G5 06 Margaret Rendle Sullivan

Margaret Rendle Sullivan was a great grand-daughter of Timothy Sullivan through her grandfather Samuel Grose Sullivan and her father Eric Wilfred (Wilf) Sullivan. She was an independent and modern woman of her times.

Margaret was also one of the family's earlier historians, having traced Timothy back to the marriage in Cornwall, and maintained links with Timothy's Sullivan descendants interstate. She was an early member of the South Australian Genealogy & Herarldry Society and a contributor of Sullivan items to their publications.


Margaret Rendle Sullivan was the first child of Eric Wilfred Sullivan and his wife Adeline (nee Whitford). She was born in Prospect, a suburb of Adelaide, on 14/12/1917. Much of this article is based on her memoirs written probably around 1990 (held by R Sullivan)

Her middle name Rendle derives from a Mr Charles Rendle, a draper in Moonta from about 1865 to 1896. His wife Hannah was the sister of Elijah Whitford's wife, Elijah being Adeline Whitford's step uncle. Addie, Margaret's mother, had also lived with the Whitfords in Moonta around 1907. The Rendles were childless, and so on Hannah Rendle's death she left property in Moonta to the Whitfords, and ownership was transfered across to Addie sometime after her marriage. Addie used the proceeds of the sale of the property to buy the property at Ruby St Prospect. Her gratitude to the Rendles is thus expressed through Margaret's middle name.

Margaret recalls  an ordinary childhood, being frightened of the dark, and on one occasion sitting on an anthill and having ants up to her hips. She enjoyed doing things in the garden.

MRSyoungShe started at kindergarten in 1920/21 at the age of 4 to 5, going for at least a year to a pre-school kindergarten which she loved. Annesley or MLC as it was then had 3 such kindergartens, one at the main school, one at Unley and one at Prospect, and it was to the latter that she went. She "loved every minute and we had little steel cases for sandwiches, a handtowel and dancing pumps." The Montessori method of teaching was used.

Around 1924 at the age of 7 I went to then Wellington Rd State School. It was a very long walk to school, starting up Magill Rd and picking up other children as they went along.

In 1928 as she had had some illnesses it was suggested that she go to “Ellerslie”, a Church of Christ School established in 1922 on Magill Rd Tranmere, now non-existent. There she received coaching  to bring her nearer to her rightful achievement. She was at Ellerslie from Grade 5 to Grade 7, but never felt happy about the brief coaching she had in arithmetic.

Margaret as a young girl.
Photo courtesy of R Sullivan


In 1931 at the age of 13 she went to MLC (now Annesley) where she spent "a very happy 5 years", constantly moving about. She went to school at 8 am to play badminton and raced across the parklands and back to the school. She played tennis and basketball at lunch time and team sports after school.

Margaret seems to have achieved more on the sportsfield than in the classroom. She was in the Combined Sports Team every year. The "D" Tennis team in 1934 and the "C"s in 1935. By 1932 she was playing basketball for the school in the "B" team, and in 1933 she had progressed to the “A” basketball team, and when she was captain in 1935 vowed to win the cup and shield on the basis that if one is determined enough one will win. She won the Senior Calisthenics medal in 1933. She was one of the 5 school prefects in 1935.

Academically she gained 9 passes in various subjects at the Intermediate level in 1932 and 1933, and 6 passes in subjects in her Leaving  in 1934. She appears not to have sat for any subjects at Leaving Honours level in 1935, and there are references in the School Magazine to prolonged illness and convalescence that year.(1)

MRSteenIn 1936 she started University and spent one year doing pharmacy (with father Wilf a pharmacist). She did not feel this was right for her, so she had a free year in 1937. In that time off she learnt singing which meant giving up the piano.She trained as a novice and then advanced student under Miss Hilda Gill at the Elder Conservatorium and gave at least 4 public performances.A newspaper reviewer noted that she had "a refined voice of small proportion, but good quality." She also continued with her Baketball, eventually gaining selection in the University "A"s.

Also during that year she was introduced to the idea of Social Work. She had intended to teach as both of her grandparents were teachers. Her grandfather had been head master at the Moonta Mines School when it had 1000 pupils.

Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

In 1938 she commenced courses in Social Work and Arts concurrently."I was very young and immature for my age and was really out of my depth with some work. They put the enrolment age up to 20 after me."

"As course work for Social Work had only commenced in 1936 in South Australia and this was 1938, I had some very odd placements. At the Kindergarten Union I cooked lunch for the children. Boiling eggs and making custard. As I had never done any cooking it was a very difficult chore." "I also went to the YWCA and stuck sheets of names on large sheets of brown paper. Both of these seemed a very odd introduction to Social Work to me".

"I went to Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and the Adelaide Childrens' Hospital (ACH.) We took University subjects in Economics and Psychology. At Teachers College a Hygiene course and Human Nutrition which was very difficult and Biochemistry. There were tutorials and eventually we were put into real placements including hospitals.. I went both to the ACH and the RAH. We wore gloves and hats when sent to visit patients, and I also carried an umbrella to fend off dogs who were interested in my ankles. It is difficult for a 19-20 year old to interview a person who has had a very long experience of life."

In 1942 she was awarded her Diploma of Social Work and in 1943 her BA at Adelaide.

