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Jessie (Iris) Graham OAM

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women logo
Jessie Graham

Awarded for service to the Community, service to the Arts

Born: 1915

Died: 1990

Entered on roll: 2005

Iris Graham was the pioneer of performing arts in Burnie. She either inaugurated or was an active contributor to every arts organisation in Burnie from the 1940s until her death in 1990.

Born in Victoria, Iris came to Tasmania at the age of four. Iris boarded at the Deloraine Convent before finishing her schooling at Stella Maris, Burnie, where her exceptional musical talent was recognised. Iris married in 1939 and had three sons and a daughter.

Iris had been offered a scholarship to study opera overseas, however she was prevented from pursuing this by the outbreak of World War II. She opened a music shop in Burnie and began teaching music and singing. She was also the organist at the Burnie’s Star of the Sea Church.

One of the first choral groups in Burnie was the Country Women’s Association Choir, Iris was an early member and continued as its conductor for some 30 years. Another of Iris’s initiatives was the formation, training and leadership of the Burnie Glee Club (now known as the Burnie Musical Society) in 1946. In 1956, the Glee Club presented the first of many full-scale musical productions.

Iris also established the Burnie Eisteddfod Society, was a long time President of the Tasmanian Music Teachers Association, and was active in the Arts Council.

In 1953, Iris became the first woman elected to the Burnie Municipal Council, serving until 1957. As a Councillor, Iris initiated the Burnie Thirty Thousand League, which played a strategic role in developing community support for the push to transform Burnie from an industrial town to a provincial city.

Iris was also involved in the Women’s Committee of the Burnie Surf Life Saving Club, and was a member of the North West ALP Sisterhood for most of her adult life. Iris contested a Legislative Council seat in May 1971, winning a healthy 40 per cent of the vote against the sitting member who was also the President of the Legislative Council. Following his death, Iris contested a by-election in December of the same year, but was not successful.

Iris was made a Life Member of the Burnie Eisteddfod Society and the Tasmanian Music Teachers Association. In 1981, she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to the community and the arts.

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