28° south: The rise and rise of aviatrix and fashion designer Ivy Hassard
If a browse through the State Library collections are anything to go by, Queensland has never suffered a drought of female agency. Our archives are salted with women who cut their own path, following only their gut instinct. These notions became Dangerous Women, State Library’s podcast delving into the lives of five women from our past and present who achieved great things, and whose stories bring us closer to the reality that we can too.
The podcast finds harmony with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘Choose to Challenge’, which encourages us to stand up to gender inequality and choose to celebrate the achievements of women.
Ipswich born Ivy May Hassard (nee Pearce) (1914 -1998) frequently challenged the status quo throughout her life. Ivy was among the first cohort of women pilots in the southern hemisphere, and one of the first aerobatic pilots in Australia.
In her Dangerous Women podcast episode, Ivy’s equally captivating daughter Laurene tells us Ivy’s parents gave her a choice of music lessons or flying lessons and the trained concert pianist decided the appeal of flying was greater than the fortes. In August 1934 Ivy had her first flying lesson with Airlines of Australia pilot Captain Ernest Jason Hassard and was flying solo after seven and a half hours of instruction.
Ivy spent many afternoons at the aerodrome at Archerfield, flying and studying aviation. Within a year she had completed 30 hours of solo flying and was twisting a Tiger Moth into manoeuvres in the sky. At the time ‘girl pilots’ were often looked upon as a novelty, but to dismiss Ivy as merely a glamour girl would be underestimating her tenacity and skill. At 22 she was the youngest entrant and the fastest ranked woman in the 1936 Brisbane to Adelaide Centenary air race, coming in two seconds behind the eventual winner and beating Reg Ansett, the founder of Ansett Airlines. Flying a Monospar ST-12 VH-UTK with Jason as her copilot, their flying time over the three day race was 8hrs 40mins. A member of the Royal Queensland Aero Club, she flew in numerous aerobatic pageants and air races, winning 12 cups along the way and becoming one of the first women to compete in a twin engine aircraft.
For four years I have held down a man's work at a man's wage," she said proudly. "During that time I have not missed a single day through sickness. It is hard and heavy work”, she confessed, “but it is worthwhile."
Romance blossomed between Ivy and Jason and they married on 12 June 1937 at St John’s Cathedral. Three of Ivy’s girlfriends who were also pilots flew over the cathedral and scattered the wedding party with confetti. The darling of Australian aviation and the stoic Captain Hassard were media gold and the nuptials were rhapsodised in the press.
Three children followed, Jason, Darryl and Laurene. Marital happiness however was elusive. The couple divorced on 26 October 1950, with the judge granting Ivy a decree nisi for divorce on the grounds that Jason had deserted the family around February 1946. Ivy was awarded custody, the action was not defended and Ivy found herself a single mother of three in 1950s Queensland.
By this time she and the children had moved 28° south of the Equator, to the Gold Coast. Ivy saw potential in what was then a sleepy seaside township and with typical verve applied her work ethic and sophisticated sense of style to open one of the very earliest fashion boutiques on the Gold Coast in 1947 (possibly 1946), in a small room behind the main shops in Surfers Paradise. The Exclusive Salon carried only the latest women's styles and when her creations began outselling everything else, she pursued her talent for design and didn't look back.
I had a girl for alterations. I designed and made those garments with strapless tops and full skirts worn over gathered petticoats. I ended up with 16 girls making frocks and bikinis after three years."
A business partnership with fellow Queensland designer John Dolby proved creatively fruitful. In keeping with her proclivity for setting trends, on 6 August 1954 Ivy and John staged the first fashion parade on the Gold Coast, with 1000 people crowding the ballroom of the Surfers Paradise Hotel to witness the breakthrough event (at a time when the population of the Gold Coast was 20,000). Iconic model June Dally-Watkins flew in from Sydney and floated down the catwalk in a gown that took three months to embroider. The night was not without drama with a wholesaler from Melbourne discovered photographing each of the designs with a miniature spy camera, refusing when John Dolby warned him to stop. The show "1954 Vacation Fashions" garnered national press attention and buoyed by her vision for the future, Ivy’s eye for capturing modernity in a garment was in demand.
We hope to make Surfers Paradise the beach fashion centre for Australia. Just as Capri is the centre for Rome, we feel Surfers' could attain the same importance in the local fashion world.”
A fixture of the Gold Coast, Ivy was often seen driving around town in her Morris Major, behind a pair of cat eye sunglasses peering stylishly over the steering wheel. After 11 years Ivy sold her boutique and expanded her interests, opening two beauty and hairdressing salons, Jolie Madam in 1960 and another in the Chevron Hotel, catering to the clientele who wore her clothing and the tourists who came to experience the burgeoning Gold Coast destination culture. In 1968, seeing the shop she built standing empty reignited her passion for the sartorial and she opened Ivy Hassard Fashions in Centrepoint Arcade.
Laurene had grown into her mother's model and muse, the two travelling internationally to showcase designs in Beirut, Washington, Hong Kong, Honolulu and Kuwait as part of the Australian Trade Fair. Although Ivy never considered leaving Surfers Paradise, "Never in a millions years darling. I just adore it here!" (Woman's Day, 10 January 1977, pg.13).
Laurene's memories of modelling her mother’s designs at the Concours d'Elegance conjure up an aura of 1970s Surfers Paradise - lurex, decadence and prawn cocktails, the air heavy with Charlie perfume and the smell of the ocean. Held at the Chevron Hotel, luxury cars were matched with each design and designers competed for the title of Supreme Award winner, of which Ivy won twice, as well as five other awards during the decade. The event aimed to build up the association of the Gold Coast as a high fashion, glamorous destination during the 1960s and 1970s, so where else would Ivy be except right in the middle of the action.
Laurene says Ivy would have never considered herself a feminist, and such was her prerogative. Although, flying tiger moth planes as a teenager, raising three children as a single mother, divorcing an absent husband, running several successful businesses, all at a time when these kinds of activities were thoroughly frowned upon for women, sounds very much like feminist behaviour. And while she had passionate love affairs in the years following her divorce, she never remarried, choosing her independence over any proposal. Laurene emphatically states she ‘would never let a man make her decisions’. The only label Ivy was interested in was the one with her name sewn onto her designs.
Guts and glamour were not mutually exclusive in Ivy’s world. Hard working with the ambition to match, she defied conventional expectations of women in mid-century Queensland, living fearlessly and with style.
Dangerous Women is a podcast by State Library of Queensland, hosted by Holly Zwalf, produced by Snaggletooth Productions and supported by Queensland Library Foundation’s Crowd Giving fundraising campaign.
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