Great Suffragette Demonstration in London (Vida Goldstein) 1911
Rose Stereograph Company (active 1890–c. 1970)
stereo view gelatin silver photograph
Vida Goldstein (1869- 1949), feminist and activist, was the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election in a national parliament. Of Polish, Jewish, Irish and Scottish heritage, Goldstein was educated at Presbyterian Ladies College in Melbourne and inherited an interest in social welfare work in part from her progressively-minded parents. She became a teacher and with her sisters ran a school in St Kilda in the 1890s, during which period she also became involved in the fight for women's suffrage and other social issues. She was appointed general secretary of the United Council for Women's Suffrage in 1900 and established the paper The Woman’s Sphere, which she wrote, the same year. In America in 1902, she gave evidence to a Congressional committee on women’s suffrage and attended the International Council of Women Conference before returning home to run for a Federal Senate seat in the 1903 election. She was unsuccessful despite attracting over 50,000 votes. Undeterred, she set about to educate women on the matter of the vote, Victorian women still being unable to vote in state elections despite being granted the right to do so in Federal polls in 1902. Goldstein stood for parliament again, without success, in 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1917, campaigning on equal pay, equal property rights, industrial reform and many other issues. Recognised internationally as a leader of the fight for women’s suffrage, she visited London in 1911 at the invitation of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1909 she launched her second paper, the weekly Woman Voter. Throughout the war she was an passionate pacifist, becoming chairman of the Peace Alliance and forming the Women's Peace Army with the English suffragette, Adela Pankhurst. After the war she took an increasing interest in international matters, advocating disarmament and the pursuit of better living standards. She died from cancer in 1949.
Rose Scott 1913
May Moore (1881–1931)
gelatin silver photograph
Rose Scott (1847–1925), feminist and social reformer, devoted much of her life to campaigns that resulted in increased independence for Australian women. Scott grew up near Singleton in New South Wales and with her sisters was educated at home by her mother, Sarah Anne. Scott became her mother’s primary carer in 1879; and the following year, on the death of her older sister, adopted her two-year-old nephew, Harry. In Sydney from 1880, Scott became increasingly involved in intellectual and political activities. She helped establish the Women’s Literary Society in 1889; and was one of the founding members of the Womanhood Suffrage League (1891) and the New South Wales National Council of Women (1896). A key player in the Australian campaign for universal suffrage, Scott was engaged in a variety of other social issues. Her report on conditions in Darlinghurst Gaol led to the opening of a separate women’s prison in 1908. She campaigned for legislation by which the age of consent was raised to sixteen (in 1910) and by which laws regarding child maintenance and the access of widows to their husbands’ estates were enacted. As was so for many feminists of the period, Scott’s beliefs were informed by conventional codes of femininity and morality. She fought moves, for example, to introduce state regulation of prostitutes and objected to the participation of women in professional sporting competitions due to the presence of male spectators. Scott was known for the salons conducted at her Woollahra home, where guests could expect to encounter Miles Franklin, Banjo Paterson, Vida Goldstein and others. Believing that ‘life is too short to be wasted in the service of one man’, Scott never married. She died in Sydney in 1925.
Jessie Street 1929
Jerrold Nathan (1899–1929)
oil on canvas
Gift of the Street family and the Jessie Street National Women’s Library 2010
Jessie Street (née Lillingston, 1889–1970), feminist and activist, spent her early childhood in India where her English father worked as a civil servant. The family moved to Australia in 1899, after her mother had inherited ‘Yulgilbar’, a cattle station in northern New South Wales. In England from 1904, Street attended Wycombe Abbey, a progressive girls’ school which groomed its students for higher education. She commenced at Sydney University in 1908, and during her three years there became involved in women’s rights campaigns. In the years before her marriage to lawyer Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) Street in 1916, she attended international women’s conferences; ran her own dairying business at Yulgilbar; worked at a women’s hostel in New York; and founded the NSW Social Hygiene Association, which advised women on family planning. In the interwar years – in addition to her work with women’s organisations and raising her four children – she intervened in unemployment relief, the plight of Jewish refugees, and Indigenous rights, and travelled in Europe, England, the USSR and the USA studying social conditions. She stood unsuccessfully as a Labor Party candidate in the federal elections of 1939 and 1946; in between, in 1945, she was the sole Australian woman delegate to the founding of the United Nations and was involved in establishing its Commission for the Status of Women. President of the Australian Russian Society from 1946, Street was (falsely) accused of having communist sympathies as the Cold War developed. In 1949, expelled from the Labor party, she stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate. For much of the 1950s she worked for the World Peace Council in London and late in her career successfully instigated the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal rights. Her autobiography, Truth or Repose, was published in 1966.
