Phyllis Hammond Clegg, A Forgotten Queen Of The Australian Skating Scene

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia.

"The Clegg sisters have always been greatly admired in Victoria, and belong to the series of girls who are such clever skaters. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clegg, have a beautiful home at St. Kilda, and entertain frequently and upon a lavish and attractive scale." - "Sunday Times", November 30, 1913

Phyllis Hammond Clegg was born in 1892 in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to Mary Ann (Goddard) and William Hammond Clegg, a British born Colonel. She and her two sisters were raised in the lap of Victorian luxury. She was privately tutored in French and spent much of her childhood singing, acting, giving recitations at charity fundraisers and attending lavish dances and teas. However, by the time she was a teenager, Phyllis had found her true calling: figure skating.

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photos courtesy National Library Of Australia.

Phyllis learned to skate at the Melbourne Glaciarium and was the belle of the ball at the rink's many costume carnivals. In 1909, she won the prize for Most Original Costume at the Glacarium's Arctic Display, dressed as 'La France' in a red, white and blue costume depicting the French flag. She was so taken with the sport that she made the long voyage by ocean liner to Great Britain, where she studied the sport at Prince's Skating Club in London. Eminent British skater, judge and writer T.D. Richardson once recalled, "The well-known Miss Phyllis Hammond-Clegg (Billy Clegg to her intimates)'s waltzing was a joy for both partner and spectator in the years just before the First World War at Prince's, where she attracted great attention and with whom we all wanted to dance."

In 1912, a London weekly newspaper praised her skating thusly: "Sure, light and easy in all her curves, she uses the most graceful and supple of figures with an instinct for rhythmic movement quite delightful to watch... Above all, she has to perfection those undulatory swings and those floating changes, matching the murmuring pulsations and dreamy cadences of langurous waltz melodies." From Prince's, Phyllis travelled to Switzerland, where she "caused quite a sensation" on the ice, according to "Punch" magazine, when she stayed at the Adelboden Grand Hotel.

Returning to Australia in 1913, Phyllis established herself as the queen of the Australian skating scene, performing in ice pantomimes and carnivals at the Melbourne Glaciarium, winning a Waltzing Championship with Cyril MacGillicuddy and winning the Australian women's title, not recognized historically as such as it was held during the years the event was held in Sydney independently of the Australia's Skating Association. Her speciality? The 'rag-time twostep'. She and her sister Dolly also helped establish a Sunday skating club, which ruffled feathers with locals who opposed anything but church happening on the Sabbath.

Phyllis' husband Simon Fraser Jr.

On February 17, 1914, Phyllis and Simon Fraser Jr., a hockey player and Olympic rower, tied the knot at a lavish wedding at the Scots' Church in Melbourne. The February 21, 1914 issue of "The Leader" described her as having "beauty above the average pretty girl" and being dressed in "white crepe de chine, draped artistically with Limerick lace... Very becoming, as well as novel, was the little chaplet of laurel leaves, which held in place the bridal veil - the veil which Lady Frank Madden had worn on her wedding day."

Phyllis and her children. Photos courtesy Stonnington History Center.

In 1919, both Phyllis and her husband contracted the Spanish flu after attending a boat race. She barely survived; he didn't. She was left a widowed mother of three at the age of twenty seven. How did Phyllis deal with her grief? She returned to the figure skating, making trips to Wengen, Switzerland to further study her craft. In September of 1924, the former queen of Australian skating performed in an ice carnival starring Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders. She skated a duet with Hilda, the daughter of Sir John Grice. Their performance was described as "especially beautiful. Intricate figures and movements were accomplished with consummate ease, and the whole thing was a delight to watch."

1924 Lagonda M45 Tourer. Photo courtesy Aston Martin. Used for editorial purposes per license permissions.

Phyllis was a modern woman of the times, a 'real life Miss Fisher' in many ways, minus the sleuthing of course. She participated in an automobile race, driving her late husband's Aston Martin. She travelled to Hollywood, learned to fly an airplane, golfed, swam and took up water skiing. Much of her time, however, was devoted to philanthropic efforts with her late husband's mother Lady Fraser. 
During World War II, she volunteered with the Australian Comforts Fund.

Phyllis operating an automatic sock knitting machine at the headquarters of the Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Phyllis died July 14, 1962 at the age of seventy in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, leaving behind only distant echoes of a time when she was one of her city's most adored skaters.

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