Miss Reta Light (1898 – 1989): The Auchmuty Library’s Greatest Benefactor

Photograph of Miss Reta Light
Miss Reta Light (1898-1989)

The Auchmuty Library’s greatest benefactor was Miss Reta Light (1898 – 1989), who, upon her death in September 1989 left the Library a staggering $1.5 million.

She was the youngest daughter, and the last survivor of the Light family of Newcastle, leaving an immense legacy to the City.

The Light family’s love for the City of Newcastle was displayed in a series of acts of public service and achievements of lasting value such as the creation of the majestic Newcastle Town Hall, the beautiful Civic Theatre and the electrification of the Newcastle to Sydney train link as well as this immense gift to the University’s library.

The Light Memorial Trust was formed to administer the endowment.

According to her will, the money was to be used to purchase books, periodicals, microfilms and musical scores.

From 1991 to 1999 the Trust financed $597,172 worth of acquisitions including a fine collection of Australian poetry, rare first editions of works by James Joyce and Thomas Hardy and impressive editions of Le Corbusier and titles related to the history of theatre.

It has continued to fund library purchases to this day including the beautiful Newcastle engravings and maps that have dazzled the community.

M. Light & Son furniture store, Hunter Street West, Newcastle, NSW, [1920s]
M. Light & Son furniture store, Hunter Street West, Newcastle, NSW, [1920s]

The Light Family’s Enduring Legacy to the City of Newcastle and its People

The Light family’s enduring legacy is the bringing of beautiful things to Newcastle and its people, as a gift back to the City that had given their family safe refuge and enabled them to grow and prosper.

Reta’s father, Morris Light, a migrant, and by today’s reckoning a “refugee” escaping Jewish persecution in Russia, set up a store in Newcastle known as the “House of Lights”, so people could purchase things for their home, without losing their home to finance it.

Once he entered public service as alderman, and then Mayor, he again sought bringing beautiful things to Newcastle in the form of its new Newcastle Town Hall and Civic Theatre.

He was inspired by his 1923 visit to Durban in South Africa, where he saw their Town Hall and Civic complex of theatre, library, museum and art gallery, and said to himself, Newcastle deserves all this.

He never lived to see his new Town Hall, having died just months before its opening in 1929.

However, he is immortalised in the Lights Lamp Standard at the base of the stairs leading up to the former Newcastle Town Hall.

Incidentally, Morris Light’s tombstone, now part of the the Light Family Crypt at Sandgate Cemetery was designed by the same architect who designed the Newcastle Town Hall, Henry E. White.

One thing Morris didn’t manage to anticipate bringing home, from the world, and which was missing from the City of Newcastle, was a University!

Education was very dear to this family. The only member of the Light Family to reach a tertiary education was Reta’s eldest sister, Hilda.

Hilda Vera Light was a lover of the arts, her favourite poet was John Keats, and she was the youngest person in the state of New South Wales to achieve a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney. She proudly displayed the initials “B.A.” after her name in numerous articles penned for the Newcastle Morning Herald. She was a champion of women’s rights, equity, the  Labour movement, had traveled the world, sailed the Nile with the Nubians, escaped Chinese bandits, and Nazis and had met Mahatma Gandhi.

The late William (Bill) Claridge, author of the Pommy Town Years,  was only a young boy when he came out with his family from Bristol to settle in Newcastle in 1921. He said that when he had heard that his family were moving out here, he darted to his local public library and discovered all he could about Newcastle.

When he arrived here,what struck him was the physical poverty of the children in his classroom, they had no shoes. But what was worse, was that there were no public libraries here. He knew more about Newcastle than the people who were living here. Physical poverty is easy to fix, a couple of bucks can buy a kid a new set of shoes, but poverty of mind is much harder, and takes years and years and generations to remedy.

It is very interesting that Hilda (Reta’s eldest sister) appears to have taken steps to have one established in 1935:

“Miss Hilda Light has advised the Newcastle City Council that during her tour of the United States of America she intends to Interview the Carnegie Trust to urge that a grant should be given to Newcastle for the establishment of a public library.” – MEN AND WOMEN (1935, January 14). The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165947715

We can now begin to better understand why Reta provided her family’s final gift in 1989 to the University Library, to help provide gifts of the memory of the world for the education of its staff and students; to help end the poverty of the mind.

