Mrs Kathleen Agnes Irwin was the Lady Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Lord Mayor) from 1963-1966.
Early Life and Career
Kathleen Agnes, the second child of Gilbert William Orr and Helen Archer Butler Creaghe of Sydney, was born on 22 September 1908 in Bathurst.
She went to school at Meridan, Strathfield, then to P.L.C. Goulburn and 1925 to the Ascham Boarding School, Darling Point. She passed the Intermediate Exam with A in Music.
She started to drive a car in 1926 and received her license in 1927. In the same year, the Orr family went on an overseas tour. On their return, they visited Adelaide and met with the Irwin family.
As soon as he could James Campbell Irwin followed her to Sydney in a borrowed Bentley. This was the start of a great affection. They became engaged on 21 July 1931 and got married in the Stephens Presbyterian Church in Sydney on 23 November 1933. Varying shades of yellow were chosen in the decoration for the wedding. They had two children: James Campbell, born 16 April 1937 and Georgina Helen Margaret, born 13 December 1939.
During the Centenary Celebration on 18 September 1936 there was a great parade. James Campbell Irwin designed a float which won the first prize. Kathleen sat on it as Queen Adelaide. The council presented her with a silver salver, and James with an inscribed photograph.
James Campbell Irwin was born on 23 June 1906 in North Adelaide. He was educated in a private school and then went to Collegiate School of St. Peter until 1923. In 1924 he entered the South Australian School of Mines and Industries and joined the firm of Woods, Bagot Jory & Laybourne Smith, where he was made a partner in 1930. He became a well-known architect with the firm. While with that firm he travelled extensively overseas where he gathered great ideas for his designs.
James Irwin designed the new wing of the Children’s Hospital, initiated the plans for the Festival Theatre and became best known for the design of the Fountain in Victoria Square and the building of Carrick Hill, but designed 108 major buildings, 38 houses and a number of major additions and renovations – including the Town Hall.
He was also involved in sport – especially golf – and charity organisations like the Home for Incurables. For his work, he received the Rotary Club of Adelaide Service Award for 1968-69 after raising £192 890 as chairman of a special appeal.
He was an Adelaide City Councillor from 1935-1940, from 1940-1949 in the army overseas, Councillor again from 1949-1953, and Alderman from 1953-1963 and 1966-1972. When he was elected Lord Mayor of the City of Adelaide in July 1963, Kathleen was horrified at the thought, but she became busily occupied by many civic receptions, social calls and charitable meetings and functions and did a terrific job as Lady Mayoress. She gained a host of admirers with her complete absence of air and pretence.
Besides being a superb homemaker and mother, she excelled at skills in needle work, knitting and cooking to a professional standard and enjoyed doing oil paintings under the instruction of David Dridan. In 1944 while James was in the army, she bought a derelict house in 35 Barnard Street, North Adelaide, which was restored and renovated by his partner Bagot and became their home to the end of their lives. They also built a house in Aldinga Beach in 1956, which was sold when the area was too developed in 1976.
Kathleen was Lady Mayoress from 1963 -1966. She was a keen worker for charity and specially interested in Mothers’ & Babies’ Health Association, and the Hostel of the Holy Name. She raised £307 For Inman Baby at a Red Cross meeting.
During her Time as Lady Mayoress they had plenty of interesting visitors like the Queen Mother, Astronauts Walter Cunningham and Walter Schirra, two Archbishops of Canterbury: Lord Fisher and Dr Ramsay and the Beatles. The Beatles weren’t very happy because they were pinned in a corner for autographs for Councillors, their wives and children.
Kathleen died 19 November 1989, was cremated and interred 15 March 1990, Position 8 North bed 1, at Centennial Park. James Campbell Irwin, K.T., OBE, E.D. Leraia, died 22 June 1990. His portrait by Sir Ivor Hele is held by the family. He was interred 8 April 1991 with Kathleen Position 8 North bed 1 Centennial Park.
It is interesting to note that Kathleen as well as her husband was interred much later than their death. Maybe there is a secret in the family.
James Campbell Irwin, the son of Kathleen and James, became a politician, was elected to the Legislative Council for the Liberal Party in 1985 and then into the Ministry. He died 4 November 2005. He was survived by his wife, Bin, and three sons, James, Angus and Campbell.
Georgina and her husband Alexander Thyne Reid from Yass were killed in a plane crash of their Cessna 210 on 23 March 1990, survived by George, Kintra, Feriel and Tom.
There is not much written about the Lady Mayoress Kathleen Agnes and there doesn’t seem to be any secrets about her. The lesson to be learned would be: Even when you don’t seek a job, you can do the very best in the interest of the community and get satisfaction out of it.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, (2007), Volume 17 (MUP).
Adelaide City Council Archives, 'Reminiscences of Sir James Campbell Irwin', [sound recording], State Libary of South Australia, OH 730/5, 17 August 1978.
City of Adelaide, Municipal Year Book 1963-64, South Australia.
Daily Advertiser of Wagga Wagga, 'Interesting Wedding', 24 November 1933, p4.
Flint, D, 'Farewell to a Great Australian', Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, 2005.
Geneology SA, 'IRWIN, Kathleen Veronica', Microfiche records of North East Road Cemetery Enfield.
Irwin, J, The Irwin Family: Junior South Australian Branch, Rigby, Rigby: Adelaide, 1977.
Jolly, B, 'Irwin, Sir James Campbell (1906–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007.
The Canberra Times, '30,000 Greet Beatles', 13 June 1964, p1.
The Canberra Times, 'Yass couple die in crash', 24 March 1990, p4.
The News Adelaide, 'Engagement announced yesterday', 22 July 1931, p4.
Victor Harbour Times, '£307 Raised for Inman Valley Baby', 7 May 1965, p1.
Wikipedia, 'James Campbell Irwin', Accessed 31 August 2016.