Gladys Moncrieff c. 1925
Ruskin (active c. 1910–1940)
gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Sally Douglas 2009
Gladys Moncrieff (1892–1976) was one of early twentieth century Australia’s most popular musical performers. She made her first stage appearance, aged six, in a concert in her home town, Bundaberg, and after leaving school toured Queensland with a small ensemble as ‘Little Gladys – The Australian Wonder Child’. She auditioned before Dame Nellie Melba in 1911, winning a contract with JC Williamson’s in Sydney which included tuition alongside chorus and understudy roles. She made her stage debut in HMS Pinafore in Sydney in 1914. She appeared in various productions in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa throughout the 1910s, cementing her reputation with a two-year run starring in The Maid of the Mountains, which opened in Melbourne in 1921; early in its run, critics noted the ‘snowy purity and velvet lusciousness’ of the young star’s voice. By the mid-1920s Moncrieff was established as one of the highest-paid performers in the history of the Australian stage. She debuted in London in 1926, but returned to Australia two years later and continued working in musicals while also developing her recording and broadcasting career and making her first cinema appearances. Moncrieff’s great popularity earned her the soubriquet ‘Our Glad’ in about 1935. During World War 2, and in Korea and Japan in 1951, she performed for army personnel. Awarded an OBE in 1952, she commenced her farewell tour of Australia and New Zealand in the late 1950s before retiring to the Gold Coast, where she died in 1976.
Self portrait 1934
Nora Heysen (1911–2003)
oil on canvas
Nora Heysen AM (1911–2003) was one of Australia’s most accomplished portrait artists. One of the eight children of landscape painter Sir Hans Heysen and his wife, Selma, Heysen was encouraged to paint and draw from an early age. At fifteen, she enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Adelaide, receiving there what she later remembered as an uninspiring and rigid brand of tuition. While still a student, she exhibited with the Society of Artists in Sydney and had examples of her work purchased by the state galleries of New South Wales and South Australia. She had her first solo exhibition, aged 22, in 1933, by which stage she had demonstrated her remarkable skill as a portraitist. As Heysen stated in 1994: ‘I wanted at that time to get away from my father’s subject matter. I turned to painting faces and painting myself … to get right away’ and to establish a sense of independence as an artist. She went to London in 1934, studying at the Central School of Art and the Byam Shaw School before returning to Australia. She moved to Sydney in 1938 and in that year won the Archibald Prize – the first woman to do so – with her portrait of Madam Elink Schuurman, the wife of a Dutch diplomat. In 1943 she became the first woman appointed to work as an official war artist, serving as Captain Heysen in New Guinea and Borneo, where she was sent to record the activities of servicewomen. While in New Guinea she met Dr Robert Black, whom she married in Sydney in 1953. The following year they purchased a house called The Chalet in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill, which was Heysen’s home for the remainder of her life. Heysen was in her seventies when the first retrospective exhibition of her work was held in South Australia; a number of similar exhibitions followed, including a major survey presented by the National Library of Australia in 2000–2001.