It is this legacy that inspires us to forever remember Reta and the Light Family, and their contribution to this University and its City. Education as a “guiding light” is an apt metaphor for this family’s enduing commitment to this City and its University.

 

Who was Reta Light?

Young Reta Light in her twenties c.1920s
Young Reta Light in her twenties c.1920s

Reta Light was born on the 15th March 1898 in the family home at Cowper Street, Carrington, New South Wales.

She was the youngest daughter of Morris and Sarah Light.

Morris Light was a well respected businessman and public figure, the founder of the furniture store known as the “House of Lights” and later M. Light & Son, as well as alderman on both the Carrington and Newcastle Councils.

He served as Mayor of Newcastle from 1924-25 and is credited for having set in motion the self-funding construction of the majestic Newcastle City Hall and beautiful Civic Theatre.

Reta was described as talented, shy, self-indulgent yet generous, strong willed and eccentric.

She loved to travel, spoke fluent French, and divided her time between France and Australia.

By the age 11, she was hitting the social pages, involved with the Hebrew Debating and Social Club of Newcastle.

By 19, she was an accomplished musician, performing piano pieces by Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and McDowell with Miss Eileen Beeston at a recital to help raise funds for the 36th Battalion Comforts Fund, a fund devoted to providing Christmas gifts to soldiers fighting on the front lines. A newspaper review of the musical performance held in the Central Hall, Newcastle was published.

By 1930, she is in Spain with her eldest sister Hilda, visiting a Spanish bullfight, and horrified at the brutality and cruelty of the spectacle. Both rebel rouser sisters were cheering for the bulls!

During the second world war, whilst in Paris, Reta was imprisoned by the Nazis in a prisoner of war camp in Vittel, France, while her sister Hilda had fortunately escaped and was protected by nuns. This camp was notorious for ransoming wealthy Jews to their distressed families at home.

By 1947, both Rita and Hilda are back in Australia, alive and well, and living in Manly N.S.W.

Upon her return, she put her share of the fortune into a range of investments, indulging her passions for fur and opals.

As an accomplished musician, she often gave recitals on the grand piano at the David Jones cafeteria in Sydney.

She had a reputation for traveling in grand style, booking out two state rooms on board the ship, one for herself, another for her luggage, (which usually required a lorry to get her to the dock) and the remainder in the hold.

Photo of Reta Light "Taken onboard the SS Orcades". During a stop to or from London c 1950s. Maybe Colombo, Sri Lanka. [Circa 1947-1972]
Photo of Reta Light “Taken onboard the S.S. Orcades” during a stop over to or from London circa 1950s. Maybe Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photograph taken sometime between 1947 and 1972.
She never married, had no children, and lived alone.

In her latter years living in Manly, she would often take the ferry into the city, visit her suppliers of gems and furs, and then drop in at David Jones for some coffee and a recital.

Reta posing with Spanish dolls, probably acquired during overseas trip with her sister Hilda in 1930. Behind her is the framed painting of her father, Alderman Morris Light, Mayor of Newcastle 1924-25, now in Special Collections, University of Newcastle. Photographs for a unidentified story published in either Newcastle Herald or Newcastle Sun [Courtesy Newcastle Herald Newcastle Sun Picture Service.]
Reta posing with Spanish dolls, probably acquired during overseas trip with her sister Hilda in 1930. Behind her is the framed painting of her late father, Alderman Morris Light, Mayor of Newcastle 1924-25, now in Special Collections, University of Newcastle. Photographs for a unidentified story published in either Newcastle Herald or Newcastle Sun [Courtesy Newcastle Herald Newcastle Sun Picture Service.]

Reta posing with two unidentified persons, and Spanish dolls, probably acquired during overseas trip with her sister Hilda in 1930. Behind her is the framed painting of her late father, Alderman Morris Light, Mayor of Newcastle 1924-25, now in Special Collections, University of Newcastle. Photographs for a unidentified story published in either Newcastle Herald or Newcastle Sun [Courtesy Newcastle Herald Newcastle Sun Picture Service.]
Reta posing with two unidentified persons, and Spanish dolls, probably acquired during overseas trip with her sister Hilda in 1930. Behind her is the framed painting of her late father, Alderman Morris Light, Mayor of Newcastle 1924-25, now in Special Collections, University of Newcastle. Photographs for a unidentified story published in either Newcastle Herald or Newcastle Sun [Courtesy Newcastle Herald Newcastle Sun Picture Service.]
She would also often travel to Newcastle to visit the family crypt at Sandgate.

