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Daphne Read AO

Portrait of Daphne Read AO

Daphne Read (nee Hutchison) was born and raised in Wollongong NSW. She has led a life devoted to the community, evident in her dedication to education, sport, lifesaving and, not least to Somerville Community Services over many decades.

After attending Corrimal Primary School, Daphne completed school at Wollongong High. Awarded a scholarship, she attended teachers’ college in Wagga where she received her teacher’s certificate. At the age of 19 Daphne started teaching at Russell Vale Primary school. Daphne’s father worked as a rescue worker in the mines and drove Daphne to work each morning.

Miss Daphne Hutchinson, with the Russell Vale Primary School netball team, winners of the 1960 district competition

 Miss Daphne Hutchinson, with the Russell Vale Primary School netball team, winners of the 1960 district competition.

Daphne was at school by 7.30 am each day so she started taking sport for students who turned up at the oval before school. Russell Vale Primary won most of the interschool sporting trophies that year. For a small school this was a great achievement.

Daphne met her future husband John Read while she was at college, and they married in 1961. John served in the Royal Australian Air Force. Posted to Malaysia for 3 years, Daphne taught at the air force school on Penang Island. John was then posted to Canberra where they spent two years before posting to Darwin where John worked on helicopters as they transited to Vietnam. 

Daphne first came to Darwin on 14 February 1966, a date she will always remember as it was the day that decimal currency was introduced in Australia.

As no teaching jobs were available when Daphne arrived, she got a job with Cavenagh Car Sales as the receptionist, and then the bookkeeper. On arriving at work one morning, Daphne’s boss advised her that she would be finishing up as she now had a position as a teacher at Darwin Primary School. Daphne’s boss had attended a Rotary meeting the evening before and had spoken to a fellow Rotarian, who was the head of the education department.

Daphne’s break from teaching lasted two months. She started teaching grade 6 at Darwin Primary in 1966 and at the end of the year, was promoted to a new positon at Rapid Creek Primary School.

Somerville Homes had established a number of cottage homes in Darwin for children who had previously lived on Croker Island, and the children went to school at Rapid Creek Primary School. Ben Pedler, the Deputy Headmaster at Rapid Creek School was on the Somerville board. Ben was returning to South Australia so asked Daphne if she would be willing to be nominated as the education representative on the Somerville board. Daphne accepted and joined the board in 1967.

At that time the board consisted of around six members and meetings were held in the now heritage-listed Wesleyan church in the Darwin Botanical Gardens (known as Eva’s Café). Daphne took the minutes of the meetings for many years.

Prior to moving to Darwin Daphne had been captain of the ACT Softball team and continued her involvement in the game in Darwin where she became the captain of the NT softball team. Daphne was also in charge of taking sport at Rapid Creek Primary and coordinating the interschool softball competition and took many teams interstate as manager/ coach. 

Daphne was the Senior Woman Teacher at the school and dealt with truancy, head lice and many other social welfare issues. 

Daphne transferred to Nightcliff Primary as the Deputy Principal in 1970, where she spent a number of years before accepting a promotion as Principal of Darwin Primary in 1974. Daphne was the first female to be appointed as a principal in the Northern Territory. 

Prior to this with NT education being under the jurisdiction of South Australia, married females could not hold the position of Principal. With the transfer of the education department to the ACT such restrictions ceased. 

It was during Daphne’s time at Nightcliff that she and John fostered Larry, who was six years old. Larry was a student at Stuart Park who lived in one of the cottages established by Somerville Homes. 

By this time John had retired from the air force and had started his own business. They had both decided that Darwin was where they would call home. 

The family was living in Jingili when on 24 December 1974, Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin. The family home was blown away and they took up residence at Darwin Primary School in the library storeroom while the evacuation and clean-up of Darwin commenced. 

Daphne was not evacuated after the cyclone, as most women and children were, but stayed at the school where she and John set up a community food centre where families could come for a meal or to stay. The RAAF had supplied them with a generator and Daphne was able to salvage her washing machine, which she brought to the centre to wash many loads of nappies. 

Daphne recalls that the manager of Woolworths (then located in Smith Street) gave her the keys to the store and told her to “help yourself to anything downstairs” (as the upper story had blown away in the cyclone). Daphne then had access to much-needed clothing and shoes for people visiting the centre. 

