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Sarah Ellen (Nelle) Rickie (1887–1974)

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This entry is from People Australia

Sarah Ellen (Nelle) Rickie, née Robertson (1887-1974) actor, gaoled Socialist journalist, Communist and playwright 

Birth: 27 March 1887 at Myers Flat, Bendigo, Victoria, daughter of John Robertson (1851-1938).’manager’ born at Appin, Argyllshire, Scotland, and native-born Elizabeth, née Edwards (1858-1896). Marriages: (1) 14 November 1903 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, with Congregational forms to George Edwin Rickie (1886-1927), ‘theatrical’. They had one son. (b.1908). (2) 23 October 1929 at the Registrar General’s Office, Sydney, New South Wales, to Timothy James O’Sullivan, shearer and labour activist. They divorced in 1938. Death: 5 September 1974 at Bondi, Sydney, NSW. 

  • Actress prior to World War I.
  • Joined Victorian Socialist Party in 1916, becoming committee member. Member Women’s Socialist League.
  • Active anti-conscriptionist in 1917 with Robert Samuel Ross and others. With Jennie Baines, Bella Lavender and others was arrested early 1919 for flying Red Flag in Melbourne. Convicted and imprisoned (one month) in Pentridge Gaol after refusing to enter bond not to offend again, having a prior conviction for same offence.
  • Delegate to Melbourne Trades Hall Council from Theatrical Employees' Union; secretary of Victorian Labor College. With Percy Laidler, May Francis and others, was foundation member of first Melbourne branch of Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in 1920. Foundation member of Labor Propaganda Group in 1922. Member CPA central executive 1924.
  • Moved to NSW in 1924. Was associated with Newcastle Trades and Labour Council and local Workers' Club. Also secretary of local Theatrical Employees’ Union.
  • CPA candidate for State seat of Botany in 1925. Made headlines nationwide by making the “wild proposal” that Communists were opposed to a White Australia.
  • Playwright for the New Theatre, Sydney, with several plays staged between 1933 and 1935. Acted in her own plays. Wrote regular newspaper column; also had a radio program. Plays: Beyond the Road (staged 1933), The Emissary (1933), Weights and Measures (1933), Ladies of Hades (1935).
  • Death certificate provides no information of parents or marriage, it merely states she was a widow born in Victoria. Cause of death: cerebral haemorrhage, cerebral atherosclerosis and urinary tract infection.

Alistair B. Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia 1920-35: policy and organisation, Ph.D thesis, (ANU, 1966); Joy Damousi, Ph.D Socialist Women in Australia, c.1890-c.1918, Ph.D thesis (ANU, 1987); B. Walker, Solidarity Forever: a part story of the life and times of Percy Laidler (Melbourne, 1972; Symons 1994; Workers' Weekly, 24 April 1925; Labor Call, 5 March 1925; information from Laurel Burns, 2003-4 & Yvonne Schofield 2004.

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Citation details

'Rickie, Sarah Ellen (Nelle) (1887–1974)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Nelle Rickie, 1925

Nelle Rickie, 1925

Workers Weekly (Sydney) 24 April 1925, p 1

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Robertson, Sarah Ellen
  • O'Sullivan, Sarah Ellen

27 March, 1887
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia


5 September, 1974 (aged 87)
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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