In 1980 she suffered a massive stroke, and never spoke or walked again, spending her final years in the Austral House Nursing Home in Manly.

She died on the 25 September 1989 aged 91 and lies buried in the family crypt at Sandgate. The death notice stated she was a milliner.

Her gift to the Library took all by surprise, and reinforced the notion that she held Newcastle and its University in high regard for the good fortune that this town and its people had bestowed upon her family.

She came from a wonderful family that were stars in their own right including her father Morris Light (1859-1929), who in 1887 married Sarah Jacobs, and together had four children, Hilda (1888), Bertram (1889), Myra (1892) and Reta (1898).

Reta Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)
Reta Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)

 

Reta’s Father: Morris Light (1859 – 1929)

Photograph of Morris Light
Morris Light (1859 – 1929)

Morris Light’s Birth and Russian Departure

Reta Light’s father, Morris Light was born in Kovno, Western Russia in 1859, but left there in 1879 escaping the persecution of the Jews that was gaining momentum during the period.

Russia, at the time was largely a medieval country, where the worlds of church and state were identical and religiously motivated hatreds were brimming under the surface.

Russia was the last absolute monarchy in Europe and had the largest Jewish population, which amounted to 5% of the Russian Empire equating to 1/3 of the Jews in the world.

These 5 million people lived in the Pale of Jewish settlement, which was a group of provinces extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and encompassing much of what is now Poland.

In 1865, under the regime of Alexander II, the Czar had allowed Jewish artisans to locate outside of the Pale, the government also encouraged the education of Jewish youth into the learned professions, graduates of which were also allowed the same freedoms. These measures opened up new centres of Jewish industry and prosperity.

With the death of Alexander II, the situation soon decayed, culminating in the anti-Jewish riots of 1881.

This led to the head of the Ministry of the Interior, General Ignatieff, to issue the infamous ‘May Laws’ on 3rd May 1881 which included restrictions on the ways Jewish people could conduct business and where they could settle.

The young Morris Light therefore left Russia at an opportune time.

During the period from 1879 to 1884, he moved to Scotland and operated a draper’s business in Glasgow.

Arrival in Australia, settling in Newcastle

He later emigrated to New South Wales, Australia in 1884 landing in Sydney with 200 pounds sterling in his pockets.

From Sydney he traveled to Mittagong, then Moss Vale and Brisbane before coming to Newcastle in 1887.

At Wickham he joined the Order of Oddfellows, and became involved with the Wickham School of Arts Debating Society.

He settled in Carrington and operated a business selling household wares in a horse drawn cart.

In 1888 he married Sarah Jacobs, a 32 year-old English woman, and the couple had four children, Hilda (1888), Bertram (1889), Myra (1892) and Reta, who was born on the 15th March 1898.

House of Lights

During the opening years of the new century Morris Light opened his first furniture store in Cowper Street, and then moved to Hunter Street West where it became known as the ‘House of Lights’.

The enterprise expanded with a new emporium which was later built and a second store opened at Vincent Street, Cessnock.

His son, Bertram, was groomed to take over the management of the business which became M. Light & Son Ltd.

Morris Light was proud to acknowledge his successful achievement of the introduction of consumer credit to Newcastle, which offered finance to customers under his own interest free terms. The success of the system was reinforced by the claim that they had never found occasion to repossess any of their goods.

Civic Life

His commitment and service to his local community was also a feature of his cumulative 35 years of public life as alderman for the Carrington and Newcastle Councils.

From 1890 to 1903, for thirteen years he served as alderman on Carrington Council, serving two terms as Mayor of Carrington in 1902 and 1903, being credited as being a catalyst for the early electrical illumination of Carrington Streets.

He also introduced the system of Council purchasing its own horses and drays and sanitary wagons, for the purpose of doing their own work, rather than contracting it out. Other municipalities later followed this example and did the same. He also raised the wages of council employees during his term in office.

In 1900 he moved from Carrington to Newcastle, and whilst still an alderman on Carrington Council, stood for, and was elected to the Macquarie Ward in Newcastle.

On the evening of December 10th 1924, while a band outside the Council chambers played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”, Morris Light was elected Mayor of Newcastle, an event that was not without controversy.

