The quintessential lady, exuding warmth and embracing life and all it has to offer, Lady June Porter was Lady Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Lord Mayor) between 1968-1971.
Early Life and Career
According to her autobiography ‘Can a Duck Swim?’ Lady June Porter was born to Hilda & Stan Perry, in Melbourne, on 20 March 1919 – the eldest of two daughters. June was educated at St Michael’s Church of England Girl’s School (Melbourne), Kambala (Sydney), Perth College (Perth), and the extraordinary boarding school of Kobeelya (Katanning, WA).
During her school days, June loved sports in general, but in particular golf, tennis, horse riding & ballet. It was June’s love of horse riding that placed her in the sights of the charismatic man that was to become her husband, Robert Evelyn Porter, better know as Tom. Tom was visiting Perth with his South Australian Polo team, for a competition in 1939, when his chance meeting with June occurred.
Prior to 1939, the threat of war had been mounting in Europe, and so, June and several friends enrolled in the local branch of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). On discovering they were unlikely to travel overseas June and a couple of friends then decided to become trained nurses. This plan didn’t eventuate for June, as the rule on travel for VADs was changed and the South Australian Polo Team visit lead to a change of heart.
After much difficulty trying to coordinate meetings across the country during wartime, June & Tom married on 31 March 1942. Following their marriage it continued to be difficult to see each other, as Tom’s postings changed from time to time. June became known as a ‘camp follower’ as she tried to stay near her husband.
Five months after farewelling Tom on his way to India, and not knowing if or when she would see him again, June boarded the SS Glenartny on 20 September 1944. This extraordinarily fortunate opportunity arose because of her appointment as lady-in-waiting to Lady Rutherford; however, the submarines lurking beneath & the mysteries of her foreign destination kept June’s feet on deck.
The glamour & privilege that was life in the British Raj was second to none. June’s experiences included living in palaces; dining with royalty; having her every need tended to by servants; having national trains held for her due to oversleeping; attending parties; and viewing one of the most exquisite jewellery collections in the world. The life of the lady-in-waiting to Lady Rutherford reads like an amazing dream. This life of astounding privilege ended, with the end of the British Raj, which coincided with June & Tom’s departure on 21 December 1945.
June & Tom finally settled, in the Adelaide suburb of Gilberton, in the Porter family home known as ‘Cosford’.
When interviewed by the author on 11 June 2015, about her contributions & achievements as Lady Mayoress, June modestly replied “Everything I did I thought was an achievement”. Despite being a reluctant Lady Mayoress initially, June would be at her desk in the Town Hall by 9am everyday, running through correspondence with her secretary, checking the floral arrangements, ensuring the menus were correct and the tables were arranged & set properly for the Lord Mayor’s luncheons. Once everything was in order at the Town Hall, June set out in her car for her daily appointments, such as, establishing and overseeing the deportment prize at Adelaide Girl’s High School.
A favourite event of June’s was the Children’s Party, held at the Town Hall, an event for children of all ages. The children were taught the history of the Town Hall, partook in a multitude of activities arranged by the teachers, followed by a feast. Much to June’s amusement, one young boy, while out collecting money for the Scouts, recognised Lady Porter and asked her if she recognised him. He had been one end of the ‘push me – pull you’ costume at the Children’s Party.
A significant event for the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress is the Annual Ball hosted by the City Council, for people from all walks of life who had made financial and other contributions to the City of Adelaide. This was no different in June’s time as Lady Mayoress. She arranged for her friend, stage designer, Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski, to design the décor for the Ball, which was to be a cross between the ballroom scene from ‘My Fair Lady’ and the water gardens of Versailles. June was delighted with the result and said when interviewed by the author on 11 June 2015, “he did, it was a most marvellous setting”. Much of the décor was reused when June & Tom hosted the Duke and Duchess of York in 1969.
This was a time when women were recognised as having an important role in supporting their husbands in their job. Women were involved with everything and invited to everything related to their husband’s career, however as soon as the men retired or died, the women were dropped from these work related social engagements. June found this “really dreadful” and wanted to do something about it, so she arranged a luncheon. The invited ladies, with their walking sticks and various mobility aids, met at the Town Hall for pre-lunch drinks where June announced that lunch was to be served aboard Popeye. Expecting excitement & enthusiasm, June was very surprised when “their faces all fell” and they started to voice their objections. June explained there would be people to assist them aboard. Eventually, everyone was aboard enjoying a welcome glass of champagne, and lunch was served. After one lap of the River Torrens the ladies were given the option of disembarking; but no-one wanted to leave. When the lunch was finished the ladies, forgetting their various walking aids, jumped ashore. They had all had a wonderful time. For years to come many of these ladies invited friends to take picnics on Popeye.
