Local Heroes: Clayfield Locals Who Made a Difference in the History of Brisbane

The fairy godfather of blind children. The flying doctor. Campaigner of women’s rights. Did you know that Clayfield was home to these local heroes who have left their mark on the history of Brisbane?

Read: Abandoned Clayfield Retirement Home to Transform Into Housing Complex

Richard Frank Tunley (1879-1968)

Developer of educational resources for blind children

Richard Frank Tunley was a small business owner from Clayfield who manufactured window blinds for a living. He devoted his life to combating the isolation faced by visually impaired children, by creating educational tools for them to explore and experience the world through touch. It earned him the title, the “fairy godfather of blind children.”

history of Brisbane
Frank Tunley creating braille maps and toys for the children of the School for the Blind at Annerley, Brisbane, ca. 1950 (Photo credit: State Library of Queensland)

Mr Tunley made the first braille map for the children at the Brisbane School for the Blind (later known as Narbethong State Special School) in 1925, which was recognised as the first of its kind in Australia.

history of Brisbane
Braille map of the Brisbane CBD “Between the Three Bridges” (Photo credit: State Library of Queensland)

In 1962, Mr Tunley crafted “Brisbane Between the Three Bridges,” a remarkable braille map of the CBD. This unique creation goes beyond regular maps by incorporating relief outlines, allowing individuals to perceive the shapes of iconic structures like the Story Bridge, Victoria Bridge, and the William Jolly Bridge. 

It showcases a representation of the three bridges located together at Indooroopilly: the Walter Taylor Bridge, along with the old and new railway bridges.

He also crafted the braille topographic map of Australia in the workshop of his Clayfield home in 1963. 

history of Brisbane
Frank Tunley’s braille map of Australia (Photo credit: State Library of Queensland)

It incorporates aluminium name tags, bearing embossed braille, to identify the names of locations, mountains, and other geographical features. Twisted wires are used to represent both major and minor rivers, while wooden pins indicate the elevation above sea level.

Timothy Joseph O’Leary (1925–1987)

Flying doctor

After studying medicine in Ireland and training as a surgical registrar in England, Dr Tim O’Leary, became a second surgeon in New Australia, a liner bringing British migrants to Australia in 1952. 

Dr O’Leary making his patient comfortable before their flight to Mt Isa (Photo credit: Queensland Health/Facebook)

He stayed in New South Wales, where he worked as a clinical assistant chest physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and as a medical officer in the tuberculosis eradication section of the Department of Health.

In 1953, Dr O’Leary became a member of the (Royal) Flying Doctor Service of Australia, specifically in the Queensland section, and was assigned to Charters Towers.

He was transferred temporarily to Brisbane in February 1958 when he was appointed RFDS acting medical superintendent. A year later, he married a nurse, named Yvonne Margaret Dowdell, at the St Agatha’s Catholic Church in Clayfield.

Mr McKenzie from Plevna Downs, with Graham Affleck and the Royal Flying Doctor Dr Tim O’Leary at Plevan Downs, Queensland, ca. 1960 (State Library of Queensland)

Dr O’Leary received a diploma in aviation medicine in 1972. The following year, he was elected as a founding fellow of the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators. After experiencing a heart attack, he retired from the RFDS in 1980 and began practising privately on the Gold Coast.

Also known as ‘Dr. Tim,’ he contributed in the history of Brisbane as an exceptionally capable physician, who was particularly renowned for his expertise in obstetrics. He demonstrated empathy towards his patients, who cherished both his sense of humour and his unwavering dedication to their well-being.

Mary Hyacinthe Petronel White (1900–1984)

Women’s rights campaigner and local government councillor

Ms White gained the endorsement of the Citizens’ Municipal Organization in 1949. The organisation is a non-political group founded by Sir John Beals Chandler. 

Petronel White in 1954 (Photo credit: Trove, National Library of Australia)

This led to her historic achievement of becoming the first woman elected to represent a capital city council in Australia. For a period of 18 years, she served as an alderman, representing the Hamilton (Clayfield) ward within the Greater Brisbane City Council. 

Ms White was a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and utilised her council position to advocate for improved public facilities and enhanced legal safeguards for women.

She actively participated in various community groups, including the Country Women’s Association, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, and served as a patroness for the Kalinga Boy Scouts, the Civilian Widows’ Association, and the Clayfield Child Care Association.

Read: Clayfield Gems: Get to Know These 4 Heritage Homes on Norman Parade

Indeed, these remarkable individuals have left an indelible mark on Clayfield and have made the city proud through their invaluable contributions to the history of Brisbane.

Published 9-August-2023