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First Ladies: Significant Australian Women 1913-2013
1 February – 11 June 2013 First Ladies maps the milestones accomplished by Australian women across diverse fields of endeavour, from politics, activism and academia to sport, science and business, taking in the stories of household names as well as unsung heroines.
Timeline Click in the yellow bar or click and drag the pictures to the left to move along the timeline. Click the round yellow "i" for more information about a portrait.

A printable version of this timeline is available.
1893 New Zealand becomes the first nation in the world to grant women the vote.
1894 Women in South Australia, including Aboriginal women, are given the vote and are the first in the world accorded the right to stand for election to parliament.
1897 Catherine Helen Spence, Australia’s first female political candidate, stands unsuccessfully for election as a delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention.
1902 The passing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act gives women the right to vote and seek election to federal Parliament. Aboriginal women, however, remain excluded.  Women in New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria win the right to vote in state elections in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1908 respectively.
1903 Vida Goldstein gains over 50,000 votes in an unsuccessful attempt to be elected to the Senate. She is the first woman in the British Empire to contest a national parliamentary seat. Australian women vote in a federal election for the first time.
1910 As a result of lobbying by reformers including Rose Scott, New South Wales passes the Crimes (Girls Protection) Act by which the age of consent is raised to 16. In 1904, Scott had been instrumental in the drafting of a bill enabling single mothers to sue for child support.
1912 Swimmers Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie, Australia’s first female Olympians, represent Australia at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, winning gold and silver respectively in the 100m freestyle.
1912 The Maternity Allowance Act institutes the payment of £5 to women, including unmarried ones, on the birth of a child. White mothers only are eligible; Aboriginal women remain excluded from the scheme until 1942.
1914 Members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, formed in 1903, commence active service on the outbreak of World War 1, but do not formally hold any rank. By the end of the war, over 2000 Australian nurses have served overseas.
1915 South Australia and New South Wales appoint Australia’s first female police officers: Kate Cocks and Annie Ross in South Australia and Lillian Armfield in NSW. Vida Goldstein helps establish the Women’s Peace Army, which protests against war.
1916 Jessie Street co-founds the NSW Social Hygiene Association to provide information and advice to women on family planning and maternal health.
1918 The UK’s Eligibility of Women Act enables British women over the age of 30 to vote; however, it is ten years before all British women are granted voting rights on the same terms as men. Women in the USA win the vote in 1920.
1919 Australia’s first court case on the matter of a minimum wage for women decrees that women’s work was worth 54% of the rate paid to men.
1921 Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female politician, is elected to the Legislative Assembly in Western Australia.
1925 The first woman elected to parliament in New South Wales, Millicent Preston-Stanley, takes up her seat in the Legislative Assembly. Queensland’s first female state parliamentarian, Irene Longman, is elected in 1929; Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia follow suit in 1933, 1948 and 1959 respectively. 
1930 Jessie Street, having throughout the 1920s been involved with organisations such as the National Council of Women and the Australian Federation of Women Voters, becomes President of the United Associations of Women, which campaigned ‘for freedom and equality of status and opportunity’.
1932 Aviatrix Maude ‘Lores’ Bonney circumnavigates Australia by plane. In 1933, she becomes the first woman to achieve the feat of flying solo from Australia to England in her Gypsy Moth, ‘My Little Ship’.
1933 The Racial Hygiene Association (re-named the Family Planning Association in 1960), another organisation with which Jessie Street is associated, establishes Australia’s first family planning clinic in Sydney. Melbourne-born actress May Robson becomes the first Australian nominated for an Academy Award.
1935 Nancy Bird Walton becomes the first woman in Australia licenced to carry air passengers when appointed pilot for the Far West Children’s Health Scheme – an aerial ambulance service for women, babies and children living in remote areas.
1937 The Australian Federation of Women Voters presents a memorandum to the League of Nations outlining the extent of discrimination against women in Australian law.
