Beatrice (Bea) Miles (17 September 1902 – 3 December 1973) was an Australian eccentric. Described as Sydney's "iconic eccentric", she was known for her contentious relationships with the city's taxi drivers and for her ability to quote any passage from Shakespeare for money.
Born in Ashfield, she grew up in St Ives. Her father was a wealthy and hot-headed businessman who had a tempestuous relationship with his daughter. In 1923, he had her committed to a hospital for the insane, where she stayed for two years. After that she lived on the street and was known for her outrageous behaviour. She was arrested many times and claimed to have been 'falsely convicted 195 times, fairly 100 times'.
Her most notorious escapades involved taxi drivers. She regularly refused to pay fares. Some drivers refused to pick her up and she would sometimes damage the cab in retaliation, including reputedly ripping a door off its hinges once. In 1955, she took a taxi to Perth, Western Australia and back. This time she did pay the fare, ₤600. It is also said she would sit in a Sydney bank smoking cigarettes under a sign reading "Gentlemen will refrain from smoking".
She was well-educated and spent a lot of time in the State Library of New South Wales reading books, until finally being banned in the late 1950s. She was also regularly seen standing on street corners with a sign offering to quote verses from Shakespeare for between sixpence and three shillings. Bea's writings are in the state library, some in her own handwriting. They are: Dictionary by a Bitch, I Go on a Wild Goose Chase, I Leave in a Hurry, For We Are Young and Free, Notes on Sydney Monument and Advance Australia Fair. Fiercely patriotic, at twelve years old she wore a 'No Conscription' badge to school during the referendum in World War I. In another incident Bea was disgusted when she was severely marked down for an essay about Gallipoli, which she described as a 'strategical blunder', rather than 'a wonderful war effort'.
As she was a well-known figure in Sydney society, in 1961 a portrait of her by Alex Robertson was entered for the Archibald Prize. A musical based on her life, Better known as Bee, was first performed in 1984. The 1985 novel Lilian's Story by Kate Grenville was loosely based on her life. It was turned into a movie in 1995 starring Toni Collette and Ruth Cracknell in the title role.
When ill health started to catch up with her, she finally stopped living on the streets, spending the last nine years of her life in the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Randwick. She supposedly told the sisters, she had 'no allergies that I know of, one complex, no delusions, two inhibitions, no neuroses, three phobias, no superstitions and no frustrations'.
- Bruce Elder, "Eccentric city: Bea Miles", Sydney Morning Herald, January 13, 2012.
- Martin, A. W. "Miles, Beatrice (Bea) (1902 - 1973)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- Grenville, Kate. "The Novelist as Barbarian". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- "Lilian's Story (1996)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-05-06.