Mrs Bonney flying from Australia to South Africa via Siam 1937
gelatin silver photographs
Maude Rose ‘Lores’ Bonney MBE AM (1897–1994), aviatrix, was born in South Africa, grew up in Melbourne and attended a German finishing school before marrying Harry Barrington Bonney, a Queensland leather-goods manufacturer, in 1917. Her husband’s cousin, Bert Hinkler – who in 1928 made the first solo flight from Australia to England – took her for her first flight, after which she declared that flying was the ‘answer to my dreams: I adored birds, and there I was literally feeling like one. There and then I decided to become a pilot’. She had her first flying lessons from Hinkler, in secret, while her husband was at golf. When she admitted to her new interest, he had a suede flying suit especially made for her and bought her a de Havilland Gypsy Moth, which she called My Little Ship. In this aircraft, in 1931, she set a new distance flying record for women when she flew from Brisbane to Wangaratta. The following year, in the same plane, she became the first woman to circumnavigate Australia by air, and in 1933, again in her Little Ship, became the first woman to fly solo from Australia to England. For the latter feat, she received a medal from King George V and was made an MBE. In Australia, however, her achievements were sometimes downplayed by those who deemed her nothing other than a rich man’s dilettante wife. In 1937 she flew a Klemm aircraft, My Little Ship II, to South Africa. My Little Ship II was destroyed by fire at Archerfield aerodrome in Queensland in 1939. That year, told by the armed forces that women pilots were of no use during the war, she gave up flying. My Little Ship, requisitioned for the war effort, was scrapped afterwards. Bonney was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 1991. She died in Queensland in 1994.
Dame Jean Macnamara c. 1933
Donovan (dates unknown)
gelatin silver photograph, sepia toned
Gift of Merran Samuel (née Connor) 2004
Dame Jean Macnamara DBE (1899–1968), medical doctor and scientist, was involved in crucial research into poliomyelitis during the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Beechworth, Victoria, she studied Medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1922. The following year, she was appointed resident medical officer at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, and thereafter began to specialise in the treatment of polio. Awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Travelling Scholarship, between 1931 and 1933 she studied in the USA, Canada and England. Returning to Melbourne, she worked at the Children’s Hospital and at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Her work with Frank Macfarlane Burnet led to the identification of multiple strains of the polio virus and proved pivotal in the development of an effective vaccine. She was honorary medical officer to the physiotherapy department of the Royal Children’s Hospital from 1928 to 1951, and for her work with children she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1935. From the early 1930s, Macnamara campaigned for the introduction to Australia of the myxoma virus. In the face of commercial opposition, she maintained that if the country was to be left with any topsoil, the rabbit must be eradicated. Myxomatosis struck in late 1950, and a year later rabbit numbers were so reduced that the national wool cheque was said to have increased by £30 million. In 1966, Macnamara became first woman awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Melbourne University.
Margaret Anderson 1942
Napier Waller (1893–1972)
pastel on paper
Margaret Anderson GM (1915–1995) was born in Melbourne and served with the Australian Army Nursing Service during World War 2. Stationed in Singapore, she was one of fifty-nine nurses and more than 2000 civilians and wounded servicemen evacuated on a ship called the Empire Star in February 1942. (Sixty-five remaining nurses, including Vivienne Bullwinkel, boarded the doomed Vyner Brooke the next day.) On its first day at sea the Empire Star was targeted by a Japanese air raid and received three direct hits. Leaving the safety of the hold and under heavy fire, Anderson and another Australian nurse, Vera Torney, dragged the wounded to shelter, shielded soldiers with their own bodies and attended to the many casualties. Anderson was awarded the George Medal for Bravery in September 1942 for her actions. During December 1943 and January 1944, she served on a hospital ship, the Wanganella, and received the Italy Star for her role in the repatriation of Australian prisoners of war. Anderson was discharged from duty in June 1946.
June Dally-Watkins 1949 (printed 2008)
Max Dupain (1911–1992)
gelatin silver photograph
June Dally-Watkins OAM (b. 1927), model and entrepreneur, grew up on a property at Watson’s Creek in the New England district of New South Wales. As the child of a single mother, Dally-Watkins was subjected to slights as a child and cultivated imaginations of herself as a model and movie star as a way of concealing her loneliness. As a teenager, she was noticed on a Tamworth street by a local photographer, who encouraged her to move to Sydney and try her luck at modelling. She arrived in Sydney with her mother in 1944 and – though later describing herself as ‘looking more like a milkmaid than a model’ at this time – soon scored modelling jobs for department stores such as Farmer’s and Mark Foy’s. Catwalk assignments for David Jones and others followed, along with contracts for magazines including The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day. She was named Model of the Year in 1949. In 1950 she established the June Dally-Watkins School of Deportment and in 1952 started a modelling agency, both businesses being the first of their kind established in Australia. Famously romanced by actor Gregory Peck during a visit to Rome in the 1950s, she returned to Australia to continue her career, marry and raise four children. Now in her eighties, Dally-Watkins has overseen the training of over 300,000 students in deportment and etiquette. She remains active in the running of her school and a number of charity interests and in 1993 received the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of her services to business. Her autobiography The secrets behind my smile was published in 2002.