1938 Nora Heysen becomes the first woman to win the Archibald Prize. In 1943, she achieves another first when appointed to the role of Official War Artist, in which capacity she serves in New Guinea, Borneo and Australia.
1941 During World War 2, women begin entering the workforce in greater numbers and in roles previously closed to them. Organisations such as the Australian Women’s Land Army, which recruits women for farm work, are established during the war, along with the Australian Women’s Army Service, Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, and the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force.
1943 Dorothy Tangney and Edith Lyons are elected to the Senate and House of Representatives respectively in the election held in August, becoming Australia’s first female Federal politicians. The adoption of an Australian Woman’s Charter is endorsed by a national conference of 91 women’s groups.
1945 Jessie Street, the only woman member of the Australian delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations, helps to establish its Commission on the Status of Women. Street was Australia’s representative to the Commission and was appointed its Vice President in 1947.
1949 Prime Minister Robert Menzies appoints Enid Lyons Vice President of the Executive Council. Though she has no ministerial responsibilities, she is the first Australian woman to hold a position in a Federal cabinet.
1950 The Commonwealth Arbitration Court determines that the minimum wage for women should be set at 75% of the male wage.
1952 Sprinter Marjorie Jackson wins the 100m and 200m at the Helsinki Olympic Games, making her Australia’s first female Olympic track and field gold medallist.
1955 Nancy Buttfield, the first South Australian woman elected to Federal parliament, commences her first term in the Senate. As a senator, from 1955 to 1965 and again from 1968 to 1974, she lobbies for reforms such as equal pay and employment rights for married women.
1959 The Matrimonial Causes Act establishes 14 grounds – including cruelty, adultery, desertion and habitual drunkenness – on which spouses could seek a divorce.
1960 Tennis player Margaret Court wins the women’s singles at the Australian Open: the first of 62 grand slam titles – in singles, doubles and mixed doubles – won during her career. In 1963, she becomes the first Australian woman to win the Wimbledon singles crown.
1961 The contraceptive pill becomes available in Australia.
1962 Aboriginal women are finally given the right to vote in Federal elections as a result of the Commonwealth Electoral Act [pdf], by which all Indigenous Australians of voting age were enfranchised.
1965 Roma Mitchell, having become Australia’s first female Queen’s Counsel in 1962, is appointed Australia’s first female Supreme Court judge.
1966 The Commonwealth public service lifts the ‘marriage bar’, meaning that married women became eligible for permanent public service jobs and could no longer be sacked on getting married.
1969 The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission endorses the implementation of ‘equal pay for equal work’, but initially the principle is deemed applicable only to jobs essentially or usually performed by women.
1970 Germaine Greer’s best-selling book, The Female Eunuch, is published. The book calls on women to challenge traditional ideas about sexuality and social roles and is subsequently considered a key text of the feminist movement.
1971 Evonne Goolagong, having won the singles title at the French Open, defeats Margaret Court in the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. She is the first Indigenous Australian to win a grand slam tennis title.
1972 The 1969 decision on equal pay is broadened, meaning that all award wage rates, in all professions and industries, should be set without regard to gender. The Women’s Electoral Lobby is established, as is the NSW Rape Crisis Centre – Australia’s first such service.
1973 Elsie Women’s Refuge, Australia’s first refuge for victims of domestic violence, is established in Glebe, New South Wales. The Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act institutes a paid maternity leave scheme for women employed in the Commonwealth public service. It is not until 1989, however, that paid maternity leave provisions become standard.
1973 Elizabeth Reid is appointed to the position of Women’s Adviser to the Prime Minister. It is the first time anywhere in the world that such a position has been created. The Office for Women’s Affairs (subsequently the Office of the Status of Women) is established the same year.
