The Whiz Of White Lodge: The Winsome Thackeray Story

Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

The daughter of James and Esther (Anderson) Thackeray, Esther Winsome Lorraine Thackeray was born in 1908 in Melbourne, Australia. Winsome and her three brothers William, Robert and James grew up wanting for very little at the family's large home 'White Lodge' on Marine Parade in St. Kilda. 

Winsome's father was the Managing Director of Messrs. H. R. Carter & Co. Pty. Ltd., Flour and Grain Merchants and her mother was the President of the East St. Kilda Women's Hospital Auxiliary and a member of the Australia Women's National League, Seamen's Mission and English Speaking Union. While attending the Church of England Girls' Grammar School and the Oberwyl girls boarding school, her life became an endless stream of tea parties, charity fundraisers and dance lessons.

Winsome became a member of East St. Kilda junior auxiliary of the Women's Hospital and earned a cooking diploma after taking a three year course in Domestic Arts at the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy. In 1927, at the age of nineteen, she was finally able to achieve some semblance of control over her destiny. She showed up on the doorstep of the famed Melbourne Glaciarium and fell madly in love with figure skating. By 1930, she was skating every single day and had passed her third class test. In an interview with Beatrice Fischer in the August 21, 1930 issue of "Table Talk" she explained, "I just couldn't bear to let anything beat me! And watching those more fortunate individuals who could cut all kinds of patterns on the ice with such apparent ease, only goaded me on to do to the same. I found, that once on the ice, it was not so very difficult to make a beginning, be it ever so bad, and then after each trial I noticed an improvement, which added to my zest and gave me an exhilirating sense of power. It is a marvellous feeling in any form of activity, but particularly with skating, when it becomes quite intoxicating."

Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

Finding an unlikely partner in Cyril MacGillicuddy, a doctor almost twenty years her senior, Winsome entered every pairs, Waltzing and singles skating competition imaginable in Australia in the late twenties and early thirties... and placed in the top three in almost every one. Contrasting with her curly fair hair, she always skated in all black and wore a short dress with a flared skirt. She added a hat and stockings for exhibitions. In 1933 - her most successful year - she won the national women's and pairs titles in Sydney and the Victorian women's, pairs and waltzing titles in Melbourne, setting a record for the most Australian skating titles held by any person at the same time. In total, she won two Australian women and pairs titles and one Australian Waltzing title. In 1935, she again made history by becoming the first woman in Victoria to pass the first class skating test. Quoted in the September 24, 1935 issue of "The Argus", she explained, "I love skating and it is a great joy to me to be able to be on the ice nearly every day." What made Winsome's achievements all the more heartening was the fact that at the height of her success, she was grieving the death of her father.

Winsome Thackeray and Dr. Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

Though she retired from competitive figure skating in 1935, Winsome remained a fixture at the Melbourne Glaciarium, helping to organize charity skating galas for the Women's Hospital and performing in carnivals as part of the 'Glaciarium Eight' (a team of two fours) with Edith Adams, Alison Lyons, Gwen Chambers, Graham Hobbs, Nate Walley, Ron Chambers and Jack Gordon. Though coverage of figure skating competitions was scant in the Australian press at the time, numerous mentions were made of Winsome's elegance and grace on the ice. She told Beatrice Fischer, "I really think my dancing helped me tremendously with skating. It is quite noticeable that those who have never danced make very much slower progress on the ice, than others who have. Dancing seems to instil a certain balance and poise, which is so necessary to possess in order to become a graceful skater."

By the time World War II started, Winsome had hung up her skates. She returned to the life her mother had charted out for her - volunteer work, volunteer work and more volunteer work. She worked tirelessly with the St. Kilda League Of Helpers and the Mission of St. James and St. John and lived a relatively quiet life. In 1947, her partner and friend Dr. MacGillicuddy passed away and on Good Friday in 1963, the long vacant Melbourne Glaciarium burned to the ground. Winsome never married and lived at 'White Lodge' her entire life, dying in relative obscurity at the age of sixty-eight on March 26, 1976... exactly forty years after she made first made Australian figure skating history.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":