In 1942 she was engaged for a year as a Social Research worker in the Economics Department at Adelaide University, working on a survey of housing and other living conditions in Adelaide for the Department of Post War Reconstruction. This involved interviewing about 400 Adelaide householders as well as assisting in compiling the statistics.

In 1943 and 1944 in her mid-twenties,she started her first "real" job as “Activities Secretary" for the YWCA Adelaide, and then in charge of the "Girls Department" ." I had to build up the Junior Section ages 12-16. I canvassed for members in Technical Schools and joined 150 members.I organised recreation and various educational classes and lectures for about 200 girls between the ages of 10 to 18, as well as supervising their general welfare as far as possible. This work also included planning and carrying out large scale holiday camps and conferences as well as selecting and training the leaders for club work."

 At the end of two years she felt experienced enough to go on with Social Work. The Red Cross Society was offering scholarships with fees paid as they needed people to staff military hospitals. After a year of training in Victoria with the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners, in 1946 (as a condition of her scholarship) she was sent to Brisbane as a Medical Social Worker employed with the Queensland Division of the Red Cross and worked at the Greenslopes Military Hospital, an 800 bed hospital. She lived in the Nurses Quarters at the hospital. "We had the POWs who were limbless or had their legs eaten away by poor diet and many who drank heavily as a form of anaesthesia."

In 1947 after 14 months or so in Brisbane she applied for and gained a position as Senior Almoner at the RAH. She returned to Adelaide at the age of 29. 

MRSguideAt the end of 1948 the Girl Guides (of whom Margaret had been a member since the age of 12) recommended her to go for a test to be selected to work in post war Germany. She was duly selected, and having resigned from the RAH, sailed for England on the Orcades in early 1949. Berthing at Southampton, she went to London and (with others) was presented to the Queen Mother.

She spent 8 weeks in England  training "being looked over" at a house in Hampshire bought with Princess Mary’s wedding money from the "Mary’s of the Empire" “Foxlease”.

In March 1949 her team sailed from Harwich in a fog to the Hook of Holland. There they took a train to Hanover in Germany where they were met by their team-leader and the Officer Commanding  British Zone Girl Guides.  Their work was with displaced persons, and included the welfare of children, the sick and the aged. Margaret became deputy leader of a section of 10 welfare workers and domestic and transportation staff.

Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

After about 15 months in Germany Margaret experienced some chest trouble,and decided to return to England. She had 4 months off work looking over London and then was appointed Assisant Almoner at the Bromley and District Hospital in Kent where she remained for 9 months.

MRSpgsAfter three years abroad in 1951 she returned to Adelaide and was appointed as Senior Almoner at the ACH. She started in January 1952 and stayed for 31 years until her retirement in 1982.

Margaret and brother Phillip - Sydney Harbour circa 1951
Photo courtesy of R Sullivan


She found life at the ACH "an education in happiness and sorrow, in behaviour, in people, always teaching and stimulating." She saw the changes in bed care techniques, and teaching was always wanted within the hospital for nurses and others. At times she had up to 6 students to supervise.

She was offered a job part time lecturing on Social Work in the mid to late sixties, but refused as she was ill with thyroid problems.

In 1968 she was awarded life membership of the Hospital along with 19 others in the centenary of the Hospital.

In 1975 at the age of 58 she commenced a Degree course in Social Work at Flinders University to bring herself  up to date. She retired from work in 1982 and received her degree the following year.

Margaret had been an active member of the Girl Guides since the age of 12, comprising 38 years as a uniformed member followed by further service as an active non-uniformed member. In 1969 she was given the "Beaver" award for services to guiding.

MRSolderMargaret joined the SA Lyceum Club (for Ladies About Town in Adelaide) in 1969, listing her interests as music, reading, gardening, travel and sport, and her qualifications included a Diploma in Social Science from Adelaide and membership of the Victorian Institute of Almoners. She was a financial member right up until 1999. Current members recall her fondly, noting that in later years she was prone to fall asleep after lunch during the speeches. She was especially active in her earlier years in the Club's Travel Circle.

She enjoyed travelling, seeing new places and meeting new peoples. She was lucky with brother Phillip working in Bahrain and in USA, and was able to stay with him in both places. She had been able to take long service leave and meet Social Workers in other hospitals in cities including  Boston, Oslo, London and Edinburgh.

Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

Margaret was an avid collector of books, and in later life her collection continued to expand.

Margaret never married, although there is family folklore that she was to be engaged but this was not permitted by her parents for religious reasons. On her return from England she continued to live with her parents at the Magill Rd Pharmacy, and then after her father's death she remained with her mother until Addie's death in 1971. Margaret then purchased her one and only house, a small cottage in Rosslyn Park, where she lived happily with her companion cat "Edie-puss" before finally moving into the Illoura Home in Norwood. She died at Illoura in 2000 and was buried at Centennial Park Cemetery with her parents.

Margaret was baptised into the Methodist Church in 1918. Family members recall her strong association with the Student Christian Movement at University. Interestingly she was confirmed into the Anglican Church in 1972 at the age of 55, a short while after her mother's death. In her later years St Matthews Church at Marryatville became her home church



(1)     The MLC Annual, 1931 to 1935