Active campaigner for public housing in Glebe and advocate for women’s rights in the workplace Sarah Murdoch King – known to most Glebe locals as Sadie (and to some as the “Queen of Glebe”) – died on January 17 just one month after her 100th birthday.
Originally from Glasgow in Scotland, Sadie called Glebe home for over 73 years.
The Hon. Tanya Plibersek, federal member for the seat of Sydney and long-time friend, along with Sadie’s biographer, Janice Challinor, were with the centenarian on her birthday at Elizabeth Bay Lodge in Ruschutters Bay, where she’d moved in early December due to health issues.
Sadie’s funeral was held at St John’s Anglican church in Glebe on January 24, where she had been a parishioner for some years.
Janice Challinor described Sadie as a remarkable woman, an icon of Glebe, and a very private, proud and principled individual.
“These attributes were deeply rooted in her spiritual beliefs and her Scottish heritage. I found her to be first and foremost a humanist, whose ecumenical religious practices underpinned her public service.”
Sadie was extremely well known in the community because of her contributions in many fields and her interesting life story.
Sadie emigrated from Scotland to Australia as a child of 4 ½ with her parents in 1926. Two and a half years after they arrived her mother was run over and killed by an automobile in Newcastle where they lived. Her father struggled to support her on his own but when he lost his job in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression he could no longer do so, and with the help of his local Presbyterian minister placed her in care at Burnside Orphanage in North Parramatta.
Sadie spent the next nine years in care, but three years of this was in hospitals and a rehabilitation facility because she contracted and barely survived osteomyelitis. Upon leaving the home as a teenager she returned to live with her father on the Central Coast.
As WWII began she moved to Katoomba and, after working for a little while at Jenolan Caves House, went to work at the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow to contribute to the war effort. Her father joined her there on the Vickers machine gun production line. Unfortunately, he died suddenly on the way to work one day and was buried in the South Bowenfels Cemetery overlooking the plant. Sadie moved to work at the St Mary’s Munitions plant, doing a dangerous and dirty job filling shells.
When the war ended, she moved to Glebe and began working in a factory until she passed the Public Service Examination and joined the GPO. Shortly after she did so, she and other women workers were dismissed and their jobs given to returning servicemen. These women fought for their rights at work and Sadie was reinstated.
She continued to work for Australia Post at Sydney GPO for 36 years, during which time she joined the former Postal and Telegraph Union, now the CPU, where she was the first woman delegate on the executive and fought for women’s rights in the workplace for all of her working life – something she continued to do in retirement. She also joined the Australian Labor Party and was one of the first women to represent her union and fellow employees at state conferences which she continued to attend right up until the late 1990s.
When the Church of England began selling off public housing in Glebe where she lived, Sadie joined the fight to protect it from both the planned radial freeways, which were threatening to cut it into small urban islands, and from the disintegration of the Glebe Estate where she resided. The purchase of and rehabilitation of Glebe Public housing by the Whitlam Government in 1974 saved the day and Sadie became one of the first members of the Committee of Residents formed to advise the government on the Glebe Project.
Sadie’s many contributions to public life are documented in her biography, Glasgow to Glebe published in 2018, and she was recognised by the Labor Party and the Postal and Telegraph Union by being made a Life Member of both. She received a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1985 “for service to the trade union movement and to the community” and also continued to assist people as a JP and a residents’ spokesperson until relatively recently.
Sadie’s ashes will be placed in the church garden and a small name plate added to the church’s “honour board”.
Glasgow to Glebe can be purchased from Janice Challinor at firstname.lastname@example.org