castle’ were friendly with Mawson? The handsome Mawson was ‘being pursued by Adelaide’s society matrons’ (Nancy Robinson Flannery, ed. This everlasting silence, 2000, 2). The woman Mawson was to marry, Paquita, was born in the same year as Kitty Macully and, like Kitty, had wealthy parents who lived in Brighton (on a five-acre estate). Mawson is buried in St Jude’s Cemetery, Brighton.

17  Whyte was a common surname in Kinross, with William, John, Primrose, Jean, etc. being common forenames. Many Kinross villagers with similar names migrated to Australia in the nineteenth century, which has led to confusion in the records. Although the name Primrose was given to both daughters, there was no-one else of that name in his family in Australia, so the name may have been given in memory of a Primrose in Kinross.

18  Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, 1925–1927, 150–151.

‘John Whyte (c.1825–1902) pastoralist and a member of the grocery firm, Whyte, Counsell & Co … is remembered by the Hundred of Whyte, County of Victoria, proclaimed on 18 February 1869 … Mount Whyte, east of Lake Torrens – he held pastoral lease no. 96 from 1880 and Whyte Well, on section 121, Hundred of Marmon Jabuk … The town of Whyte-Yarcowie, 32 km south of Peterborough, was proclaimed on 28 May 1874 as “Yarcowie”, [but] was altered to “Whyte-Yarcowie” on 5 September 1929, so as to conform with the name of the local railway station. The prefix “Whyte” alludes to the same gentleman, while yarcowie is Aboriginal for “flood” or “great waters”.’ (Geoffrey H. Manning. Manning’s place names of South Australia, 2006, 455).

19  Whackers Up. ‘Our great northerner’, n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/1. The article is difficult to date, as it contains so many mistakes. It must have been written after 1918, as it refers to Prim’s return to civilian life. But there is not enough time for the five years at Wirraminna between the end of the war in 1918 and Prim’s fortieth birthday in 1921 (assuming that ‘christened’ refers to the year of his birth).

The collection of Jean Whyte material held in the State Library of South Australia (PRG 1335) includes many undated cuttings written in the same tone (errors and hyperbole). They tell of Prim and his family’s activities, including visits to Adelaide and Sydney, and a few references to Jean’s activities such as ‘I also saw a pretty picture of Prim’s daughter, Jean, shepherding rams on Yadlamalka on her grey pony “Tiny”’. And ‘The eldest girl is making quite a name for herself as a juvenile poetess. The jovial Primrose himself assists … what Prim doesn’t know about “metre,” “rhythm” and such things that are bothersome but so necessary for the poetically-minded isn’t worth knowing’.

20  ‘Australian Imperial Force. Nominal Roll. 4th Light Horse Brigade Train, 14th A.S.C.’. National Archives of Australia. Defence Service Records. [NAA:B2455, Whyte, Ernest Primrose].

21  Prim’s Defence Service Records were provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Archives of Australia. Peter Adamson, an historian with an interest in the Great War, conjectured that, although Prim enlisted in 1915, the records may have been compiled later, based on the evidence that Prim’s war service number changed from 5835 to 8782 in early 1918 yet 8782 appears earlier than that in the handwritten copy, and that notes up to August 1917 are all in the same handwriting. It is possible that the original or first page is missing, and that the record was rewritten, perhaps in 1917 (Interview: Peter Adamson, 2005).

22  Prim’s occupation is given as ‘Pastoralist’ on Jean’s birth certificate and as ‘squatter’ in ‘Woman killed by shark’. The Register [SA], March 19th, 1926, 9.

‘Prim part-owned Wirraminna with Mr. Lillecrap and G.F. and R.K. Jenkins. Lillecrap is likely to have been Horace G. Lillecrap; G.F. and R.K. Jenkins to have been George Frederick (1878–1957) and his half-brother Richard Kirkhouse (1889–1950), sons of George Kirkhouse Jenkins’ (Jill Statton, ed. Biographical Index of South Australians 1836–1885, 1986, Vol. II, 838).

Yadlamalka was an Aboriginal name; spellings include Yadlumulka, Yedlamulka, Yudamulka. The name comes from an Aboriginal language, ‘mulka’ meaning ‘to talk’.

‘Yadlamalka [is] the limit of rains from the south and very rarely gets anything but a flying shower from that quarter, though the rains extend for some 20 miles further north in the ranges … Its only chance of grass for the summer is from September thunder showers which are the exception, not the rule. The rains it depends on to fill its tanks, fall in January, February and March and are the tails of tropical rains … what makes Yadlamalka pay well is that after heavy summer rains the proprietor is able to buy store sheep and fatten them quickly, having his dams to fall back on when the claypans dry up’. (Geoffrey H. Manning. Manning’s place names of South Australia, 2006, 471).

23  E.P. Whyte to Messrs T.H. Doman & Co. Ltd, November 9th, 1943. SLSA: PRG 1335/8.

24  Wintabatinyana, built in 1922, has had two owners in its more than 80 years – Kitty and Prim bought the house soon after it was built; Auntie and Jean sold it to Joan and Rudi Lange, the current owners, in 1962. Joan Lange, at home when I called looking for Jean’s former home, showed me around. In a quiet court, Wintabatinyana is a gracious and lovely house with an impressive recessed ceiling in the lounge room (Interview: Joan Lange, 2005).

25  Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 6.

26  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

27  Ibid.

28  Ibid.

29  Jean Whyte. ‘The greater things’. Chronicles of St Peter’s Girls, 54, 1941, 23–24.

30  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

31  Ibid.

32  H.R. Othams to Jean Whyte, October 28th, 1952. SLSA: PRG 1335.

33  Interview: Mavis Crawford, 2008. The current manager of Yadlamalka lives in the same house.

34  ‘School officers’. Chronicles of St Peter’s Girls, 54, 1941, [1]; St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School 1894–1968, 1972, 207.

35  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616; Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 6.

Jean Primrose Whyte

   by Coralie Elsenore Janis Jenkin