Vera Forde had been a ‘political wife’ for 20 years when Francis Michael (Frank) Forde served briefly as Prime Minister in July 1945.
The family, with 4 children of school age, moved from their Rockhampton home to Sydney when Forde was Army Minister in the Curtin government. This long absence from Forde’s Capricornia electorate was cited as a factor in Forde losing the seat in 1946. While not filling the electorate role that Elsie Curtin undertook, Mrs Forde’s public role can be glimpsed in the official trips she took with Forde when he was deputy Prime Minister.
In April 1945, Mrs Forde accompanied the Australian delegation to the conference that established the United Nations. In a radio interview on her arrival in San Francisco, she was greeted as ‘the first woman delegate’ at the conference. While she was not one of the 20 official members of the Australian delegation, she was required to undertake the usual ceremonial and social duties. In addition, she was required to do press and radio interviews and to give speeches in the United States and in London. She spoke on the impact of the war on families, on facilities for US servicemen in Australia, on wartime rationing, and on women serving in Australia’s defence forces.
From 1947 to 1953, Mrs Forde filled another official role for Australia, as wife of the High Commissioner to Canada. The Fordes lived at Ottawa’s Australia House, a 1910 mansion at 407 Wilbrod Street purchased by the Australian government in 1940 when the High Commission was established. Unlike his 2 predecessors, William Glasgow and Alfred Stirling, Forde brought a lively family to the house. Their 3 daughters, Mary, Mercia and Clare, were aged 15, 17 and 19, and their son Gerard was 12. The ground floor of the house was the scene of the many official functions at the High Commission, and for special family celebrations. There Gerard Forde met Leneen Kavanagh, whom he married in 1955, and who was the 22nd Governor of Queensland from 1992 to 1997.
On their return to Australia, the Fordes lived in the Brisbane suburb of St Lucia, where Mrs Forde died in 1967, aged 73.
From the National Archives of Australia collection
- Radio interview transcripts, press releases and speech notes of Vera Forde for visits to New Zealand and the United States, NAA: M4267, 11.