On International Women’s Day, Thursday March 8, we pay tribute to the pioneering work of Ivy Brookes, who served our organisation as the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria’s Vice-President from its inception in 1936 until 1966, just four years before her death.
Minutes of the Council’s first annual meeting refer to Ivy as “Mrs Herbert Brookes”, in line with the traditional practice of addressing a married woman by her husband’s name. Born in 1883, Ivy Deakin was the eldest daughter of Alfred Deakin - who served as Australia’s second Prime Minister for three separate terms spanning 1903 to 1910.
Ivy completed her secondary education at Melbourne Girls’ Grammar School and studied singing and violin at the University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music, before marrying widowed businessman and Deakin ally Herbert Brookes in 1905, aged 22.
Ivy was involved in charity work from an early age and, as a key supporter of her father’s political activities, was credited with enlisting women to the Liberal cause. She was a firm believer in equality for men and women and an early supporter of the equal pay for equal work campaign. Ivy became a member of more than 25 organisations, and a committee member for most of them.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ivy was “never merely a figurehead of a sleeping partner in any enterprise with which she allows her name to be associated”. She credited her freedom to be so involved to her husband’s “belief in the equality of sexes, and his help and cooperation with me in my work”.
Minutes of the Anti-Cancer Council’s first annual meeting show Ivy was reluctant to accept nomination for the role of Vice-President, and suggested someone else instead, but was persuaded to take up the office. As the years passed, she was re-elected amid glowing praise. In 1948, it was noted that the Executive Committee’s Chairman, Professor Peter MacCallum, “spoke of the great interest which Mrs Brookes had shown in the Council’s work, and of her help as a member of the Executive Committee”.
The Council’s achievements in the 30 years that Ivy served as Vice-President were considerable. They included providing funds to major Melbourne hospitals for the purchase of modern radiotherapy equipment; establishing a central cancer registry to record clinical information on cancer cases; and the establishment of a central radiotherapy institute (now the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre).
According to a report in The Age in 1949, Ivy believed that more “experienced, qualified women” should be involved in public life, arguing that “… the combined judgement of men and women is invaluable and essential”. The contribution of strong women continues to this day at Cancer Council Victoria.