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Is this 'dangerous woman' the greatest Queenslander you've never heard of?

Culture

She was one of Australia’s first and fastest female pilots, famously racing and beating Reg Ansett, before being the woman responsible for bringing “high fashion” to the Gold Coast.

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Now Ivy Hassard has been uncovered as a “dangerous woman” by the State Library of Queensland.

Dangerous Women is a new podcast by the State Library of Queensland on some of the “greatest Queensland women you’ve never heard of,” which is being released today.

It tells the stories of “strong, fascinating women who’ve forged their way through life with boldness, daring and courage, and challenged the status quo to inspire change in Queensland,” according to host Holly Zwalf.

State Librarian and CEO Vicki McDonald said the stories of the women helped fill gaps in the collective history of Queensland.

“We hope that in sharing their stories they will empower listeners to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and Queensland,”  McDonald said.

For Laurene Hassard, Ivy’s daughter, it is sharing the story of a trailblazing Queenslander and a dazzling time in the evolution of Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast.

“She was training to be a concert pianist and suddenly she saw aeroplanes flying around and decided that’s what I really, really want to do and took up flying,” Laurene said.

In her late teens, Ivy, whose maiden name was Pearce, became one of the first female pilots in Australia specialising in aerobatics, flying formation and tricks in her Tiger Moth.

As a pioneering aviatrix, with research from the University of Southern Queensland showing women still make up only about  5 per cent of the world’s commercial pilots, she was the youngest entrant in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race and recorded the fastest time for any woman pilot ever.

“That was the big Brisbane to Adelaide air race in 1936. Apparently, she came in before Reg Ansett but, because she was in this twin-engine mono-spar aircraft, she was virtually handicapped out of winning it. But she would love to tell that story throughout her life, ‘I beat Reg Ansett in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race’,” Laurene said.

The Poodle Bride, 1967. (Photo: State Library of Queensland)

A newspaper article retrieved from the John Oxley library recorded the event under the headline: Youngest Competitor Wears Trim Tailored Suit.

“Miss Ivy Pearce flying a monospar twin-engine machine, set a new fashion for women pilots. She arrived wearing a smart, tailored light suit, with a divided skirt,” the report said.

Hassard herself turned to fashion after moving to the Gold Coast, around the same time that Paula Stafford was shooting to fame as the Australian fashion designer credited with introducing the bikini to Australia.

“She opened the first little fashion boutique there in 1947. It was called Exclusive Salon. Initially she would buy clothes from Sydney in. But in that time she also decided to design one or two things of her own and she quickly found out that the dresses she was designing were going out of the shop much faster than those she was bringing up from Sydney,” Laurene said.

“Mum and Paula were on different pages altogether. Mum was high fashion, beautiful dresses mainly and Paula was really strictly bikinis. And neither one liked to be compared to the other.”

Laurene Hassard, in an Ivy Hassard design, and John Dolby at the 1971 Concours d’Elegance, Chevron Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast. (Photo: State Library of Queensland)

Hassard went on to become a doyenne of the Surfers Paradise social scene and gain international renown for some of the most flamboyant Gold Coast high fashion looks, including for an annual event called the Gold Coast Concours d’ Elegance in which designers were tasked with creating outfits to match the most exclusive cars of the day.

Among them were Hassard’s 1967 entry called “The Poodle Bride”, a white veil and a white jumpsuit with full-length white ruffles from ankle to upper thigh, and her supreme award-winning entry of a red, jewelled catsuit with ostrich feathers to match a black Lamborghini with red leather interior.

The Dangerous Women podcast series is streaming now

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