Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

Skip to content

Nicholls, Yvonne Isabel (1914 - 2009)

Activist, Administrative officer, Author, Civil Libertarian, Public speaker and Teacher
Alternative Names
  • Miles, Yvonne Isabel (Birth name)


Yvonne Isabel Nicholls nee Miles took her BA from the University of Melbourne in 1936 and her MA from the University of Sydney in 1972 with a thesis entitled Thai Kenaf: a case-study of a new cash crop in a developing country of Southeast Asia. Her interest in Thailand was sustained by a ten-year residency, during a life of travel, following her marriage in 1940 to Frank Nicholls (1916-2013) who had a long career in scientific administration in Australia and overseas.[1] The couple spent the war in England, where she headed the unit in Australia House charged with photographing and sending secret documents to Australia.

On her return to Australia, Yvonne Nicholls took up an appointment in Economic Geography at the University of Melbourne, occupying various positions between 1948 and 1960, after which, in Thailand, she became principal of a former PEN English-language school, securing government patronage and overseeing its expansion to cover from kindergarten to Cambridge GCE level. In Geneva during the 1970s she published on environmental law.[2]

An interest in ants led to her discovering a new species during a trip to the Otway Ranges. It was named Monomorian yvonnii by the CSIRO entomologist John Clark. Her 1952 pamphlet Not Slaves, Not Citizens was used during the Yes campaign for the 1967 referendum that gave the Commonwealth the power to make laws specifically to benefit Aboriginal people.[3]

In Australia after 1977 she taught at several schools and the Council for Adult Education. Yvonne Nicholls was a frequent speaker in person, on radio and television. Her range of topics was prodigious, inspired by life in many countries. Her lecture 'The Fascinating History of Sex' was both popular and memorable. She told an interviewer:

In sacred sex, for example, I describe rituals such as group sex in the fields, which was a fertility rite practised by the Incas in South America. When I talk about sensual sex I cite cultures such as ancient Rome where wives were the faithful watchdogs and married men sought beauty and sexual stimulation in their mistresses. Sinful sex, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, comes from the view of Eve as temptress.[4]

When Bert Newton interviewed her on television he ensured that the legs of the grand piano were shrouded to avoid upsetting the audience.

[1] Suzy Chandler. 'Scientist and Movie Buff Who Helped Develop Radar and Played Leading Role in Establishing Film Festival'. Age (12 February 2013).

[2] Yvonne I. Nicholls. Source Book: emergence of proposals for recompensing developing countries for maintaining environmental quality (IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper no. 5) Morges, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1973.

[3] Yvonne Nicholls. Not Slaves, Not Citizens: condition of the Australian Aborigines in the Northern Territory. Melbourne: Australian Council for Civil Liberties, 1952.

[4] Mary Ryllis Clark. 'It's the Little Things in Life'. Age: 15 April 2004. >

Sources used to compile this entry: Flesch, Juliet, 40 Years 40 Women: Biographies of University of Melbourne Women, Published to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the International Year of Women, The University of Melbourne Library, 2015;

This entry is reproduced in its entirety from 40 Years 40 Women: Biographies of University of Melbourne Women with permission of Juliet Flesch and The University of Melbourne Library. Copyright remains with the author and the University of Melbourne, 2015.

Juliet Flesch

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

© Copyright in The Australian Women's Register is owned by the Australian Women's Archives Project
and vested in each of the authors in respect of their contributions from 2000

The Australian Women's Register is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

The Australian Women's Register is published quarterly by the Australian Women's Archives Project
ISSN 2207-3124