1974 The Australian armed forces cease the practice of discharging servicewomen on grounds of pregnancy.
1975 The Family Law Act establishes the concept of ‘no fault divorce’ in Australian law and results in the founding of the Family Court of Australia. Justice Elizabeth Evatt is appointed the court’s first Chief Justice. The same year, Margaret Guilfoyle becomes the federal Minister for Education and is thus the first woman appointed to a cabinet portfolio. She later serves as Minister for Social Security and Finance.
1979 The United Nations adopts the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Australia ratifies the Convention in 1983.
1981 Ita Buttrose takes the helm of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, making her the first female editor of a major Australian metropolitan newspaper.
1982 Legislation enacted in New South Wales enables women to prosecute violent husbands or de facto partners.
1984 The Sex Discrimination Act (1984) is passed in federal Parliament, making discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status and pregnancy illegal.
1985 An amendment to the Crimes Act gives women legal protection from rape within marriage. In 1987, the Crimes (Family Violence) Act institutes the issuing of restraining orders against perpetrators of domestic violence.
1986 Senator Janine Haines is appointed leader of the Australian Democrats, becoming the first woman to head an Australian parliamentary political party. The Commonwealth’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in established.
1989 Rosemary Follett is elected the first Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory and is thereby the first woman to lead an Australian state or territory government. To date, three of the six people to have served as ACT Chief Minister have been women.
1990 Carmen Lawrence becomes Premier of Western Australia – Australia’s first female state Premier. Joan Kirner commences a two-year term as Premier of Victoria in August the same year.
1991 Roma Mitchell achieves another first – first female state Governor – when she is appointed Governor of South Australia. Queensland appoints its first woman Governor, Leneen Forde, in 1992. South Australia appoints Marjorie Jackson-Nelson its second female state Governor in 2001. 
1996 Nova Peris, as a member of the Australian women’s hockey team, becomes the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.
1997 Penelope Wensley is appointed Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, the first woman to serve in this role. In 2008, she succeeds Quentin Bryce as Governor of Queensland.
2000 Cathy Freeman wins the 400m at the Sydney Olympic Games, making her Australia’s first Indigenous track and field Olympic gold medallist. In 1990, she had become the first Indigenous woman to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal.
2000 The Commonwealth’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act (1999) comes into effect.
2001 Professor Marie Bashir is sworn in as the 37th Governor of New South Wales, the first woman appointed to this role. The Northern Territory elects its first female Chief Minister, Clare Martin; and Natasha Stott-Despoja, elected leader of the Australian Democrats at age 32, becomes the youngest person to lead an Australian political party.
2002 Nicole Kidman wins the Best Actress Academy Award, the first Australian actress to be thus honoured. South African-born businesswoman Gail Kelly is recruited as the CEO of St George Bank, making her the first woman to head a major Australian bank. In 2008, she is appointed CEO of Westpac.
2003 Marion Scrymgour becomes the first Aboriginal woman to hold a cabinet position in an Australian government when she is appointed the Northern Territory’s Minister for Family and Community Services, and Environment and Heritage.
2004 Cate Blanchett receives the first of three consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and becomes the first Australian woman to win an Oscar in this category.
2006 The Australian women’s basketball team, the Opals, defeats Russia to take out the women’s basketball World Championship.
2008 Quentin Bryce – one of the first women admitted to the Bar in Queensland and formerly the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Governor of Queensland – becomes the first woman to serve as Governor-General of Australia and the 25th person to serve in this role.
2009 Elizabeth Blackburn is named as a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, making her Australia’s first female Nobel laureate. In Queensland, Anna Bligh becomes the first woman popularly elected Premier of an Australian state; Kristina Keneally is sworn in as the first female Premier of New South Wales in December.
2010 Julia Gillard becomes the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first woman to serve in this role, having three years previously been appointed the country’s first female Deputy Prime Minister.
2011 Tasmania elects its first woman Premier, Lara Giddings; and Nicola Roxon becomes Australia’s first female Attorney-General. The introduction of a federal Paid Parental Leave Scheme provides a national scheme for 18 weeks paid leave for women and men in public and private sector employment.
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