Mabel Brookes

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Mabel and Norman Brookes

Dame Mabel Brookes, DBE (15 June 1890 – 30 April 1975) was an Australian community worker, activist, socialite, writer, memoirist and humanitarian.

Born as Mabel Balcombe Emmerton in Raveloe, South Yarra, Victoria in 1890, her best-known service was as president of the Queen Victoria Hospital from 1923–1970, where she presided over the addition of three new wings within ten years.


She became engaged to Norman Brookes, a tennis player, who was the first Australian to win Wimbledon, at the age of eighteen, and married him in St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, on 19 April 1911. In 1914, with a baby daughter, she accompanied Brookes on his tennis trips to Europe and the USA.

During World War I, in 1915, she joined her husband in Cairo where he was working as commissioner for the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross. She assisted in the establishment of a rest home for nurses. On her husband's posting to Mesopotamia, she returned to Melbourne in 1917. At this point she wrote three novels and continued to write on a variety of topics during her life.

Contributions and affiliations

In 1918 she served on the committee of the Royal Children's Hospital, then became president of the Children's Frankston Orthopaedic Hospital, the Anglican Babies' Home and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She was also an original member and a divisional officer of the Girl Guides' Association executive committee, foundation president of the Institute of Almoners and of the Animal Welfare League. She was also a member of the Australian Red Cross Society's federal executive and president of the Ladies' Swimming Association.

World War II

During World War II the Brookes' home became a Red Cross convalescent home. The Brookes family lived in Elm Tree House and entertained Australian and American officers, including Lyndon B. Johnson. Mabel Brookes was commandant of the Australian Women's Air Training Corps and worked at the Maribyrnong Munitions Factory.

Political career

Brookes attempted a political career by standing twice for parliament, but was unsuccessful. She stood for the federal Division of Flinders in 1943 as a Woman for Canberra candidate and in 1952 for the state seat of Toorak for the Electoral Reform League.

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1933 and became a Dame of the order (DBE) in 1955 for services to hospitals and charity. The French Government appointed her as Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1960 in acknowledgement of her gift to the French nation of the pavilion which Napoleon Bonaparte had occupied on her great-grandfather's estate on Saint Helena, an island in the south Atlantic Ocean. In 1967 Monash University conferred an honorary LL.D. for her services to the Queen Victoria Hospital, of which she was President. It had by that time become a Monash University teaching hospital.

Writing career

Brookes was a published novelist and memoirist. She wrote the following works:

Broken Idols. Melbourne: Melville and Mullin, 1917.
On the Knees of the Gods. Melbourne: Melville and Mullin, 1918. Illustrated by Penleigh Boyd.
Old Desires. Melbourne: Australasian Authors Agency, 1922.

St Helena Story. London: Heinemann, 1960. Deals with Napoleon Bonaparte's internment on St Helena island and was introduced by Sir Robert Menzies, former Prime Minister of Australia.

Crowded Galleries. Melbourne: Heinemann, 1956. With chapters on tennis by Sir Norman Brookes, her husband and 1907 and 1914 winner of the Wimbledon singles and doubles tennis tournament, and America's Davis Cup.
Riders of Time. Melbourne: Macmillan, 1967.
Memoirs. Melbourne: Macmillan, 1974.


Dame Mabel Brookes published her memoirs in 1974 in which she recounted events in her life, including meeting many notable and historic people of the time. She died at South Yarra on 30 April 1975, aged 84, survived by two of her three daughters.[citation needed]

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