Meroula Lukis

Meroula (Mollie) Frances Fellowes Lukis, OBE, OAM, Hon DLitt, FLAA (1911-2009)

Obituary in The Australian Library Journal, November 2009, pp. 347-348 (prepared from notes provided by Lennie McCall and Margaret Medcalf and from the entry by R.C. Sharman in Harry Bryan’s ALIAS: Australia’s Library, Information and Archives Services – an encyclopaedia of practice and practitioners.  Sydney, ALIA Press, 1989).

Mollie was born on 13 August 1911 in Donnybrook, Western Australia. She lived on a farm at Balingup, being privately tutored until completing her Junior Certificate, after which she attended St Mary's Church of England Girls School. West Perth. She went on to the University of Western Australia and completed a BA Hons in 1932 and a Dip. Ed. in 1933.

After graduation she taught mathematics and from 1941-1944 worked on the measurement of weapon gauges at the Department of Defence in Melbourne.

Late in 1944, Dr J.S.Battye, the Principal Librarian of the Perth Public Library, persuaded the WA Government to establish a State Archives within the Library, and in 1945 Mollie was appointed the first State Archivist.

The appointee was a surprising choice: a young woman with maths training and no library or history experience. She started in March 1945 in one room with an operating budget of £250. She later acknowledged that when she read the job advertisement she had not known what an archivist was. Nevertheless, she was the first woman appointed as an archivist in Australia.

By the time of her retirement in 1971, after 26 years' service, the State Archives and the JS Battye Library of West Australian History were widely acclaimed as prime historical resources. Mollie was herself a valuable resource for researchers: having built up the collection she knew its contents and could guide people to the information they were seeking. In the days before computers she was the key.

Mollie was generous in her support for many community organisations, mainly in the fields of Western Australian history and the promotion of education and opportunities for women.

She was a member of the inaugural Library Board of Western Australia from 1952-1955 and again from 1974-1977. In 1964 she was awarded a Foundation Fellowship of the then Library Association of Australia in recognition of her archival work, and in 1989 she was appointed a Fellow of the Library Board.

Mollie was a strong supporter of the Western Australian Museum, most notably on the Maritime Archaeology Advisory Committee in 1965-71, for a time as its Chairman. This was a critical time when 17th century Dutch shipwrecks were being discovered along the WA coast and Commonwealth and State legislation was being formulated to deal with the situation.

Her support for women's rights was demonstrated in her active membership of the WA Committee for Equal Opportunity, 1958-73, culminating in the achievement of their purpose. She was a member of the Australian Federation of University Women (WA Branch) from 1947. This committee worked towards establishing a purpose-built University Women's College, achieved in 1960 under the name of St Catherine's College.

Mollie was a strong supporter of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. She advised the Society on its collection policy and kept the Society's records in her care at the Archives from 1955 onwards. She was a member of the Society's Council from 1953-59 and was created a Fellow of the Society in 1971.

In 1959 she became a foundation member of the National Trust of Australia (WA), and remained a member until 1975, serving on the Buildings Committee and the Publications Committee, writing extensively for Trust publications. In 1985 she co-authored with Alexandra Hasluck a photographic record of Perth entitled Victorian and Edwardian Perth.

In summing up her achievements in the ALIAS encyclopaedia, Bob Sharman refers to her 'pioneering zeal, intellectual integrity and unstinted efforts in the cause of the preservation of the evidences of Western Australian history’.

And a PS from Kerry Smith, former ALIA National President, in 2017:

'I'd never met Mollie Lukis, but she, like a number of other Australian librarians of her time, left an indelible mark on me as I read about them in my student days in the 1970s and 80s. Now, as I read through her obituary-prepared by three Western Australian librarians whom I admire - I see so many of our truly professional librarians in her story. They may not all have become archivists, but those that I know and respect have involved themselves in many community and intellectual endeavours - just like Mollie.  She was before her time and an inspiration to us all.'