June established the Lady Mayoress’ trophy at the North Adelaide Golf Course, which is contested annually. Due to its success ‘it became the selection trial for the state team each year’. June also donated the trophy, which is a gorgeous antique silver rose bowl.
Volunteering & raising money for charity was always a large part of June’s life which seamlessly merged with her role as Lady Mayoress, and which she continued beyond her time as Lady Mayoress.
During her interview on 11 June 2015, June recalled attending an antique auction at a small house in Norwood. One of the auction items she was drawn to was a beautiful chandelier. She discovered that it had previously belonged to the Town Hall and quickly set about acquiring it. Subsequently the other two matching chandeliers were found and all three were proudly reinstated in the Town Hall.
A close friend of June’s, Lady Fisher, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, regularly visited her son, the Headmaster of Scotch College, in Adelaide. During one of her visits she produced an exquisite shawl and said to June “I want you to have this”. She then proceeded to share the story behind the shawl with June. Lady Fisher explained that an Aunt of hers was the daughter of a clergyman & in those days clergymen were impoverished, so as a little girl, Lady Fisher’s aunt was sent to a home for the children of clergymen. Queen Adelaide was a regular visitor to this particular children’s home. One day, Queen Adelaide saw this little girl and was very drawn to her, to the point of wanting to adopt her. However, her family wouldn’t allow the adoption, so Queen Adelaide took care of her schooling & eventually took her into her services as her lady-in-waiting. The shawl was a gift from Queen Adelaide to Lady Fisher’s aunt. On hearing this story, June decided that the shawl should belong to the City of Adelaide and asked Lady Fisher if she would gift it to the City of Adelaide rather than to her personally. Lady Fisher was honoured and at a dedicated luncheon she donated the precious shawl to the City of Adelaide. It was on display in a glass case in the Queen Adelaide room for quite some time, but June does not now of its current location.
A gift June discovered and reclaimed from the Town Hall cellars was the Queen Adelaide china set. June explained in her interview that the china set had been gifted to the City of Adelaide on the condition it was used at least once a year. On discovering it tucked away in boxes in the cellar, June said “this is ridiculous having this down here, it was given to the city and should be used and seen by the city”. It was subsequently brought up and displayed in a glass cabinet in the Queen Adelaide room of the Town Hall. June cautiously used it when hosting the Duke and Duchess of Kent, employing a dedicated person to look after the china to ensure nothing happened to it.
June was invited to open a Mannequin Parade at the South Australian Hotel by Miss Whiteman, owner of an exclusive Melbourne couturier, to raise funds for St John’s Ambulances. As June was quite nervous about giving speeches, she learnt all there was to know about ambulances & practised her speech many times. On the day of the parade June awoke to the news that Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon. Her first thought was, ‘How am I supposed to compete with that?’. Tom’s advice was to get everyone’s attention by telling a funny story, to which June responded, “I couldn’t tell a funny story, I am far too nervous to give a speech”.
The room was abuzz with excitement over the moon landing. Miniskirts had just come into fashion and were still quite shocking to many. June took a deep breath and started with “everyone will be very glad Miss Whiteman has assured me there are no miniskirts in the parade. I have heard that one young man went to collect his girlfriend for dinner the other night and she arrived at the door wearing a miniskirt. He looked at her in horror and said ‘What have you got on?’ and she said ‘Oh, just something I threw on in a hurry’, and he said, ‘well you jolly nearly missed’. The room erupted, June delivered her speech and the parade began. This story was related in both her interview with the author and in her autobiography ‘Can a Duck Swim?’.
When asked, during her interview, to reflect on her time as Lady Mayoress, June said
It was a very important part of my life, for three years we devoted our lives to the Town Hall, we gave up our friends for those three years.
June found the experience highly rewarding.
Porter, J, Can a Duck Swim? (Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2013).
Porter, J, Interview, 11 June 2015.
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