Elisabeth Wilma Kirkby OAM (born 26 January 1921), alternatively Elizabeth Kirkby, is a retired English Australian theatre and television actress, radio broadcaster, writer, producer and director. She is also a former politician with the Australian Democrats, serving as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1981 to 1998 and Australia's oldest university graduate.
Acting and political career
Born in Bolton, Greater Manchester, Kirkby's acting career began in the United Kingdom where she spent three years working for the war effort with the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and as an entertainer, writer and producer for Stars in Battledress. She then spent fifteen years living in Malaya, writing, producing and directing for radio and the arts. Then she moved to Australia, where she wrote and produced documentaries and education programs for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and acted on television in guest starring roles. These included roles in The Rovers, in Crawford Productions' espionage drama Hunter and their police drama Homicide. Then came the role of Lucy Sutcliffe in soap opera Number 96, which made Kirkby a household name. As of 2016, she is the oldest surviving regular cast member from the series.
Kirkby was an original cast member of Number 96 which premiered March 1972. Unsure of how long the series would last, the producers offered the original cast contracts lasting just six weeks. The show became Australia's 10th highest-rated television program in 1972, was the number 1 highest rating program in 1973 and 1974, and the 6th highest rated program for 1975. Lucy endured a moaning layabout husband Alf (James Elliott), along with a series of dramatic health concerns in the serial: a breast-cancer scare, blindness, and an unplanned pregnancy followed by a troubled birth. The episode in which it was revealed that Lucy's tumour was benign proved to be Number 96's highest-ever rated episode. In late 1973 the show had a feature film spin-off featuring much of the show's current cast, including Kirkby, reprising their television roles.
In October 1975 Alf and Lucy were written out of Number 96 as part of a remodelling of the show in the wake of declining ratings. On leaving the serial Kirkby went straight into a theatre run in Melbourne, appearing in The Jockey Club Stakes alongside Robert Coote and Wilfrid Hyde White in late 1975. Kirkby and White had previously met 30 years previously in the entertainment division of the army during World War II. Kirkby subsequently made guest appearances on Australian drama series such as Glenview High (1977), and again appeared in Homicide.
Kirkby later became a politician and was elected to the New South Wales legislative council in 1981. She was the Australian Democrats' New South Wales state leader for many years, and became the longest-serving Australian Democrat member of parliament before retiring in June 1998. She remained in politics, at a local government level, serving as a councillor in Temora Shire from 1999 to 2004. In November 2010 she sold her sheep and wheat farm in Temora, New South Wales and moved to Morning Bay on Pittwater's western foreshore, accessible only by boat. She provided a commentary in the DVD release Number 96: Aftermath of Murder. In 2012 she was awarded the national Medal of the Order of Australia, for "...service to the Parliament of New South Wales, to the community of Temora, and to the performing arts".
Kirkby's daughter, Debbie Baile, became an actress who appeared Number 96 in 1975. Baile also acted in The Young Doctors and the film Undercover. In 2014 Kirkby earned a PhD from the University of Sydney at the age of 93, becoming Australia's oldest university graduate.
- Will We Ever Learn From History? The Impact of Economic Orthodoxy on Unemployment during the Great Depression in Australia – doctorate thesis (University of Sydney)