Mary Ann Cleary – 1862 – 1937

Mary Ann Cleary – Teacher, farmer, entrepreneur

By Jenny Golding
Updated: 23 March 2022

Mary Ann Cleary was a remarkable woman, born in Dardanup, excelling as a teacher and farmer and eventually owning one thousand acres near her home, seventeen hundred acres at Lake Preston and further property in the nearby hills, referred to then as the Quinderup hills.

She was born in 1862, the daughter of district pioneers, James and Alice (Garvey) Cleary and was educated in Dardanup and at Victoria Square College, Perth.

Many Catholic families and single men and women had been encouraged, from the early 1850s, by Irish settler Thomas Little to establish small farms in Dardanup, generally referred to then as a village.

Mrs Alice Cleary (nee Garvey)

Alice had arrived in 1853 on the “Clara”, travelling from Tipperary, Ireland, with her parents, William and Mary (McHugh) Garvey, and several siblings.

 James came later and worked for Thomas Little, reputedly using his first wages to buy a cow.

He and Alice married in the first Catholic Church in Dardanup (now the Thomas Little Hall) in 1861 and bought land in the vicinity of what is now Cleary Road from very early settler, James Hertnan, in 1865.  Margaret and Alice were born.

The family lived in a pretty wattle and daub home, complete with thatched roof, typical of the many Irish homes dotted across the landscape in the district. The home had several white-washed rooms and a fire-place in the sitting room. It became known as Rosevale and the name was retained when it was replaced with a charming timbered home on the same site and still standing.

Mary Ann Cleary in front of the original Cleary home
Mary Ann Cleary outside her home, Rosevale

Sadly, Margaret contracted measles while attending Victoria Square and died at 18 years of age.

Elder sister Mary Ann began teaching in 1882 at the site of the Dardanup Catholic School. The Catholic School had become a Government School in 1880.

The Western Australian Government announced in 1895 that a site had been selected on which to build a new school and it was built through 1896 in Ferguson Road and across from the Catholic Church . Miss Cleary taught there for many years.

Tragedy struck the Cleary family.  James Cleary died in 1902 and his son-in-law, David Shaw, married to Mary Ann’s sister Alice, was working away. Mary Ann resigned from teaching to manage the farm. When her brother-in-law died in 1908 she found herself bread-winner for a household which included her widowed mother, widowed sister and Alice’s daughter Mary.

Acreage was increased continually and many stockmen were employed. Wilfred Warburton worked for her for thirty years and locals, Doolan and H. Sanquay, were hired regularly.

From her own 1913 diary (kept in copy-book writing — a reminder of her teaching):

21-4-1913 – C. Harris water-furrowed barley and finished harrowing it, then went down to commence potato ground. W.W. finished shaking three lands after it was harrowed (near side). M.A.C. painting spring trap. W.W. helping also, repaired barley fence, cleaned stables.
31-8-13 – H. Sanquay gelignited some logs for firewood.
26-8-13 -Fee fixed some bell straps for three new bells.

From George Fee’s diary April 19 1918:

“Miss M.A. Cleary, Mr. Doolan and W. Warburton are at present camped on the Lake constructing water holes and fencing off Miss Cleary’s paddock adjoining Venn’s.”

Mary Ann, described by her family as “an elegant woman with her hair rolled on her head” was fifty-six years old and camping would surely have brought untold privations.  

Alice Shaw

Needlework must have been another of this gifted woman’s accomplishments.

Mary Ann’s diary entry of 16-12-13 tells us she is  “ renovating a dress for Mary to wear to the Fancy Dress Ball”.

Despite her commitment to family and farm, Mary Ann played a leading role in the community and the church. George Fee records in his diaries that she was secretary for the local Sacred Heart Association, attended the Perth Consecration of Bishop Clune in Perth in March 1911 with Mrs. O’Neil and Mr. James Maguire and was often involved in organized concerts.

Mary Ann Cleary was amazingly successful in business in a time when few women farmed in their own right. Teacher, stockwoman and agriculturalist, she died in 1937 and is buried in the Pioneer Catholic Cemetery in Dardanup. 

Table and chairs of jarrah, hand-turned by Mr. Gibbs, of Ferguson, and given to Mary Anne’s parents as a wedding gift remain in the family as does a chest of drawers bought from the Prinsep family on their departure.

Rosevale remains standing today


  • John Rikkers “Western Australian Schools 1830-1980” Volume part 2: and 3:
  • State Library of WA
  • Pioneer BMD Records for WA
  • Mary Ann Cleary’s 1913 diary
  • Mrs Mary Taylor interview
  • Mrs Amelia Kalaf recollections
  • Mr George Fee’s diary

Images sources:

  • All photographs in this item, except the coloured image of Rosevale, were supplied by Amelia Kalaf.
  • Rosevale as it is today from Jenny Trigwell