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History of the
Zonta Club of Perth

It is incredible how one small idea can grow into something truly special.  The Zonta Club of Perth is rooted in the belief that we all have an inherent responsibility to make a meaningful difference in our community. With a variety of active projects and a large volunteer staff, we harness our skills and resources to successfully achieve our goals.

Since our founding in 1971, we have been proud to witness how our activities have benefitted the Western Australian community and beyond. 

Below are extracts from the Zonta Club of Perth History Book, which cover the feature projects from the past 50 years.  For more information on the projects and awards, please see our history book.   

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The Zonta Club of Perth was chartered on April 5th 1971 and consisted of 27 members 

Photo above, left to right: Harriette Yeckel, President Elect of Zonta International, presents the Club Charter to inaugural Club President, Susan Fletcher under the watchful eye of WA Premier, John Tonkin.

The Charter Members










Barbara HALE

Shirley HUGALL




Antoinette KENNEDY




Margaret MEDCALF




Joanne PAYNE


Roberta TATOM




L-R: Yvonne Roberts, Patricia Young and Beryl Grant

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Antoinette Kennedy

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L-R: Susan Fletcher, Lennie McCall and Patricia Young

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June Lewis

Margaret Giles

1970s Feature Project: The Power Puff Derby Air Race

In November 1972, the club formed a Committee to raise funds for the RFDS (Western Australasian Section), publicise the RFDS in the USA and hopefully attract American donors to the cause. To this purpose the RFDS sponsored Robin Miller and Rosemary de Pierres, members of the ZC Perth, in the most publicised women’s air race, the 1973 Transcontinental Air Race popularly known as the Powder Puff Derby.

Robin was a pilot nurse with the RFDS and Rosemary de Pierres lived on a farm at Wyalkatchem 225km north of Perth where the community benefitted from its air ambulance services. This was a charity close to their hearts.

The Committee made approaches to companies in the USA and in WA resulting in a substantial sum being raised, including the donation of a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft for use in the race. The Australian Wool Board donated specially designed flying suits and woollen banquet gowns.

The project raised $5,030 in cash donations and a further $4,382 in donations in kind.

The committee included the pilots, as well as Margaret Giles and Lennie McCall. Legal advice was provided by Jonathan Bilbery and financial advice by Kevin J Meyer. The Club met all the administrative costs and publicity was launched in January 1973. Twenty-one publicity kits were posted to the air race organisers, various media sources, Zonta International headquarters and Zonta Clubs along the race route from California to New York State.

As the Miller/de Pierres crew were the only Australian entrants, a full-page coverage was given in an Australian national women’s journal.

In a field of 104 entrants of the world’s top women pilots, many of whom had competed in previous derbies, the West Australians, after handicapping results were placed 36th.

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Rosemary de Pierres was the pilot for the Powder Puff Derby

Robin Miller was the navigator for the Powder Puff Derby

The Sugar Bird Lady


Robin Elizabeth Miller The 'Sugar Bird Lady'

Robin Elizabeth Miller is well remembered in WA as the 'Sugar Bird Lady'.

Her father was Australian pioneer pilot Horrie Miller, co-founder of MacRobertson Miller Airlines, and her mother was Mary Durack, author of 'Kings in Green Castles' that tells the story of the Durack family that pioneered much of the cattle country in north western WA.

In 1967 Robin obtained permission from the Department of Health to carry out a

poliomyelitis immunisation program in the north west of the state.

She borrowed money to buy a Cessna 182 and flew herself to remote communities, flying 69,200 km and administering over 37,000 doses of the Sabin oral vaccine.

The Aboriginal children dubbed her the 'Sugar Bird Lady' as she would land her plane and feed them the vaccine on a lump of sugar.

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Representation of the Mooney aircraft flown by the Sugar Bird Lady at Jandakot Airport

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The plinth under the Sugar Bird Memorial at Jandakot Airport

In 1970 she received the Nancy Bird (Walton) award as Australia’s woman pilot of the year.

She regularly flew aircraft for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and was always on call and flew in all types of weather, responding to a range of emergencies and coping with difficult or frightened patients. Her book, Flying Nurse, published in 1971, provided a lively account of her career.

A representation of her Mooney aircraft was unveiled at Jandakot Airport opposite the Royal Flying Doctor Service on 20 May 1978.

Harold Dicks compiled her biography Sugar Bird Lady from Robin's manuscript and diaries, and this was published in 1979.

