DE JERSEY, Phyllis (1922-2018)

President 1970-1971. Life Member 1973

Former Society president, and life member, Phyllis de Jersey died at Wagga Base Hospital on Monday 21st March 2017. Phyllis, came to Wollongong in 1959 as a supervisor at the Wollongong telephone exchange.  ‘Respectable young ladies’ of Phyllis’ generation, especially if they lived in the country, had few career options. They either worked as shop assistants, teachers, nurses, governesses or in telephone exchanges.  If they worked in a government office, marriage ended their careers as women were forced to resign as soon as they married.  It wasn’t until 1966 that women in the Commonwealth Public Service could continue to work after marriage.

Phyllis’ parents were Henry and Isabella de Jersey.  They had married in 1911 and their daughter, Thelma, was born in 1913 at Marrickville in Sydney.  Nine years later, Phyllis was born.  Henry was a telephone technician with the Post Master General’s Department. About 1925, the family moved to Bowral where Phyllis’ parents became involved in church and community activities. During the 1940’s, her father was an alderman on the Bowral Municipal Council. The entire family was involved in the Bowral Choral Society.

Phyllis followed the examples of her parents and her older sister.   During her long lifetime, she was a devoted member of the Anglican Church and a regular attendee of the various churches in the towns where she lived.  During her time in Wollongong, Phyllis attended St Michael’s.

After she passed her Intermediate Certificate, Phyllis was employed as an operator at the Bowral Telephone Exchange.  In 1948, she passed the examination that enabled her to gain promotion to a monitor and she was transferred to West Wyalong.  She was posted to Queanbeyan in 1949 where Phyllis passed her examination to be a supervisor.  A posting to Young followed and then to Carcoar in 1953.

Phyllis was transferred to Wollongong in 1959 where the exchange was in the Post Office in lower Crown Street.  Local calls were automatically connected but calls to areas out of Wollongong and international calls still required the intervention of an operator.  It was also possible to call the exchange to find out the telephone number or address of a telephone subscriber, report difficulties and other information services.  The service was free.

Soon after her arrival in Wollongong, Phyllis joined the Illawarra Historical Society.  She was Society secretary for many years and became the first woman president in 1970-1971.  She was also involved in the establishment and early operation of the Illawarra Museum in 1966.  The Society awarded her life membership in 1973.

Phyllis’  mother died in 1966 and her father came to Wollongong to live with her.  Phyllis and Harry moved to Wagga Wagga in 1973.  Once again, she got involved with the church and history.  She became the archivist at St John’s Anglican Church and a member of the Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society. Phyllis was also an active supporter of Save The Children and other charity fundraising, a member of Probus and the St Johns’ church choir. 

Phyllis wrote or compiled several historical works including Where the river runs : a history of the Anglican Parish of Wagga Wagga with Dorothy Fellowes and Thomas Frame and Wagga Wagga Grammar School : 1915-1946 with Sherry Morris.  During her time in Wollongong, Phyllis was a regular contributor to the Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin.

Phyllis always regarded herself as a ‘country girl’ who just got on with things. Despite a bit of arthritis, she enjoyed good health throughout most of her life.  She passed away after only a brief illness.

John Shipp

March 2018