Vivien was born on 20 June 1891 in Blackburn, Lancashire in England. She was the fourth child of her parents, Richard and Lucy Carter. Richard was a draper by trade and emigrated to New Zealand in the 1880s, where he met and married his wife. They later returned to England in the early 1890s. Despite having emigrated once, he decided to do it again. In late July 1900, the Carter family boarded the ss Medic, and on 30 August, they arrived in Western Australia.
Richard started his drapery business (named Carter and Co) that year and first operated from Wellington Street in Perth. Vivien began school, and in 1903, at the age of 12, she attended the Young Ladies College run by the Sisters of Mercy in Victoria Square (today’s Mercedes College).
Throughout the years, her grades and schooling endeavours were printed in the newspapers. She performed in school plays, participated in speech days, and regularly excelled in music. In 1909, Trinity College in London awarded her a national prize of £5 for achieving honours in the Senior Grade in both pianoforte and musical knowledge exams. She also tied for the gold medal in the Senior Division and scored 97 (the highest grade in the state) for Senior Harmony Examinations.
Once she graduated from school, Vivien went to work helping her father. No longer operating in Perth, he had moved Carter and Co to Fremantle in 1907. The business continued to grow and soon expanded to country towns, including Collie and Northam. In 1912, they opened a store on Marine Terrace in Geraldton with Vivien’s brother, Geoffrey, managing it.
The trust in Vivien’s abilities was apparent early on. When Geoffrey went to the eastern states for a holiday for three months in 1914, Vivien ran the Geraldton store. War was declared in July that year, and when Geoffrey enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 17 June 1915, Vivien again took over.
An article in the newspaper ‘Truth’ highlighted some ‘Fremantle Facts, Fads and Fancies.’ In it, they wrote about Vivien, a woman who worked and was willing to take up responsibility during the war. They noted that for years she had been her father’s ‘right-hand-man’ in the drapery emporium at Fremantle. When her brother enlisted, she immediately put her hand up to run Carter and Co at Geraldton. Richard Carter was apprehensive, but Vivien insisted. She reminded him that the “business at present did not justify the appointment of a manager at Geraldton, and, moreover, if Geoffrey’s patriotism prompted him to make a sacrifice for the sake of his country, it was up to her to make a sacrifice for the sake of the firm.”
Vivien became an esteemed part of Geraldton society. Her position as manager of Carter and Co may not have initially been permanent but evolved that way due to circumstances. While fighting in France in August 1916, Geoffrey was rendered paraplegic after being wounded in the spine with shrapnel. He was discharged and returned to Western Australia on 25 November 1916. Hopes that he would survive were dashed. In March 1917, a wire was sent to Geraldton informing Vivien that her brother was dying. She immediately drove to Mingenew and caught the train to Fremantle. Geoffrey died on 30 March 1917 at age 23.
Returning to Geraldton, Vivien (aged 26) continued to run Carter and Co. Helping with the war effort, she took up the position of secretary of the Red Cross Society and held events to raise funds to help soldiers. It was around this time that she met South Australian radio engineer and operator George Ernest Brown, who was working in Geraldton.
[Vivien] frequently commented that she came to Geraldton for three months and never left it.The Geraldton Guardian; Tuesday, December 10, 1968; Page 3; Sudden Death of Mrs. Brown
Throughout the early 1920s, Vivien lived on Gregory Street and ran the family business. She reconnected with George, and, on 29 November 1924, they married at Fremantle. Reporting on the wedding, a journalist for the Geraldton Guardian described her as “very popular in Geraldton social and business circles…” After two weeks, the couple returned to Geraldton, where they would make their home together.
On 16 August 1925, their son was born. With Vivien married and now a mother, it would perhaps be expected for that era that she would not return to work. Choosing to walk a different path, she continued working, and her husband joined the family business. In 1928, they bought the Geraldton branch of Carter and Co from Vivien’s father and continued trading on Marine Terrace.
For the next thirty years, Vivien was the business manager for Carter and Co, well-known family drapers who clothed the men, women, and children of Geraldton. They operated in the “old style and traditions” and always ensured that prices were the same as those in Fremantle. She retired in 1958 but still maintained an interest in its affairs. Eventually, the business became known as Carter Brown, a combination of the two family names, highlighting its origins and its future.
Vivien considered the store to be one of her main interests in life. After retirement, she often popped in to see how things were going and made one such visit on 6 December 1968. On the following day, she died suddenly in Geraldton at age 77. For over 40 years, she ran the drapery store at a time when a woman doing so could be considered unusual. She is one of many women whose stories paved the way for the future. As one writer aptly described her in 1922, “Miss Carter. That breezy little business woman, who still defies the world.”
- Ancestry.com. Lancashire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1911 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Lancashire Anglican Parish Registers. Preston, England: Lancashire Archives.
- 1909 ‘RICHARDSON AND COELLI.’, The W.A. Record (Perth, WA : 1888 – 1922), 15 May, p. 13. , viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212623025
- 1910 ‘Some Successful Students, Convent of Mercy, Victoria Square, Perth, W.A.’, The Mirror (Perth, WA : 1907 – 1910), 26 August, p. 15. , viewed 07 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257353272
- 1914 ‘Personal’, The Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1928), 17 June, p. 2. , viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211763732
- 1915 ‘Port Pickings.’, Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), 29 May, p. 5. (CITY EDITION), viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209404815
- 1917 ‘Personal.’, The Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1928), 28 March, p. 2. , viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214195759
- Carter Geoffrey Grant : SERN 2641 : POB Blackburn England : POE Perth WA : NOK F Carter Richard Beale; Series Number: B2455
- 1922 ‘ALONG MARINE TERRACE.’, The Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1928), 3 April, p. 4. , viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article259988854
- 1924 ‘PERSONAL.’, Geraldton Guardian (WA : 1906 – 1928), 29 November, p. 3. , viewed 05 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67287659
- 1928 ‘Local and General’, The Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1928), 25 June, p. 2. , viewed 06 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article259297349
- 1925 ‘Family Notices’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 3 September, p. 39. , viewed 06 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37640871
- 1930 ‘SHELL ACTIVITIES IN GERALDTON’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 25 May, p. 19. , viewed 06 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58383288
- National Archives of Australia; Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes ACT 2600.; Inward passenger manifests for ships and aircraft arriving at Fremantle, Perth Airport and Western Australian outports from 1897-1963; Series Number: K 269; Reel Number: 39
- The Geraldton Guardian; Tuesday, December 10, 1968; Page 3; Sudden Death of Mrs. Brown
- Speeds Hotel, later named Commonwealth Hotel and Marine Terrace, Geraldton; E. L. Mitchell; 1927. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: BA1271/77).