Bee [aka Bea, Beatrice] Miles

17 September 1902 - 3 December 1973

Beatrice Miles was born at Ashfield in Sydney to William John Miles and Maria Louisa [nee Binnington]2. She spent her early years at Wahroongah, Sydney1, and her school education was conducted at the conservative Sydney Anglican girl's school, Abbotsleigh.

She enrolled in Arts at the University of Sydney but she left the course before completion, complaining that there was insufficient Australian content3. Not long after leaving university Bee contracted encephalitis3.

Much has been made of Bee's conflict with her father. Many authors describe their relationship as violent. Kate Grenville has written two books that are widely seen as being loosely biographical about the life of Bee Miles. In these books, Lilian's Story5 and Dark Places6, Grenville presents a picture of a misogynist father who rapes his university student daughter, and has her committed to a mental asylum. Bee's father was certainly partly responsible for her being committed to the Gladesville Hospital for the Insane in 19233. Indeed a number of prominent Australians eg Henry Lawson, Adama Lindsay Gordon] spent time in psychiatric institutions around this time, perhaps reflecting a view that deviance was "lunacy", whereas now such behaviour is just regarded as eccentric. Grenville has been quoted as saying [about Lilian's Story], the book "... overlaps with the life of Bea Miles in a few places, but that's all - it's not really about her at all."

Certainly, the facts about the exact nature of Bee's relationship with her father are not known. Undoubtedly, Bee had unconventional ideas and would not have fitted in well with her middle class family. On the other hand, many of Bee's ideas can be seen to be similar to her father's. He was an outspoken secular rationalist who funded and edited an anti-British, pro-Australian journal, The Publicist. He was honorary treasurer of the Shakespeare Society of New South Wales3. Bee was also highly patriotic [her memorial is inscribed "who loved Australia"] and was famous for memorising and quoting Shakespeare.

In 1925, publicity in Smith's Weekly led to Bee's eventual release from the Gladesville hospital. She became well-known for outrageous public behaviour and she was highly critical of authority of all sorts. Bee advocated "free love"3 and rejected the conservative values of the middle classes to become one of the "bohemians" of Sydney. Bee took to living in streets and parks and was frequently seen wearing a tennis eye-shade. She asked for money to recite Shakespeare and would travel by taxi and public transport and refuse to pay the fare. One one occasion she took a taxi to Perth and back [a 19-day journey], but paid the fare3! She would also ride on car running-boards and bumper bars, and is reputed to have pulled a car door off its hinges. Bee also frequented public libraries, reportedly reading up to three books a day. She was apparently banned from the NSW Public Library in the 1950s3. She was also frequently in trouble with the police.

Bee was said to despise men who married, and this conviction may have been the reason for the demise of a long term relationship she had with a Brian Harper [when she was 38]3. Despite being the scourge of taxi drivers, one of her closest long term friends was a taxi driver, John Beynon. Someone still [in 2000] leaves flowers at her memorial on the anniversary of her death2.

In her later years [from 19643] Bee was cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Randwick, who claimed that she renounced her lifelong atheism on her death-bed and became a Roman Catholic. This seems unlikely as, even near her death, she showed no signs of any fundamental change in her beliefs and attitudes1.

Bee Miles requested that a jazz band play at her funeral [they played Walzing Matilda, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport and Advance Australia Fair] and Australian wildflowers were placed on her coffin3.

Bee Miles requested that this quotation (from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1) be inscribed on her monument [in a cemetery located next door to the Cumberland Campus of the University of Sydney] :



Reason thus with life: If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing that none but fools would keep...



  Here are some sources of information about Bee Miles, only some of which can be considered authoritative. [Note: I have not consulted all of these myself.]

  1. Information from family members
  2. Original personal research
  3. Nairn B & Serle G Australian Dictionary of Biography Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1986
  4. Better Known as Bee - a musical
  5. Grenville, K Lilian's Story, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1986
  6. Grenville, K Dark Places, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia, 1994
  7. Holledge, James Sydney's liveliest lady (Bee Miles) POL - 01 Nov 1969 p.25-27
  8. Mowatt, Roberta: Letter: Bee wasn't a dole bludger Sydney Morning Herald - 25 Jun 1994 p.32
  9. Payne, Pamela, Miles of taxing charm. [ Review ] Sydney Morning Herald - 04 May 1992 p.14
  10. _______________, The incredible lightness of Bea. [Review: Better Known As Bee (Stage musical)] Sydney Morning Herald - - 23 April 1992 p.16
  11. Smith, Margaret, Bee and Bill: A Sydney story. [ Review ] Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum - 20 Apr 1996 p.16s
  12. Sun Herald - 9 December 1973
  13. Sunday Telegraph - 9 December 1973
  14. Hewett, D. Bobbin Up, Sydney, 1959
  15. Sydney Morning Herald 24 May, 1958
  16. P.R.Stephensen papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
  17. Frank Johnson papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Copyright © Michael Lee 2011