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Devanny, Patricia (1913–1980)

by Jack Stephens

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Patricia Devanny (1913-1980), political activist, was born on 5 November 1913 at Puponga, New Zealand, second of three children of Francis Harold Devanny, miner, and his wife Jane, née Crook, both New Zealand born. Jane and Hal were active in the New Zealand Labour Party. In August 1929 the family emigrated to Sydney only to encounter the crisis of the Depression. Having taken part in demonstrations of the unemployed, the Devannys became involved in the communist movement. Patricia joined the Young Communist League and in November 1930 was arrested for participating in an unauthorized street demonstration and sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment. While she was in Long Bay gaol, a hunger strike was mounted by the Communist Party of Australia to support several men (the 'Clovelly Boys') imprisoned for burning the house of a landlord who had evicted an unemployed family. Patricia joined a number of other young women in this protest until her sentence ended eight days later.

Her resilience and courage, as well as her militant family connexions, recommended Devanny to the C.P.A. Early in 1931 she was selected to study at a communist international school in Moscow, where she was trained in Marxist-Leninist theory, organization and propaganda. This education was part of a worldwide reconstruction (bolshevization) of communist parties, directed towards creating a new cadre of party workers and leaders. On her return to Australia early in 1933, Devanny became national secretary of the Young Communist League. Despite having to contend at times with remarkable directives from the Young Communist International, including that of 'liquidating the bourgeois youth organisations', she maintained a discreetly critical detachment. Under her leadership the Y.C.L. changed from a semi-secret, street-cell formation to an open system of suburban clubs, with a sporting and social life, as well as political activity and discussion.

Early in 1939, with her husband Ronald William Jackson Hurd, a seaman who had fought with the British Battalion, XVth International Brigade, in the Spanish Civil War, she went to New Zealand where their only son was born. After the family returned to Sydney during World War II, Ron went back to sea and Pat assisted in establishing a women's auxiliary of the Seamen's Union which provided a club for seamen in Pitt Street, near Circular Quay. Following some years at Fremantle, Western Australia, in the late 1950s she broke with the communist movement and the family moved to Townsville, Queensland, where her parents were living. There she joined the Australian Labor Party, chaired its local women's branch and campaigned for Aboriginal rights. She later helped to form a women's crisis centre and to provide community assistance for overseas students at the James Cook University of North Queensland.

Devanny's early experience of the misery of unemployment and the harshness of police methods in the Depression made her a committed fighter for the underprivileged. Only 5 ft 2 ins (158 cm) tall and fundamentally gentle in nature, she could be roused by injustice to towering rage. She drowned on 5 December 1980 in a neighbour's swimming pool at Townsville and was cremated with Anglican rites; predeceased by her husband, she was survived by her son.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Devanny, Point of Departure, C. Ferrier ed (Brisb, 1986)
  • Labour History, 45, Nov 1983, p 94
  • private information.

Citation details

Jack Stephens, 'Devanny, Patricia (1913–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 March 2018.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012