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Delcia Ivy (Delce) Kite (1923–2012)

by Rodney Cavalier

Alexander Henry Smith was a shearer and he was the son of a shearer. He had been born in Barcaldine, no less, when the Labor Party was an infant. His own father was present at the birth of the Australian Workers Union and the ALP. In 1921 Alec Smith married Ivy Margaret Clarke from Longreach. They were soon blessed with a son, then a daughter, Delcia Ivy, in 1923, followed by another daughter.

The children grew up in Rosebery, one of three Sydney suburbs named after a UK Prime Minister. The family home was Boston Villa in Rothschild Avenue, a grand name for a modest house in a suburb which was unremittingly Labor. Whereas tales of strikes and the party’s founding is now the stuff of university seminars and learned writings, for Delcia it was the story of her family and the tradition she had entered. The honouring of that tradition would occupy her life.

Shearing took Mr Smith away for much of the year, following where the work was. Mrs Smith remained with the children in the interests of stability and settled schooling. Mr Smith was a gun shearer, he earned good money, he was savvy with what he had. Once upon a time, every Australian knew what a gun was. Not now. A good shearer was capable of shearing about 120 sheep per day in four runs of 30 sheep. Mr Smith managed 225-226 day after day.

When Mrs Smith’s sister was in need, three children in tow, they came to stay in Rosebery. So it was before the welfare state: a Labor family looked after its own. The Smith children did not go without. The extended family did not go without. Nine people sleeping under the one roof was condition normal for Delcia, a condition she consciously replicated in future homes where she controlled arrangements.

Being a gun, Mr Smith always had work. Money did not stop even during the Depression. During the Second World War, Mr Smith moved into mental health nursing and started to lease and operate hotels. While in the sheds at Bombala working for Peaden, a local contractor, Mr Smith met Frederick Thomas Kite, a lad from Bombala, all of 17, enterprising, accustomed to hard work in occupations now forgotten. Fred was employed as a rouseabout to pick up after the shearers. The fleece fell from three parts of the body. Fred had to toss the fleece onto the right rack. Between seasons, he caught rabbits with a ferret which he duly skinned (the rabbits, that is). He dug out tea trees. He was learning how to shear and was soon enough good at it.

In January 1942 Fred joined the Army. A family history records that he went on drops of supplies by US aircraft before joining the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion of the 7th Division. His service included Morati, Borneo, Balipapan. Mr Smith had become very fond of Fred and invited him to call on him in Sydney. Fred took up the offer and duly called on Mr Smith at the Abercrombie at Chippendale. On that visit Fred met Mr Smith’s beautiful daughter.

Delcia had enjoyed the company of young men. She had been engaged once before. While the War continued, the courtship was limited. Nothing would happen until the uncertainties had passed, a characteristically firm Delcia dictat. Fred was discharged in June 1946. Delcia and Fred married in October. A little over one year later, Delcia gave birth to Kenneth who lived for four days. The loss of her first born had an impact on Delcia which we can only ponder. His memory was always with Delcia. Three more children arrived in quick order – Darryl in 1949, Raelene 1950 and Maureen 1952.

Mr Smith had organised a wine bar in Good Street, Granville, for the newly weds to own and run and live above. Partly for reason the children had a backyard in which to play. The friendship between Fred and Mr Smith was the rock on which many lives were built. Mr Smith had been acquiring dilapidated houses and terraces in inner suburbs like Redfern and Waterloo, refurbishing them and on-selling. Fred joined him. They founded a partnership which lasted for the rest of Mr Smith’s life. There came a moment when they kept the houses they had acquired and rented them. The income was handsome, certainly sufficient to replace the income from the wine bar and enable Delcia to be a full-time at-home mother. In 1960 the Kites moved from Granville to a good family home in Hopetoun Avenue, Vaucluse.

When Delcia and her siblings were very young, when Mr Smith was absent for so much of the year, the six weeks around Christmas were especially precious to her  - that was when her father came home to the family for a prolonged period. The family went camping at Macmasters Beach on the NSW central coast, a place then largely deserted. Mr Smith loved the place. As soon as he was able, he acquired a shack on the beach and all the land that was available for purchase.

Childhood years in that place – with memories of her father and the extended Smith family all together – gifted Delcia her father’s passion for Macmasters. This was her favourite place on all the earth. Christmases there with her mother and father in the fullness became Christmases with her own children and their children. The shack gave way to a modern home, the grandest home in the vicinity, large enough for a horde to stay in comfort and privacy. At Macmasters Delcia and Fred had their honeymoon.

When Mr Smith died, Delcia was said to have inherited 26 houses in and around Redfern, a matter of considerable comment by the envious during the faction wars of the 1970s. The number was a myth which Delce did not discourage. Mr Smith’s estate was divided several ways. Delcia did inherit a valuable portfolio of real estate in the inner suburbs of Sydney. She was almost certainly the richest Member of the NSW Parliament. Delcia was a stalwart in the Vaucluse Public School P&C, devoted to baking cakes and making toffees for the fetes. She encouraged her children in their sports of running, swimming and tennis. Bondi Beach was nearby, a place where teenagers with normal interests had a lot of fun.

Even as their mother became immersed in the ALP and the Left as then it was, the children joined the local branch to keep up the numbers but otherwise made their own decisions about what they wanted to do. Fred dropped out of the party, drifting to the Left. The children remember the branch books at home and handing out on election day.

Big names in the Labor Left were under constant mention. By the time that Delcia had secured a hammerlock on Left preselection for the Legislative Council in 1975, the children were married and interstate. Delcia could and did throw herself into parliamentary and factional activity unrestrained. Mr Smith lived to see his daughter take her seat in the Council but not for much longer.

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Citation details

Rodney Cavalier, 'Kite, Delcia Ivy (Delce) (1923–2012)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012