For the outgoing Mayor, Alderman R.G. Kilgour, refused to invest the new Mayor with the robes of office. Apparently upset at not being able to secure a seventh year as Mayor, he resigned as a protest against what he termed the “deceit and intrigue” of his colleagues.

Morris Light served as Mayor until December 10th 1925. His achievements included the electrification of the tram service, he was also an advocate of the electrification of the Newcastle to Sydney rail link, the creation of a children’s park at Centennial Park, and he set in motion the construction of the city hall, offices, art gallery and museum.

He considered his greatest achievement the construction of a self-funded City hall and Civic Theatre complex, a task which involved a battle between Council and the illustrious coal baron Mr John Brown.

Mayor Light wanted the coal baron to relinquish possession of the old Black Diamond Hotel site as a ‘gift’ to the people of Newcastle so as “to have a Town Hall befitting the prestige of the city”.

The coal baron didn’t agree, and suggested they site the Town Hall at the congested eastern end of the City, as well as affirming that he would resist every move to resume the site proposed by Mayor Light.

As history would have it, Morris Light died of pneumonia at 7.10 am on the 26th July 1929, aged 74 years. His funeral at Sandgate cemetery was attended by 300 people and involved a joint Jewish and Masonic ceremony. He never lived to see his dream of the City Hall and Civic Theatre finally completed.

14 December 1929 - Bertram Light and Family at the Opening of the New Town Hall.
14 December 1929 – Bertram Light and Family at the Opening of the New Town Hall.

At the opening of the new Town Hall Alderman Wheeler gave credit to his predecessor for the new building, the lights outside bear a commemorative plaque to honour Morris Light’s contribution. These buildings stand as treasures to the city of Newcastle and highlight the magnificent achievement that people of vision can have on a place.

 

The new Town Hall was opened at 2:30pm on Saturday 14th December 1929 by the Governor, Sir Dudley de Chair. The event was documented by the Newcastle Sun:

On the arrival of the Governor (at 12:40pm), the Mayor (Alderman Wheeler), welcomed him.

The Governor then inspected the Boy Scout guard of honor.

At the foot of the Town Hall steps the Governor unveiled the two bronze lamp standards which were erected in honour of the late Alderman Morris Light, who was the “founder” of the Civic Centre.

One lamp standard was covered with a Union Jack and the other with an Australian Flag.

On behalf of the relatives of the late Alderman M. Light, Alderman Bert Light, who succeeded his late father to the City Council, thanked the Governor for unveiling the memorial.

It was a matter of great sorrow to them that his father had not been spared, Alderman Light said, to be present with his fellow citizens on this occasion, which was of very great special moment in the history of his adopted city.

The Governor shook hands with the widow of the late Alderman Light.

Then he walked up the Town Hall steps and opened the door at the main entrance, and returned to the top of the steps and gave his address.

– Enthusiastic Scenes at Opening of New Town Hall (1929, December 14). The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165795981 

COMMUNITY NEWS (1991, April 26). The Australian Jewish News (Sydney, NSW : 1990 – 2008), p. 10. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article261605164

Newcastle (1929, August 2). The Hebrew Standard of Australasia (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1953), p. 5. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120468171

It was reported that the tombstone, (of which, due to the deterioration of the blacked letters, a charcoal rubbing is below), was consecrated on Sunday 15 February 1931:

Morris and Sarah Light's Grave, Jewish Section, Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle Australia
Morris and Sarah Light’s Grave, Jewish Section, Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle Australia

LATE ALD. M. LIGHT
Monument Consecrated
CEREMONY AT SANDGATE

A monument to the memory of the late Ald. Morris Light, a former Mayor of Newcastle, was consecrated by the Rev. Rabbi I. Morris, of the Newcastle Synagogue, in the Jewish, portion of the Sandgate General Cemetery, yesterday afternoon.There was a representative assembly of citizens. The Rev. Rabbi Morris conducted the special consecration service, including psalms and prayers appropriate for the occasion, and in the course of his remarks eulogised the late Ald. Light for his many good qualities as a citizen of high standing. The monument was artistically draped with many beautiful floral tributes. Along those who attended were Mrs. M. Light. sen., Ald. and Mrs. B. Light, and Miss Myra Light.

In addressing the assemblage, Rabbi Morris said they had gathered in that consecrated spot to recall the memory of their departed brother, Ald. Morris Light, and to dedicate the monument as a token of their respect and love.