Nancy Bird Walton (honorary life member of Zonta Sydney 1 Club) suggested that the Zonta Club of Perth Club raise $200 for the cost of a tree and marble slab to be placed in her memory in the Forest of Friendship at Atchison, Kansas, the birthplace of Amelia Earhart.

The money was raised, and in 1981, Robin Miller was inducted posthumously into the International Forest of Friendship. This arboretum features aviation's history makers,

and her name now sits alongside those of Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, the Wright brothers and other aviation pioneers and astronauts.

In 1976 she was also posthumously awarded the Paul Tissandier Diploma by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and the Brabazon Cup by the Women Pilots' Association of Great Britain.

Horrie and Robin Miller are also commemorated at Perth International Airport with the main thoroughfare known as 'Horrie Miller Drive' and a new side road named 'Sugar Bird Lady Drive'.

Tragically, in 1975 her life was cut short by cancer at the age of just 35. 

1980s Feature Project: Zonta Dairy Village in Chom Bung, Rajburi, Thailand

This had come about unexpectedly through a fellowship and fundraising function held in 1982. Overseas teachers studying in Perth had entertained Zontians and guests (and cooked an international dinner for them), which raised $200. It was thought appropriate to send this money to the Club’s Friendship Country, Thailand, and the Zonta Club of Bangkok passed it on to a dairy project which they were sponsoring.

The Zonta Dairy Project was a self-help community scheme for needy and homeless families settling them on a tract of land obtained for this purpose and supported by the Ursuline Mission Sisters.

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Ellen Cox (fourth from left) visits the Zonta Dairy Village in June 1987

 The Zonta Dairy Village 's packaging

1990's Feature Project:

Zonta Art Shows and Holidays

Many families in Western Australia find it very tough to make ends meet, especially those who also cope with disability, unemployment or crises. Sometimes just a short break from the daily hardships could make such a difference to the lives of these families.


In the 1980s, Club members included social workers who saw the problems disadvantaged families faced first hand. They understood the health and emotional benefits that a short holiday would give to families in need – those for whom holidays were a dream, not a reality – and they set about finding a way to provide them.


In 1980 Mrs Linda Samonas spoke to the Club about holiday relief schemes. Following this, the Service Committee spent a great deal of time researching and establishing criteria for a holiday relief scheme for families in need. $200 was allocated to a special fund to ‘seed’ the project.


The Club decided that the best way to provide holidays as an ongoing project would be to establish a separate holiday fund and use the interest from the fund to pay for holidays. A lot of money would be needed to ensure the self-sustainability of the project.


This is where the Zonta Art Shows came in.

1993 L-R Wendy Alford, Diane Doherty and Helen Congrues admire the displays over a glass of wine

1993 MC Verity James (left) receives a bouquet from Wendy Alford (right), while Mrs Ruth Reid, the wife of the WA Governor looks on.

The Zonta Art Shows 

Zonta Club of Perth’s fundraising event, the Zonta Art Show, began in 1980 as an ‘Art Adventure’ in President Jean Oldham’s home, raising $3,159 for the Holiday Relief Fund.


Between 1983 and 1987, similar events raised more than $15,000 for the club. The art shows grew in popularity and in 1989, the Bay Gallery of Fine Art in Claremont became its new home. Later shows were held at the Moore’s Building in Fremantle and Fremantle Prison TAFE workshops. The exhibition attracted a steady stream of visitors and buyers, with over $59,000 worth of artwork sold in 1991, and more than $8,000 in 1993.

Zonta’s first Emerging Artist Award was presented at the 1995 event at the Moore’s Building. The award received accolades from the art fraternity, with the winner, Anna Sabidini, acknowledging the support of the club in promoting her work. The event received significant PR and media coverage, with articles published in community newspapers, making more people aware of Zonta and its community projects.

As competition increased with 12 other charities and schools running similar art shows, profits declined, leading to the event being put on hold for a couple of years. Members began to visit artists’ studios, with visits to Leon Pericles, Cedric Baxter, and Ian de Souza’s studios proving enjoyable, educational, and profitable. The visits inspired members with new ideas, leading to new and creative concepts that kept the club ahead of the competition without losing the Zonta Art Show tradition.

The 1999 Art Show held at the Moore’s Building, Fremantle raised over $11,000, featuring decorated pots as a new medium, unleashing hidden talents in the ‘Hon Zons’, Bill Lingard and John Oldham. The event was successful in triggering financial buoyancy, thanks to Wendy MacGibbon, Wendy Alford, Jean Oldham, Mary Baynham, and Jill Wood. 

