Margaret Hamer: High flier

Tribute to our first female aeronautical engineering graduate.
Image of Margaret Hamer

Margaret Hamer, the first woman in Australia to graduate as an aeronautical engineer, died in May at her home in Melbourne. She was 86.

Margaret was born in Adelaide, began secondary school in Adelaide, then attended university, both in Adelaide and Sydney, initially studying civil engineering in a profession where few women dared to tread.

She graduated as an aeronautical engineer from Sydney University in 1948, a trailblazer in the discipline for woman in Australia. Before her degree was conferred, she worked for six months for the CSIR, a Commonwealth research organisation, testing structural materials for aircraft construction.

Margaret was in Sydney when she met her future husband, Alan, a chemist and Rhodes scholar whose two brothers, (Sir) Rupert and David were war veterans and later became premier of Victoria and a senator respectively. They were married in her home town of Clare in 1948.

Margaret and Alan returned to Melbourne in 1949 to live in St Kilda before they bought their first house in Camberwell. She did not resume her career in aeronautical engineering, preferring to start a family, and the first of her four children was born in 1949.
"I did the degree because I was keen on flying, but couldn't because of short sight. Then I did the stupid thing that we all did, got married and had children - so I never used the degree," she told The Age in 1977.

Margaret enjoyed an active domestic and social life but also found time in the mid-1960s to study for a degree in fine arts (honours) at Melbourne University.

In 1967, Alan was posted to India for four years as director of Imperial Chemical Industries. Margaret accompanied him, leaving their four children in Australia to continue their education. They travelled extensively throughout India, for business as well as pleasure, leading a full social life, initially in Calcutta and later in Delhi.

On their return to Australia, she was persuaded by her mother-in-law, Nancy Hamer, to join the board of management of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women in 1972. She initially was part of the board's building team, and in 1974 became chairman of the planning committee for the relocation of the hospital (together with Prince Henry's Hospital) to a new site in Clayton that was to later become the Monash Medical Centre.

In 1977, she succeeded Nancy Hamer as the chairman of the Queen Victoria Hospital board, a position she held until the eventual relocation of the hospital in 1986. Her letters of the time reflect her rapier-sharp intellect as well as the persistence needed to deal with a parsimonious state treasury.

After leaving the Queen Vic, in 1986 Margaret became a magistrate of the Victorian Magistrates Court, and was a member of the committee of the Victoria Court Network until 1990.

Margaret is survived by her husband of 63 years, Alan, her children, Angas, Michael, Victoria, and Jonathan, and 10 grandchildren.