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Advertising salesman and father of notable Australian feminist, Germaine Greer, Reg Greer (1904-1983) was in informal foster care as a child.

Reg Greer was born Robert Hamilton King in Launceston. His mother, unmarried 19-year-old Rhoda Elizabeth King, was working as a domestic servant at the time. The identity of the father is unknown, but Germaine Greer suspects he was Richard Robert Ernest Hamilton, for whom Rhoda worked (Greer, 280).

When baby Robert Hamilton King was later christened, he was given the names Robert Henry Eric Ernest.

Rhoda was not there when her five-week-old son was christened; she had already given him up and gone her way sorrowing. None of the people standing round the font knew what to answer when the curate asked what the child’s father’s occupation was. The curate opted for discretion (Greer, 281).

Rhoda did not attend the christening because by then she had given her baby to Emma Greeney. Emma called the child Eric Greeney.

Emma Greeney worked as a foster carer. She was born in 1867 and married Robert Greeney when she was 21. Thirteen years later and the couple did not have any children, which they wanted badly. Fortuitously, Tasmanian authorities were looking for foster carers, and the Department of Neglected Children provided a small allowance to those carers. Over the years Emma took in 25 children. On the top of a wardrobe, she kept a register containing children’s names and amounts she was paid for their care.

Eric Greeney’s name was not included in this register; Emma never registered the boy as a ward of the state and therefore she did not earn any money for his care. She likely thought she had adopted him, although legally it would have been an informal fostering of the child—there was no legal mechanism allowing for Emma Greeney to adopt Eric, not until “the Adoption of Children Act was passed in 1920” (Evans, 135).

According to Germaine Greer, Emma was influenced by what had happened with the first baby she had taken in, Henry Ernest Millhouse. Unwed mother Florence handed her baby to the state but having failed to make the regular payments of two shillings and sixpence towards his care, she was told by the state she would have to take her baby back. Instead, she fled to Melbourne.

When it came to Eric, Emma did not want to run the risk of having another mother in the wings. Unlike middle class women who “might try to pretend that the birth had never happened,” working class women were more likely to marry and try to get their children back, says Greer (282).

Emma and husband Rob made sure they could not be found—Robert Greeney’s name did not appear in the post office directory—a rudimentary map and listing of residents and business owners—for  some years.  It seems Eric never found out who his mother was, nor did he know that he had another ten siblings.

Emma kept Eric at school until he had been at the Launceston State High School for two months. Then she got him a job working for a bookbinder. The next job Eric obtained for himself, selling jewellery, from which, says his daughter, he learned he could earn his living through “his gift of the gab” (Greer, 289). Not long after, Eric learned how to dress well too, by working as a salesman in McKinlay’s Department Store in Brisbane Street, Launceston.

By the time he was 17, Eric had left Emma and Launceston and gone to the mainland. He never returned and never told anyone about his history as an ‘illegitimate’ foster child. Instead, he reinvented himself as Reg Greer and rose “to the top in the new industry of advertising” (Greer, 296).

Reg Greer married Margaret Lafrank (known as Peggy) in 1937 and joined the Second Australian Imperial Force in 1942. He was discharged on medical grounds in 1943.

Reg Greer’s war had lasted not quite two years. He joined the Returned Services League so that he could wear the badge and not be asked embarrassing questions about what he was doing in civvy street while Australians were dying in the Pacific. Everyone knew he had been on Malta during the siege, and that no more could be asked of any man (Greer, 193).

Reg and Peggy Greer raised three children in Elwood, a Melbourne suburb.

Germaine Greer went in search for her father’s history after he died in 1983. Until then, she writes:

What we knew about him could be summed up in a few words. We knew, or thought we knew, that he was born in Durban [South Africa] in 1905 or so. And came to Launceston where he went to school. He had mentioned being a boy soprano, perhaps even a choir scholar. We thought his parents had gone back to England and died… (Greer, 6).

Germaine Greer’s search for her father’s origins went on for three years and took Greer from her home in England to Australia, India and Malta. When she told her siblings what she had found out, Jane “liked the story” and Barry “adored it.”

All his working life, my brother who is a primary school teacher, has been involved with poor children. He was actually pleased to discover that our father was one of the poorest of poor children…(Greer, 302).

For Barry, Reg’s story bore out his belief that children are not limited by their childhoods.

‘…After all that he made a stable family: he brought us all up well. Three out of three’s not bad going’ (Greer, 303).


Evans, Caroline. “Excellent Women and Troublesome Children: State Foster Care in Tasmania, 1896-1918.” Labour History, vol. 83 (2002): 131-148.

Greer, Germaine. Daddy, we hardly knew you. Penguin, 1989.

Porter, Roger. “’Love Is No Detective’: Germaine Greer and the Enigma Code.” Life Writing, vol. 3 (2006): 3-16.