Marjorie Jackson 1953
gelatin silver photograph
Marjorie Jackson-Nelson AC CVO MBE (b. 1931), popularly known as ‘the Lithgow Flash’, was Australia’s first female track and field Olympic gold medallist. Jackson-Nelson first came to public attention when she thrice defeated the reigning Olympic sprint champion, Dutchwoman Fannie Blankers-Koen, during the latter’s Australian visit in 1949. The following year, she set a world record and won gold medals in four events at the British Empire Games. Selected to compete at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, she won gold medals in the 100m and 200m, becoming not only the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal for track and field but also the first Australian to win an Olympic gold medal on the running track since 1896. At the Games, she met South Australian cyclist, Peter Nelson, who she married in 1953. Between 1950 and 1954, she won every State and Australian title for the 100 yards and 220 yards and broke world sprint records ten times. Sportsman (sic) of the Year in 1952, in 1953 she was awarded an MBE for her services to athletics. Subsequent honours include being officially designated a Legend by the Australian Sport Hall of Fame (1995), the Companion of the Order of Australia (2001), and Companion of the Royal Victorian Order (2002). Following the death of her husband from leukaemia in 1977, she dedicated herself to securing funds to sponsor research into the disease, raising several million dollars for facilities in Adelaide. Jackson-Nelson was Governor of South Australia – the second woman appointed to the role – from 2001 to 2007.
Dame Nancy Buttfield 1958
Ivor Hele (1912–1993)
oil on canvas
Gift of the Buttfield Family 2003
Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE (1912–2005) was the first South Australian woman member of Federal Parliament. The daughter of car industry pioneer Sir Edward Holden, she was educated at Adelaide’s Woodlands Church of England Girls’ Grammar School and at a finishing school in Paris. Later, she studied psychology, music and economics part-time at the University of Adelaide. She married businessman Frank Buttfield in 1936. Her interest in politics was encouraged by her father, a state parliamentarian, and family friend Robert Menzies, from whom she sought advice about a political career. In 1954, she was endorsed as the Liberal Party candidate for Adelaide, unsuccessfully contesting the seat in the federal election that year. When a senate seat fell vacant in 1955, she was elected to parliament as a Liberal senator for South Australia, serving from 1955 to 1965 and again from 1968 to 1974. Though her support for women’s rights put her at odds with some of her male colleagues, she lobbied on issues such as equal pay for women and for married women’s right to work in the Public Service. Despite her staunch anti-communist views, she was the first female senator to visit the USSR, and she toured China alone in 1962. Dame Nancy served on many boards and made substantial philanthropic contributions to youth and the arts. In 1972, she was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Margaret Court 1962
Sir William Dargie (1912–2003)
oil on canvas
The Rev. Margaret Court AO MBE (b. 1942) was the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon and the second woman in history to win a Grand Slam. Born in Albury, New South Wales, Court took up tennis as a child and was in her teens when she moved to Melbourne for professional coaching. Nicknamed ‘The Arm’, she won her first Australian singles championship in 1960 – the first of seven consecutive wins in that event. She won her first major international titles in 1962, taking out the French and US singles crowns, and the following year, won the singles at Wimbledon. Seven times ranked number 1 in the world, Court is the only player ever to have won the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles for a single year in both mixed doubles (in 1963, with Ken Fletcher) and singles (in 1970). She married in 1967, but continued to win major titles after the birth of her first three children, retiring only for the birth of her fourth in 1977. In all, she won the Australian Open eleven times and Wimbledon three times, though she lost the final in 1971 to Evonne Goolagong. In all, Court has won more major tennis championships than any other player, having acquired a total of 62 Grand Slam titles between 1960 and 1975. Named an MBE in 1967 and a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979 and, with Rod Laver, was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. Court was ordained a Minister of the Victory Life Church in 1991, establishing Margaret Court Ministries Inc. the following year and Perth’s Victory Life Centre in 1995.
