The first family
Most of the houses on the Clayton site were bulldozed, except for one. The farmhouse built by the O’Shea family on the rise above Wellington Road was chosen for the vice-chancellor’s residence.
Louis Matheson and his wife Audrey, along with their children, lived happily in the old farmhouse for 17 years, hosting visiting academics and new staff there. At Christmas, the Mathesons held a children’s party with balloons and donkey rides in the garden.
No room at the inn
The Vice-Chancellors’ residence quickly overflows with workers. Registrar Frank Johnson shares the maids’ rooms with his assistant, and typists overflow into the garage. Vice-Chancellor Louis Matheson has to keep his new Ford - his request for a Jaguar or Rover vetoed by Blackwood - in a shed along the lane.
When Monash gained Sir Louis Matheson as its first Vice-Chancellor, it also gained a spirited, welcoming ‘first lady’ in Audrey, Lady Matheson. As the wife of the Vice-Chancellor, Lady Matheson saw her role as having two functions: firstly, to support her husband by creating a welcoming home at Monash for the extended University family; and secondly, to help the wives and families of the academic staff flocking to the new campus from all over.
Audrey was born in 1914 near Manchester. She met Louis in the early 1930s while she was working as a civil servant. The Great Depression resulted in a lean academic market and it was five more years before the couple could afford to marry. Upon her marriage, Audrey resigned from her job, but was excited to begin working in censorship during the war years. ‘I thought, I should go mad at home if I stay here dusting!’ Although she enjoyed working, the job itself wasn’t particularly interesting, but she continued in the post until her first son was born.
By this time, the Mathesons were living in Birmingham. One day in 1946, Louis arrived home from his job at the University of Birmingham and announced to Audrey and their two young sons, ‘We’re going to Australia!’ The family travelled to Melbourne, where Louis took up a lectureship at the University of Melbourne. Audrey enjoyed their time in Melbourne, and particularly the marvelous friends they made, although she found it difficult to make a home for them in the ‘sea of mud’ that was their house in the Melbournian suburbs. The endless mud was a scene to be repeated when the Matheson’s returned to Melbourne, after a brief stint back in Manchester, at the new Monash University.
At Monash, Audrey created not only a home but also a community. She hosted many dinner parties in her own dining room, cooking for national and international guests, and insisting that new Monash staff members be included. But Audrey had a keen sense that her most important role at the new University would be to ‘look after the wives’. When babies were born, she visited the mothers in hospital. At Christmas, the Mathesons hosted a children’s party with balloons and donkey rides in the vice-chancellor’s garden. One of her most lasting legacies was the women’s group she started for the wives of the staff. She insisted it be run democratically and informally, and hosted the meetings in her home.
Outside of Monash, she was a member of the National Council of Women, and served as the association’s president for three years. She cared for Sir Louis after his stroke in 1989 up until his death in 2002. Lady Matheson died in November 2014, aged 100.