The army had also supplied a cold room, which was very much appreciated. One of John’s daily jobs was to load a number of rubbish bins into the back of his ute and drive “down the track” about 30 to 40 km to fill the bins with fresh water, which became the water supply for the centre. Water was precious and used sparingly. The shower consisted of a baby’s bath and a bucket and was set up on the back steps. Ladies showered between 6 and 7 pm, and men between 7 and 8pm. The water collected during bathing was used to flush the toilets. 

The community food centre at Darwin Primary remained open until the end of January 1975 when school was due to commence. Daphne recollects that the school opened two days late and the children “came out of the woodwork”. 

They were overwhelmed by the number of students and two weeks later Larrakeyah Primary opened as an early childhood centre. It was evident that many people had decided not to evacuate. Throughout that year as Darwin rebuilt, the primary schools in the northern suburbs opened and children moved to these schools. At the end of 1975 Daphne was appointed Principal at Nightcliff Primary. 

During 1975 John and Daphne purchased a house in Nightcliff which had been damaged in the cyclone. John renovated the house and this became the family home. In 1978 Daphne and John fostered a daughter, Valerie, who was two years old. Valerie’s babysitter at the time was the caretaker of the Nightcliff swimming pool and Valerie became a very good swimmer. 

In 1980 Daphne took leave from her role at Nightcliff and the family moved to Townsville so Daphne could complete a masters degree at James Cook University. Daphne completed her masters, and worked during the Christmas break to complete her thesis in second language learning. 

Daphne then returned to her role as Principal at Nightcliff Primary. Her love of language ensured that Indonesian was part of the curriculum at Nightcliff Primary from pre-school through to year 7, and the school also had a student exchange program. Daphne then worked in the Education Office as the Superintendent LOTE (languages other than English). 

During this time Daphne was also coordinating the Combined Schools Spectacular known as ‘The Beat’. Daphne did this for 32 years and saw it grow from the first performance at the Greek Hall to the Amphitheatre, and then to the Entertainment Centre. 

Daphne recalls her and John living in their motor home at the Botanical Gardens acting as caretakers for the week leading up to the performance while final rehearsals were taking place. 

Daphne was then appointed Principal at Driver Primary School, a new suburb in Palmerston, and opened the school in 1985. Daphne remained at Driver until her retirement from teaching in 1990. 

Daphne’s years as an educator mean her past pupils consist of more than one generation of Darwin students. Daphne sees many of her past students in the community who all recognise her and she enjoys hearing where their life journey has taken them. 

Daphne had always been a member of Royal Lifesaving and joined Royal Lifesaving NT in 1967. She had a focus on reducing the drowning toll for underfives and lobbied the NT Government to introduce five free swimming lessons for under-fives. She was involved in setting up the Northern Territory Water Safety Advisory Council. 

In 1991 Daphne became the CEO of Life Saving Australia and along with John and Valerie, relocated to Sydney. During her role she was also an international referee and travelled around the world representing Australia and refereeing various events. It was during this time that Daphne met the Patron of Royal Life Saving, HM Queen Elizabeth II (three times) and visited Buckingham Palace. 

Daphne spent 5 years as CEO of Royal Life Saving Australia but Darwin was always home, and while they were still living in Sydney the family built a home in Gray in Palmerston. In 1996 the family returned to Darwin and Daphne retired but was involved in various voluntary roles. 

After a five-year break Daphne returned to the Somerville board in 1995 and was appointed President for the first time in 1982. Daphne has held this position many times over the years: 1988, 1997, 2003, 2009 and 2015, and has made a significant contribution to Somerville. 

Sadly, Valerie passed away in 2005 and Daphne lost John to cancer in 2007. 

Daphne Read AO and husband John Read

 Daphne with her late husband John Read.

Daphne has held many positions on boards and committees and has received a number of awards and accolades including: 

  • Officer of the Order of Australia (2002) 
  • Citizen of the Year for the Northern Territory (1998) 
  • Fellow of the Australian College of Educators 
  • Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors 
  • Seniors of Excellence NT (2015) 
  • Life Member of the Somerville Board 
  • Life Member of RLSSA NT 
  • Life Member of RLSS Australia 
  • Meritorious Service Medal Royal Life Saving Society Australia 

In Daphne’s words she is ‘never not busy’. 

Daphne is a well-known and much loved Territorian. She regularly participates in good governance professional development. Somerville is honoured and proud to have Daphne on our Board.