“Many months have pasted since he was summoned from this earthly life,” continued the Rabbi, “but his memory continues a living force in our lives. We are grateful to the Most High for the indomitable courage wherewith he confronted life with all its difficulties for the nobility of his inspiration the splendour of his vision, and for the high purpose to which he dedicated his life. For a number of years he was alderman and mayor of Carrington and Newcastle, and his life was a full and worthy one. He worked untiringly and self-sacrificingly, and was devoted to his duties, of which he had the highest conception. His word was his bond: his thoughts were pure, and his actions noble. He was a man of character, of knowledge, and strength of will. His wholehearted devotion to the cause of civic life, and his active services for the welfare of the citizens of Newcastle earned for him the deep gratitude of the community, and his name will long be recalled with respect and admiration. Due to his untiring efforts, he was instrumental in the building of he Newcastle Town Hall, which will always remain as an everlasting memorial to his wholehearted devotion as a citizen of our beloved city. We thanks God for all that was true and good in the life of our beloved brother; for the sweet and inspiring memory that he has left behind. Righteousness is mightier than the grave. Our good deeds survive. Though the body has returned to earth, the soul abides with the Most High for ever. Morris Light was a man of sincerity – public-spirited, broadminded, benevolently inspired, and responsive to all appeals for worthy and charitable causes. He commanded the admiration of all associated with him. It must indeed be a comfort to his bereaved family; it must be a source of solemn pride to his grief-stricken wife and children, to tell that their loved one has departed this life with the imperishable crown of a good name, and his memory shall never fade from the hearts of his sorrowing relatives, friends and numerous acquaintances.

“We have cheerful consciousness that there is still a link of love and respect that will continue to bind us with our departed friend.” concluded the reverend speaker. “We will leave him in peace. With respect we bid him farewell; and thus thinking of him, let us go in quietness of spirit and live in peace and charity with all mankind.”
Ald. Morris Light died in Newcastle on July 26, 1929.

The monument was specially designed by Mr. Henry White, of Sydney, from whose plans the Newcastle Town Hall and Civic buildings were erected. It is of simple character. The headstone consists of a block of Uralla granite, weighing one ton. The paving and kerbs are also in granite, harmonising with the monument marking the last resting place of a fellow citizen, whose energies were for upwards of 40 years devoted to the advancement of the city of his adoption.

– LATE ALD. M. LIGHT (1931, February 16). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137688111 

 

LATE ALDERMAN LIGHT

Consecration of Tombstone

In the presence of a representative assembly of citizens, the consecration of the tombstone of the late Alderman Morris Light took place yesterday afternoon at the Jewish Cemetery, Sandgate.

Rabbi Morris conducted the special consecration service, and eulogised the late Alderman Light for his many good qualities as a citizen of high standing. Beautiful floral tributes were artistically draped on the monument.

In his eulogy Rabbi Morris said that tho late Mr. Light’s wholehearted devotion to the cause of civic life, and his active services for the welfare of the citizens of Newcastle, had earned for him the deep gratitude of the community, and his name
would long he recalled with respect and admiration.

“Due to his untiring efforts.” added Rabbi ‘Morris, “he was instrumental in the building of the Newcastle Town Hall, which will always remain as an everlasting memorial of his whole-hearted devotion as a citizen of our beloved city.”

Among tho chief mourners were Mrs. Light, senior. Miss Myra Light,and Mr. and Mrs. Bert Light. – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164325392

Morris and Sarah Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)
Morris and Sarah Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)

Check out the following posts:

https://uoncc.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/what-to-look-for-in-a-mayor/

Newcastle Civic Precinct and Ancient Architecture

Reta’s Mum: Sarah Light nee Jacobs (1864 – 1938)

Bertram Light with mother Sarah (in mourning clothes) and wife Bertha standing behind at the Opening of the New Town Hall in the presence of the Governor of NSW Sir Dudley de Chair 14 December 1929
Bertram Light with mother Sarah (in mourning clothes) and wife Bertha standing behind at the Opening of the New Town Hall in the presence of the Governor of NSW Sir Dudley de Chair 14 December 1929 – “At the opening of the new Town Hall Alderman Wheeler gave credit to his predecessor for the new building, the lights outside bear a commemorative plaque to honour Morris Light’s contribution.”