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1993 Margaret Medcalf with the magnificent glassware

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1993 Ceramics showed a diverse range of shapes and styles

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1993 Hand crafted serving utensils were very popular

1993 Wendy MacGibbon with the colourful textiles

Zonta Holiday Relief Scheme


The Zonta Holiday Relief Scheme was established in the 1980s and provides relief to hundreds of families. Cathy Spitteler was the brainchild of the scheme, and the club agreed to put $200 into a special fund to form a nucleus for an ongoing project. Funds raised from the Art Shows and other fundraising activities were added to the special fund so that the interest from it could be used to pay for the holidays. Each family only needs to pay for food and entertainment themselves. The number of families benefitting varied depending on how much money was in the fund at the time and what interest it earned.

By 1982, $5,000 had been raised and put in a settled fund, and the first recipients to have holidays were the needy parents of disabled children. In 1989 the name was changed from the Zonta Holiday Relief Scheme to the Zonta Holiday Trust to reflect the fact that holidays were paid for from the interest on the capital in the trust fund. The Club has to find suitable families that need a break. In the early years, applications were received from Ngala, Princess Margaret Hospital, Department of Community Health, and the Mental Health Services on behalf of deserving families. Over the years, other agencies have also applied, including the Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre, Wanslea, Royal Perth Hospital (RPH) and the Silver Chain Nursing Association.

In 1992 the Club provided two separate holidays for groups of women from the Zonta House Refuge who had been victims of domestic violence. The Albany East Rotary Club owns and operates Friendship House, a comfortable, fully furnished, three-bedroom house accommodating up to six people. Friendship House has been the destination of choice, and when the rents were doubled in 1991, it remained an ideal and economically feasible place to send families. 

Since the late 1980s, Broadway Travel in Nedlands has attended to the bus bookings for families, and this relationship continued until the project ceased. In 1997, when Friendship House was being renovated, the Swan Brewery Social Club responded to our plea for accommodation and eight families enjoyed a holiday at Swan Cottages at Point Peron. As Friendship House became more popular other venues in Mandurah and the Yanchep area were sourced. Some holidays have also been taken in accommodation offered by Club members.

Sadly, in 2018 the Club agreed to cease the holidays.

The Zonta Art Shows and Zonta Holidays hold a special place in the Club's history: they brought all members together to hold the events, and for nearly 30 years, the Zonta Holidays helped many families in need.

"For many who go to Friendship House, it is their first holiday ever or at least the only one they have had in many years, and we do have many calls of gratitude and enthusiasm for the program."

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Zonta Holidays are mostly taken at Emu Point, Albany where there is a lovely sheltered, shallow beach.

There are also lots of pelicans, tourist boats and play grounds for children.

2000s Feature Project - Our Ngarinyin Friendship

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Back row L-R: Carole Theobald (kneeling), Angela Fisher, Freda Jacob, Jacqueline Power (friend), Margaret Medcalf, Yvonne Burgu. Middle row: Maudie White, Lucy Ward, Marg Giles, Kathy Charlesworth, Pansy Nulgit, Karen Groves, Lennie McCall. Front row: Lyn McArthur, Marlene O'Meara, Wendy MacGibbon, Sciona Browne, Judy Tennant and Jilgie Morungu

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Pansy and Lucy follow bees into a rock hollow to retrieve sugar bag, a sweet sticky treat!

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The Zonta Club of Perth has a special friendship with the wonderful senior Ngarinyin lawwomen ...who live nearly 3,000 kilometres from the metropolitan area of Perth.


The indigenous people in Australia have had a torrid history since the settlement of Australia by Europeans over two hundred years ago. Through a complex range of policies and practices this has resulted in many of the traditional owners of the land being among its most disadvantaged. It is a situation shared by many indigenous people around the world whose land at one time or another was settled by a colonial power.


There are four Ngarinyin communities along the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley region of Western Australia: Imintji (Mount House Station), Kupungarri (Mount Barnett Station), Ngallagunda (Gibb River Station) and Dodnun (Mount Elizabeth Station). Together their population is less than 1,000 people.​


This story begins with two remarkable women meeting at a conference in Perth, Western Australia.

Kathy Charlesworth had an interest in the dynamics of indigenous displacements since 1963, when she lived in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. Prior to that, she had also seen displacement of the Bedouin people in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.


Kathy, who died in 2010, was a Fremantle-based photojournalist, a trusted friend of the Ngarinyin people and often lived with the Ngarinyin women during her prolonged visits to the Kimberley region. She understood their culture, hopes and aspirations and shared in the joys and sadness of the communities for over forty years.


