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Each year National Council of Women NSW holds a luncheon to acknowledge women 90 years of age or older who have worked for women in their community. The lunches have been held since 1993 when National Council of Women of NSW and the Federation of Business and Professional Women of Australian, supported by the State Library, joined together to plan the celebration for Jean Arnot’s 90th birthday. Because of the great success on that occasion and at Jean’s suggestion, the committee decided to continue with a Jean Arnot Annual Luncheon.

Who was Jean Arnot?

Miss Jean Fleming Arnot, MBE, FLAA. (1903-1995) was educated at Fort Street Girls High School and hoped to attend University and study science. This could not be realised because of her father’s poor health and the need to assist financially in her home. Consequently, Jean started as an apprentice librarian at the State Library in 1921. Through application, study and hard work Jean Arnot moved through the library system to become acting Mitchell Librarian and head cataloguer prior to her retirement in 1968.

Jean was a passionate activist for women particularly the disparity of pay rates which led her to undertake the campaign for equal pay for equal work from the early 1930s. Sadly, it was only in the last 5 years of her employment that she benefited from her efforts to achieve equal pay for equal work in the Public Service.

Miss Arnot also took an active role in many women’s organisations, her trade union and professional association. She was a former President of the Sydney Business and Professional Women’s Association and National President of the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Associations. Jean was also very active in the National Council of Women, NSW serving as President and as Vice President. She was elected Honorary Life Vice President of the NCW in 1972 and was Honorary Life Vice President of the Pan Pacific and South East Asian Women’s Association and a member of the Board of Directors of The Women’s Club. Fittingly, Jean was awarded the MBE in 1965.

On Monday 14th August 2023 Graduate Women NSW was well represented at the Jean Arnot Recognition Awards Luncheon at Parliament House in the presence of Her Excellency The Honourable Margaret Beazley AC, KC, Governor of NSW.  The Parliamentary host was The Honourable Jodie Harrison MP, Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Graduate Women NSW had nominated two members, Jenny Bennett and Gaynor Reeves. 

The awards were presented alternately by the Minister and Her Excellency.   Jenny, who was accompanied by members of her family and North Shore Branch members, received hers from the Minister.   Gaynor was presented with her certificate by the Governor.  Gaynor’s daughter, Meriel, and member, Kay Bretreger, had travelled from Newcastle with Gaynor to share her presentation.

Jennifer Bennett – 17 June 1933

Jennifer has a remarkable history in community activities including Guiding, Pan-Pacific & South East Asia Women’s Association, Graduate Women and local groups. Notably these groups all promote the education and training of girls and women.

Jennifer was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, UK to Harold and Marjorie Gargett, the elder of two daughters, and grew up in Shrewsbury. She attended the local Trust Girl’s HS and later Westfield Women’s College of London University where she gained a Bachelor’s degree in history. Jenny had a brief career with a market research firm based in Manchester with which she travelled all over the UK. In these travels she met a young Australian engineer. The travel bug brought her to Sydney where she again worked in market research, and in 1959 married the engineer, Hugh Bennett and bought her home in Pymble where they raised three children.

Community service and volunteering is in Jenny’s blood. Her mother was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work during the war with the WVS and Jenny and her sister helped her after school. They also helped entertain the wounded soldiers who were invited to their house and the bombed out families her mother resettled.

Like many parents, Jenny and Hugh were on local committees for their children’s schools and sports as well as Girl Guides and Scouts. Jenny’s enthusiasm for Guiding began as a Guide in England. About 1970 she got involved in her local West Pymble group, rising to Commissioner at District, Division and Region, and then to the NSW State committees and Executive and the Australian Association. Retiring in 2007 she is now a “HAA” (Honorary Australian Associate) and a Trefoil Guild Member and a proud holder of a Wattle Award.

Guiding led Jenny to PPSEAWA where she was involved on the State and National Executive and led the Australian delegation to several overseas conferences. Around 1967 Jenny became involved in the North Shore Branch of Graduate Women and has remained a loyal member taking on executive positions at local and state level.

As the children grew and moved away Jennifer turned her focus on education and training to a wider context. In 1999 she did a course called Share our Language and tutored an Armenian couple. She also followed a new career gaining a Diploma of Education and working in local primary school libraries. For the past 20 years she helped convene the Abbotsleigh Wahroonga Community Adult Discussion Group.

Just for a change she has helped the local Meals on Wheels, continues to play tennis and croquet, and attend concerts, ballet, theatre and a long running book group. She combines this with her children and five grandchildren, and a great grandson in Sydney and Melbourne and regular contact with her extended family in England.

Jennifer’s ability and willingness to get others involved and to befriend those who are new to our country has helped lonely and marginalised people to be part of our community. We at Graduate Women have been privileged to share her generosity. We are proud to nominate her for a Jean Arnot Recognition award for her service to the community.

Gaynor Reeves OAM – 25 August 1933

Gaynor was born in Longreach, Queensland, to Edward and Beatrice Brindley. In 1944 Gaynor moved to Chatswood in Sydney to live with her grandmother as her parents and grandmother were very keen for her to receive the best education possible.

At High School Gaynor discovered her aptitude and great love for foreign languages and she studied Latin, French and German. At the University of Sydney she studied French and German gaining a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma in Education. She later studied Ancient Greek at the University of New England.

Gaynor began teaching at Gilgandra HS and then Quirindi. She married James Reeves, an Economics teacher at the end of 1954 and they moved to Sydney where she taught at her old school, North Sydney Girls’, for a year whilst her husband completed his Law studies and was admitted as a solicitor.

In 1956, Gaynor was appointed to Newcastle GHS where she taught until 1959. In 1960 Gaynor was asked to lecture for 3 hours per week in the Diploma of Education Foreign Languages Method where she continued until 1970 when she was appointed Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle. By this time Gaynor had three children – a daughter and two sons. In 1976 she completed her Master of Arts and was also appointed Director of the Language Laboratory. This led her to be the Director of the University’s beautiful new Language Centre in 1993. Gaynor retired in 1996.

In 1960 Gaynor, with Margaret Auchmuty, were founding members of the Australian Federation of University Women in Newcastle and the first Secretary and President of the Branch. Gaynor became the NSW President from 1998 to 2001.  She was also National Fellowship Convener and Assessor of AFUW Fellowships. In 2010 she was made Member Emerita of Graduate Women NSW.

Gaynor’s professional life was devoted to language study and learning. In 1976 she was a founding member of ALAA (Applied Linguistic Association of Australia) who on her retirement granted her Life Membership. Gaynor was chairman of the French Senior and Junior Syllabus Committees and of the HSC French Examination Committees. She also studied overseas. – in 1963 and 1986 with the French Government in New Caledonia and in 1970 Gaynor with the Goethe Institut in Germany. In 1990 Gaynor was invited to Beijing and Shanghai Universities to lecture in Academic English.

Gaynor has also been involved with many community activities such as the Hunter Adult Migrant Education Co-ordinating Committee, The German Saturday School, the Alliance Française, English programmes for Péchiney Aluminium and Garuda pilots, and French programmes for BHP metallurgists going to work in Liège. She was also chairman for 20 years of the Lunch with a Writer (part of the Friends of the University), the Biennial University Book Fair, the Newcastle Cathedral Outreach to the Community programme, ADFAS (Decorative Fine Arts Society), The Newcastle Club Art and Library Committee.

In 2021 Gaynor was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her community service. We are proud to have her as a member of Graduate Women NSW.