The possible only known photograph Sarah is the one above taken on the 14 December 1928. She is the older woman standing behind her son, Bertram, in the presence of the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Dudley de Chair, at the opening of the Newcastle Town Hall, and the dedication of the lamps Standard in honour of the late Morris Light and creator and champion of the Newcastle Town Hall and Civic Complex.

 

Sarah Beloved Wife of Morris Light.
Passed Away 31st May 1938 Aged 74

DEATH OF MRS. LIGHT (1938, June 1). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133622983

DEATH OF MRS.LIGHT

Mrs. Morris Light, mother of Mr. B. Light, of Dawson-street, Cook’s Hill, died at her residence in Springfield-avenue, Darlinghurst at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. She was 74, and had been ill for a considerable time. Mrs. Light was born in Birmingham. England, and arrived in Australia at an early age.- She came to Newcastle soon after her marriage to Mr. Morris Light. Two of Mrs. Light’s daughters. Misses Hilda and Rita Light are in Paris and the third daughter, Miss Myra Light is living in Sydney. The funeral will take place from Hamilton at 2 o’clock this afternoon for the Sandgate Cemetery.

Reta’s Eldest Sister: Hilda Light  (1888 – 1958)

Hilda Vera Light was born on the 21st June 1888 to Morris and Sarah Light.

Hilda was enrolled in Carrington Public School. By the age of 10 she was learning the piano, and passing her examinations.

In 1908 the degree of Bachelor of Arts was conferred upon Miss Hilda Vera Light in the town hall, Sydney, by Sir Normand MacLaurin, Chancellor of the University. Miss Light is a daughter of Alderman Light of Newcastle, she is only 19 years of age, being the youngest student in the State to gain the coveted B.A. degree. She has had a brilliant career.” http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136410486  Ref: CURRENT NEWS. (1908, May 8). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136410486 < Hilda Vera Light, photographed in her Bachelor of Arts academic dress, 1908. The Charleston Studios, Parisien Panel, Newcastle, NSW Hilda Vera Light, photographed in her Bachelor of Arts academic dress, 1908. The Charleston Studios, Parisien Panel, Newcastle, NSW[/caption]

 

In 1909 Hilda leaves Newcastle to take up a teaching position in Forbes on Thursday 28th January 1909. Hilda was President of the Hebrew Debating and Social Club of Newcastle. Ref: SOCIALS. (1909, February 6). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138581978 

In 1910 Hilda began a lecture tour in support of Labour candidates across the Hunter Region. As far as she was concerned, Liberal conservatives could not cut it, and to properly progress human rights, especially women’s rights, you needed to elect the Labour candidates.

1910 Hilda at Broadmeadow. MISS LIGHT AT BROADMEADOW. (1910, April 7). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137453203 

1910 Hilda on the emancipation of women. (age: 21) ADDRESS BY MISS LIGHT. (1910, April 11). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137459079 

1910 ADDRESS BY MISS LIGHT. (1910, April 11). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137459079 

1910 Hilda in praise on Mr Vial (Maitland Electorate) speaks on Labour women. MISS. LIGHT AT MAITLAND. (1910, September 15). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133905882 

ELECTION CAMPAIGN. (1910, September 15). The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), p. 4. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125293243

In 1930, Hilda and youngest sister Reta were on a world tour. They visited a bull fight in Spain, and were horrified at the inhumane treatment of the bulls, they were barracking for the bulls.

AT A BULL FIGHT (1930, July 9). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137847548

1930 MANY LANDS (1930, November 1). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135429624 

ACROSS SIBERIA (1931, July 23). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139626676 (Hilda in Siberia)

1932 Miss Light’s Travels see: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136592596

“Her summing up in general terms is that “Internationalism is the greatest hope of the future-the cooperation and fellowship of nations working towards a common ideal, the uplifting of the masses of humanity.” – MISS LIGHT’S WORLD TRAVELS. (1932, July 2). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136592596

1932 1st part? PROBLEMS TO SOLVE (1932, July 2). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 12. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136592641 

1932 Hilda in Mayfield. MAYFIELD (1932, September 28). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135506873

1932 LECTURE BY MISS LIGHT. (1932, October 1). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135499872

During the outbreak of World War II both Hilda and Reta were again in Europe. Hilda’s letter to her brother Bertram relayed that were in Paris and safe for the time being, being overseas when WW2 broke out.