Sciona Browne, member of the Zonta Club of Perth is an entrepreneur and former test pilot. She has lived and was educated in most states of Australia and has strong connection with the land. Sciona is passionate about the aims of Zonta International and through discussions with Kathy sought ways for the two communities to meet.

The rest, they say, is history and between 2004 and 2010 the club was intimately involved with the Ngarinyin women. The relationship is best described through a number of ‘stories’ that provide first-hand accounts of the adventures

The full story of the Ngarinyin Friendship can be found in the Zonta Club of Perth History Book

Wandjina and owl at Crocodile rock

2010's Feature Project:

Helping those seeking refuge

The Zonta House Refuge Association was established in 1984 by the Zonta Club of South of Perth in response to the lack of shelters for abused women without children. Zontians volunteered their time and resources to support women in crisis and obtained government support and funding to sustain the Refuge. Di Annear managed the Refuge from 1984 to 2004, ensuring its sustainability and helping over 12,500 women. Despite the disbandment of the South of Perth club, Zonta House Refuge Association continues to flourish through support from the government, donations from agencies, businesses, individuals, and other Zonta clubs.

The Refuge is not a single house but rather consists of two crisis centres, a block of flats, houses, the Enid Down Village, and the Di Annear cottages, which provide short- and long-term accommodation for women of different demographic groups. The facilities are well-maintained, and clients have access to basic requirements. The Refuge caters to women with mental health issues, visa problems, and those who have been discharged from mental hospitals but need support to gain confidence. The Refuge is open 24/7, and staff work three rotating shifts of eight hours each. The staff includes a full-time social worker to assist women with mental health issues.

Zontians provide accommodation and a suite of services to nurture women from crisis to independence, such as funding, clothing, toiletries, furniture, and technical skills via committees. The Refuge also provides associated programs including the Women's Legal Referral Service, Positive Pathways, and Starting Over Support. The Club has formed a new relationship with women from Ishar Multicultural Women's Health Centre.

Clients are screened before admission, and they must agree not to self-harm, take drugs or alcohol, and abide by the house rules. If they break the rules, they are asked to leave, but another place is found for them to go to. The Refuge is set up to deal with the worried well and not provide psychiatric help. The Zonta House Refuge Association has helped many vulnerable women in the community, and it continues to be a safe and supportive place for women in crisis.

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2014: L-R: Debbie Mason, Prof Colleen Hayward and Angie Perkins, Positive Pathways Manager at the launch of the Positive Pathways Program

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The Lotterywest funded SOS truck features the Zonta Says No message

In 2020, SOS became part of the People Who Care group and can help more people.

2020s Feature Project - Zonta Says NOW to Gender Equality and Climate Action

Sustainable Development Goals logo

Source: UN Women.


Zonta Says NOW to Gender Equality and Climate Action is the brainchild of three members of the Zonta Club of Perth: Sandra Burns (D23 Governor), Judy Gorton (D23 Centurion and former Zonta International Director), and Carole Theobald (D23 Futurist/Leadership Coordinator).

Through its Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations has created a framework for nations to close their gender gaps and halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Zonta Says NOW provides a framework for Zontians to contribute to these aims. 

Zonta Says NOW was developed as a trial project but has captured the imagination of many Zontians in Australia and overseas and is poised to ‘go global’.

What is Zonta Says NOW, and why do we need it?

Zonta Says NOW is a program that accelerates Zonta International's mission and transforms societies to create a gender-equal, sustainable world.

Zonta International's mission is to empower women and girls through service and advocacy. 

Zonta's vision is to empower women and girls to achieve their full potential, have access to all resources, be represented in decision-making positions on an equal basis with men, and live without fear of violence.

We have made many advances in the last century, but today, too many women cannot achieve their full potential. For example: 

  • Two-thirds of the world's poor, illiterate and chronically hungry are women, one in three women experience violence, one in five girls is married under 18, and 130 million girls are not in school.

  • Globally, women have three-quarters of the legal rights of men and cannot own land, open a bank account or sign a contract.

  • Women are more likely to be in lower-paid, casual jobs with the least economic security. Women are half the world's population yet make up a quarter of the parliamentarians who decide the world's future, so their voices are not heard around decision-making tables.

For Zonta, climate change presents an extreme threat and an opportunity. In 2021, Zonta International released its Statement on Climate Change: a gender equality issue. This highlights the importance of educating girls, having more women in parliament, and achieving gender equality, especially in economic participation and responses to climate change. 

To learn more about Zonta Says NOW join the online Think Tank and explore ways to progress gender equality and climate action. 

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