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Noreen May Hewitt (1920–2012)

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Noreen May Hewitt, née Emerson (1920-2012) Communist ‘footsoldier’ and social activist 

Birth: 6 May 1920 in Guildford, New South Wales, daughter of Sydney-born parents George Emerson (1891-1934), storeman, and Alice Maud, née Gilroy (1893-1960). Marriage: 22 September 1944 in District Registrar’s Office, Ashield, to Sydney Harold Hewitt (1905-1987). They had two sons (including one step-son, Roy, who Sydney had from a relationship a few years prior to their marriage). Death: 26 February 2012 in Sutherland, NSW. 

  • Noreen's mother taught her to read and write before she went to school. She spent much of early life with relatives in Sydney due to her father's injuries during World War I. He returned home from war with a post-traumatic stress disorder which led to heavy drinking and suicide.
  • After death of her father Noreen took a secretarial course. Joined Repatriation Department. Joined Communist Party of Australia in 1941 after answering a door-knock and buying a copy of the Tribune. She remembered joining 'because it was illegal'.
  • She was 'a perfectly willing footsoldier' rank and file member. Assistant editor, Common Cause, the Miners' Federation journal, from 1947 to 1958; Helped to revive Miners' Women auxiliaries and became national coordinator.
  • Secretary of the Union of Australian Women and led national campaigns for adequate childcare, increased child endowment and price controls on basic food. Spoke regularly at factory gates about equal pay and better working conditions for women. Helped to establish the Union of Australian Women's working group.
  • Delegate to China for the 10th anniversary celebration of their Revolution. First Western female journalist to visit post-revolutionary China. Met with leaders of the Chinese Women's Movement and continued these relationships in the longer term.
  • Founder, with Joyce Golgerth, in May 1965 in Sydney, of the 'Save our Sons' group, which held almost daily demonstrations against conscription for the Vietnam War. She was motivated in part at least by her son Rex, and his cousin Les Emerson being called up to fight. Les became a conscript and Rex became a conscientious objector. Assisted in organising 'Caravan Against Conscription', which travelled through rural NSW.
  • Moved to Nelson Bay, NSW, in 1970 when husband retired. Became involved in successful local community campaign to stop a developer building apartment blocks on the foreshore. Left CPA early 1970s, joined Combined Pensioners' Association.
  • Returned to Sydney in early 1980s and became spokeswoman for the Combined Pensioners' Association, later named Australian Pensioners and Superannuants Federation. Helped form Older Women's Network in 1988 and remained active in network until 2011 shortly before her death.
  • Through the Older Women's Network met Dorothy Cora, who wrote her biography: Noreen Hewett: Portrait of a Grassroots Activist (2010). Continued other political activities including part of Maritime Union of Australia picket line at Botany Bay in 1998 when she was interviewed by Radio 2GB. Lived independently until 2009 when she moved into a hostel.

Sources
Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend, 4 November 1995; Adrienne Truelove, Sydney Morning Herald, 'Timelines', 24 April 2012 p 18: https://www.smh.com.au/national/spirited-activist-never-gave-up-fight-20120423-1xh5e.html

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Hewitt, Noreen May (1920–2012)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hewitt-noreen-may-32913/text40998, accessed 3 October 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012