PERSONAL (1943, October 13). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133426344

STILL IN PARIS

Miss Hilda Light, who was attached to the teaching staff of Sydney High School before going overseas seven years ago, and who was in Paris at the outbreak of war was still in that city when last writing to her brother, Mr B. Light of Newcastle. With her sister, Miss Rita Light, who had been in England earlier, she was a prisoner of war while France was occupied by the Germans. Miss Hilda. Light said in her letter that she and her sister were well, and had made no plans for returning to Australia. They are daughters of the late Ald. Morris Light who was Mayor of Newcastle in 1928-29 (ed. incorrect dates) and originated the Civic Centre scheme, of which this City Hall is part. – NEWCASTLE WOMEN STILL IN PARIS (1945, August 21). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134355934

Miss Hilda Light B.A. (sister of Reta Light)
Miss Hilda Light B.A. (sister of Reta Light) with academic mortarboard hat

In Loving Memory of Hilda Vera Light
Beloved Daughter of Morris and Sarah Light
Born June 21st 1888 Died December 3rd 1958

Bertram Light and sister Hilda Light grave
Bertram Light and sister Hilda Light grave

 

Bertram Light and Hilda Vera Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)
Bertram Light and Hilda Vera Light Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)

Reta’s Brother: Bertram Light  (1889 – 1950)

Photograph of Bertram Light
Photograph of Bertram Light

Bertram Light, Son of Morris Light and Husband of Bertha
Born 25th September 1889 Died 7th June 1950

 

1922 Court

MAITLAND DISTRICT. (1922, May 3). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139346764 

In 1928 Bertram was touring the East.

Bertram on his tour of the East, with possibly his sister Reta on the left, and wife Bertha to the right. (circa 1928)
Bertram on his tour of the East, with possibly his sister Reta on the left, and wife Bertha to the right. (circa 1928)

1928 Trip January 7 to April 1928

AN EASTERN TOUR (1928, April 13). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135578637

EASTERN TOUR (1928, May 5). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137667222

EASTERN TOUR (1928, May 11). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137676598

In 1933 Bertram visited the United States of America.

AMERICA (1933, December 18). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136682035

MR. B. LIGHT NEW N.J.C. CHAIRMAN (1940, March 1). The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167515964

NEW CHAIRMAN. (1940, March 1). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29889474

N.J.C. CHAIRMAN (1940, March 2). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 19. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-
article140529785

Death of Bertram’s Nephew J. Milton Edgar (Bert’s wife is an Edgar) OBITUARY (1940, June 27). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133587028

Mr. Fines New N.J.C. Chairman (1941, March 14). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 18. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140437968

Death In Sydney Of Mr. Bertram Light

Mr. Bertram Light, Managing Director of M. Light and Son Pty. Ltd. and one of Newcastle’s best known sporting men, died at Tattersall’s Club, Sydney, yesterday afternoon. Mr. Light was a native of Newcastle. He was educated at Cook’s Hill Public School and Maitland High. He entered the business of his father, the late Mr. Morris Light, on leaving school. On the death of the founder in 1928, he succeeded to the chief directorship of the business, which is one of the largest furnishing enterprises in the Northern district, with a branch at Cessnock. Mr. Light also succeeded his father as an alderman of Newcastle City Council, and remained in public life till 1929. Because of pressure of, business he did not seek re-election. He always took an active part in sport. He played with representative football teams and was a member of National Park Bowling Club. He was President of Newcastle Tattersall’s Club from 1921 to 1926. He was a member of Newcastle Jockey Club Committee, was chairman for several years, and in recognition of his work was made a life member. He raced several horses, including Pension, Ilona, Purple Heart and Skerries.

Made World Tour

In 1932 Mr. Light made a world tour. Part of his time was spent in the East and in America. His father, who was an alderman for 30 years and was for one term Mayor, was the prime mover in the City Hall scheme. From this was evolved the Civic Centre. The council placed a set of ornamental lamps at the entrance to the City Hall as a tribute to Aid.

Light’s work. Mr. Light is survived by his wife and two sisters, Misses Hilda and Rita Light.

The Chairman of Newcastle branch of the Retail Traders’ Association (Ald. F. J. Cane) said Mr. Light had worthily carried on the business founded by his father, and had been a good citizen. The Secretary of Newcastle Jockey Club (Mr, Jack Hibberd) said Mr. Light’s place on the committee would be hard to fill. He had contributed much to the success of the club.

