1897 – 1926
First woman garage proprietor in Australia – creator of an all-woman enterprise.
Alice Anderson was a “was a woman of ‘rare achievement” – an innovator, entrepreneur and charismatic business owner. At a time when it was assumed mechanics were men, Alice’s vision and passion transformed motor mechanics into a profession that included women. Alice’s personal heroine was Joan of arc and her motto was ‘Qui ne risque rien n’a rien – nothing ventured, nothing gained” In the late 1920’s she had this saying printed on her business cards and wore this saying on her tiepin”
Alice was born into an upper middle class family in Melbourne in 1897. Her father was an engineer and academic, but unfortunately not a skilled business manager. When he lost money, the family moved to a basic bush hut in Narbethong where Alice learned to hunt, fish and ride horses. In keeping with this life-style she wore utilitarian clothing such as bloomers and mens boots rather than women’s fashions of the times. Alice attended school until her teenage years but could not finish secondary school or enter university due to her family’s financial situation.
Alice spent her teens employed as a clerical worker and learnt to drive and repair cars at her father’s transport service in Healesville. Alice became an expert in stripping and restoring engines..
At this time the enterprising Alice also began her own part time business in the new and exciting field of chauffeuring. She began this venture with one touring car and soon was busy providing short trips as well as day trips to the Dandenong Ranges.
For these trips Alice provided clients with packed sandwiches and also created the ‘Radi-waiter’, a flask that attached to the radiator, keeping the contents warm. This way her customers could enjoy a piping-hot cuppa or even a warm meal when they arrived at their day-trip destinations.
Alice moved to Melbourne and was apprenticed to a mechanic in order to get a licence which would allow her to open a fully functioning garage. By 1918 at the age of 21, Alice was operating Miss Anderson’s Motor Service from the backyard of a boarding house in Kew.
At the age of 22 Alice designed a stylish Art Deco brick garage which she built on a block of land in Kew. This business was named The Kew Garage and was the first all-women garage workshop in Australia.
Her Kew Garage offered everything from petrol sales, vehicle repairs, a driving school, a 24-hour chauffeur service, and chauffeured interstate tourist parties. It also provided tuition to women in mechanics.
Alice’s business quickly expanded, she trained more than 30 young female chauffeurs and her fleet of cars grew to 5 vehicles.
In addition to her many talents Alice was an inventor – her best known invention is the ‘Anderson get out and under board,’ a board on castor-wheels, designed to make it easier for a mechanic to work under a car.
Alice applied for an Australian patent in 1918 – but she let it lapse the following year. Alice did not have the funds to apply for a worldwide patent and to her regret – this invention was patented as ‘The Creeper’ in America by another firm in 1922.
In 1926 at the Age of 29 at the height of her success, Alice made a historic trip in her new Baby Austin to Alice Springs with historian Jessie Webb. 
Less than a week after her return from Alice Springs, Alice was tragically and fatally wounded in an accident which resulted in a gunshot wound to the head.
In March 2020 Anderson was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.
This Biography has been written in consultation with the family of Alice Anderson and Author Loretta Smith.
Find out more
Smith L (2019) A Spanner In The Works – The extraordinary story of Alice Anderson and Australia’s first all-girl garage Hachette Press.
Visit: “Alice Anderson’s Motor Service” an exhibition in the National Motor Museum of Australia.
Keep an eye out for: Garage Girls a new theatrical collaboration between The Shift Theatre and Three Birds Theatre inspired by the life of Alice Anderson
Photo: Alice Anderson wearing a chauffeur uniform c.1918 supplied by Family