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Ethel Marian (Maie) Casey AC

1892 – 1983

Ethel Marian (Maie) Casey AC, Baroness Casey (1892-1983), chatelaine, artist, pilot and author, was born in Melbourne, the daughter of the Surgeon General, Sir Charles Ryan. At fourteen she went to boarding school in England, and she later attended the Westminster School of Art. She married Richard Casey in London in 1926. In the early 1930s they settled in Canberra, living at Duntroon and then in a house designed for them in the suburb of Yarralumla. During the 1930s she continued her studies in art, commuting regularly to Melbourne; to facilitate her travels she learned to fly, and she was later a founder of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association. Though a mother of two, her primary concern was advancement of her husband’s career; in the 1940s, Robert Menzies dubbed her Lady Macbeth. (Casey is the subject of a chapter in Kay Saunders’s 2011 book, Notorious Australian Women.) She accompanied Casey on his postings to Washington, Cairo and Calcutta, where, as vicereine, she became first President of the Indian Institute of Art in Industry in 1945. In October 1953 Casey flew a Fairchild 24 in Australia’s first air race for women. From 1960, she was Lady Casey; she and Casey regularly flew themselves between engagements, and she continued to fly into her 80s. In 1965, with the appointment of Casey as governor-general, she moved into Government House, to which she brought many artists and writers. She was an early patron of Sidney Nolan’s, and was friends with the Drysdales. She drew Patrick White’s portrait in 1969; he dedicated The Eye of the Storm to her in 1972. Her own books, several of them autobiographical, include An Australian Story, 1837-1907 (1962), Tides and Eddies (1966) Melba Re-visited (1975) and Rare Encounters (1980) as well as two volumes of verse and a musical libretto. Her honours include the Kaisar-I-Hind Medal, the Africa Star and the Amelia Earhart Medal.

Maie Casey is shown here at the controls of the Miles Messenger which Casey purchased in England in 1953. She had just piloted the plane between Reading and Maidenhead, with her fur as protection against the elements. In September 1953 the plane (rebadged AVQ or ‘Able Victor Queen’ to commemorate the Coronation) was shipped on the Port Wyndham to Queensland. It is now in the Australian National Aviation Museum in Moorabbin.

Updated 2018