– Death In Sydney Of Mr. Bertram Light (1950, June 8). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135302250

FUNERAL NOTICES

LIGHT. — The relatives and friends of Mrs. B. M. Light. Miss H. V. Light and Miss R. Light are invited to attend the Funeral of their beloved husband and brother, BERTRAM LIGHT, of 56 Dawson Street, Cook’s Hill (only son of the late Morris Light) to move from the Funeral Chapel, Belford St., Broadmeadow, tomorrow (Friday) morning, after service commencing at 11.45 o’clock for the Jewish Cemetery, Sandgate.
JAMES MURRAY,
Funeral Director.

– Family Notices (1950, June 8). The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158764683

 

TRIBUTE PAID TO MR. B. LIGHT (1950, July 19). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 12. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135306304

 

On the URN of Hilda and Bertram’s Tomb is inscribed:

“Memories Of Reta and Violet
Hilda-Bert”

Reta’s Sister: Myra Light  (1892 – 1943)

 

OBITUARY

MRS. M. PERRY.

The funeral took place at Sandgate on Sunday of Mrs. Perry, formerly Miss Myra Light, who died at Manly. She was a native of Newcastle, of which her late father Ald. Morris Light, was Mayor in 1925. A brother is Mr. B. Light, managing director of M. Light and Son Pty. Ltd. Hunter-street. Mrs. Perry’s sisters, Misses Hilda and Rita Light, were overseas when war broke out. They are still in Paris. – OBITUARY (1943, January 26). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140446820

Myra Light (married name Perry) Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)
Myra Light (married name Perry) Sandgate Cemetery Crypt Inscription (Charcoal Rubbing by Gionni Di Gravio 9 July 2022)

Reta Light  (1898 – 1989)

Reta Light. Died 25th September 1989.
Aged 91 years

To Reta, Morris and the Light Family,
we send our warmest thanks for your magnificent contribution
to this City and its University.

 

Compiled by Gionni Di Gravio in 2008 from archival sources and the journalistic research work of Greg Ray. Revised in 2022.

Primary Sources:

Reta Light’s Will, 1973.
University of Newcastle Special Collections.
Archives Shelf Location A7142(i)

Correspondence. Newcastle District Municipal Metal Quarry at Martin’s Creek, 1929.
University of Newcastle Special Collections.
Archives Shelf Location A7142(ii)

Light Family Photographs. [c. 1890 – c. 1950]
University of Newcastle Special Collections.
Archives Shelf Location A7142(iii)

Morris Light (1859 – 1929).
Travel Diary 10th February 1923 – 1st May 1923 and then used as Newsclipping Book, 24th December 1924 – August 1929. With later period material inserts: Correspondence, 1937. Reta Light Balance Sheet, 1980, a piece of creative writing (?) [n.d.] and Newsclipping Nov.1977.
University of Newcastle Special Collections.
Archives Shelf Location A7143.

Morris Light (1859 – 1929).
Masonic Lodge Certificates of Morris Light 1909, 1926.
Masonic Lodge Apron and case.
Copy of “Lights of Newcastle Golden Jubilee, 1887 – 1937”.
University of Newcastle Special Collections.
Archives Shelf Location A7144.

Secondary Sources:

Cohn, Norman
Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967.

Ray, Greg.
Newspaper Articles “Behind the Family that gave $1.5m to University” and “Light Shines on University”. The Newcastle Morning Herald, Monday May 17th 1993 pp. 1, 6.

Russo-Jewish Committee.
The Persecution of the Jews in Russia with Appendix containing a summary of Special and Restrictive Laws. Also a Map of Russia, showing the Pale of Jewish Settlement, A Letter reprinted from “The Times” of 5th November, 1890, A Report of the Guildhall Meeting Held on 10th December 1890 and the Text of the Memorial to the Czar With its accompanying Letter from the Lord Mayor. Issed by the Russo-Jewish Committee for Gratuitous Circulation. London: Wertheimer, Lea & Co., 1891.


One thought on “Miss Reta Light (1898 – 1989): The Auchmuty Library’s Greatest Benefactor

  1. A fascinating and comprehensive account of the Light family. I was especially interested in Reta and Hilda, and relish the research you have done. The charcoal rubs of fading tombstones is a useful idea.

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