Portrait of Marjorie Cotton 1969
Jean Isherwood (1911–2006)
oil on canvas
Gift of Marjorie Cotton Isherwood 2002
Marjorie Cotton (Isherwood) (1913-2003) was the first qualified children’s librarian in New South Wales, and possibly Australia. Cotton worked as a librarian for some 25 years without training, as was usual in those days, and sat the children’s librarianship paper the year it was introduced in 1949. At that time there were very few facilities designed for children in libraries. Appointed to Ku-ring-gai Municipal Library, Cotton scoured second-hand bookshops to build the collection, introduced weekly story time, liaised with schools, and stocked titles for children in languages other than English, a precious resource for families who had escaped from Europe during the war. She set up a special Central Children’s Library in Newcastle, and while based in Randwick from 1953 to 1960 she set up a ‘Bookmobile’ that operated from a grandstand at Kensington Oval and serviced the City of Sydney to Botany Bay. The Marjorie Cotton Award for Children’s Librarianship was established in the late 1980s in recognition of her practical and administrative contributions to public librarianship.
Evonne Goolagong 1973
Ern McQuillan (b. 1926)
gelatin silver photograph
Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 2004
Evonne Goolagong Cawley AO MBE (b. 1951), tennis champion, grew up in the Riverina district of New South Wales and was eleven when she caught the attention of tennis coach Vic Edwards. Aged fourteen, Goolagong moved to Sydney to be coached by him, living with his family while she trained and finished school. She played in her first Australian singles championship in 1968 and her first Wimbledon in 1970, representing Australia in the Federation Cup the same year. Her first grand slam victories came in 1971, when she won the French and Wimbledon singles titles, defeating her childhood idol, Margaret Court, for the Wimbledon crown. In 1972 she was named Australian of the Year. A member of the victorious Federation Cup teams of 1971, 1973 and 1974, she won every mainland state title and the Australian singles and doubles titles from 1974 to 1976. She played in the Wimbledon finals of 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976, prompting English journalists to dub her the ‘Sunshine Supergirl’. After her marriage in 1975, she moved to the USA where, in 1977, her first child was born. Goolagong played her fifth Wimbledon final in 1980 and by defeating Chris Evert became the first mother to win a Wimbledon singles title since 1914. She retired from professional tennis in 1983 and returned to Australia in 1991, when she renewed her ties with her Wiradjuri people. An inductee into the International and Australian Tennis Halls of Fame, in 2003 Goolagong was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sports Trophy for the Oceania region. She has remained involved in tennis and Aboriginal affairs through roles with organisations such as the Australian Sports Commission, Reconciliation Australia and the Indigenous Sports Foundation.
Ita Buttrose 1981
John Williams (b. 1933)
Ita Buttrose AO OBE (b. 1942) is a journalist, author and businesswoman. The daughter of a one-time Daily Mirror editor, Buttrose was eleven when she decided she wanted to be a journalist and fifteen when she left school to join Australian Consolidated Press as a copygirl for the Australian Women’s Weekly. She then became a cadet journalist and at age 23 was appointed editor of the women’s pages of the Daily Telegraph. The founding editor of Cleo, first published in 1972, in 1975 she was appointed editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly, eventually becoming editor-in-chief of both magazines. She joined News Limited in 1981 when Rupert Murdoch gave her the running of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, making her the first female editor of a major Australian metropolitan newspaper. After leaving News Limited, she established Capricorn Publishing and was the founding editor of the company’s magazine, Ita, which appeared in 1989. She has hosted prime-time radio shows on Sydney stations 2UE, 2KY and 2GB. Among her contributions to community work are a four-year term as Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (1984 to 1988) and her current role as the President of Alzheimer’s Australia. Twice voted Australia’s Most Admired Woman, Buttrose received an OBE in 1979 and in 1988 was named an Officer of the Order of Australia. Buttrose is also a successful author, having edited and written many books including the memoir A passionate life, republished in 2012.
Marcia Langton 1982
Juno Gemes (b. 1944)
gelatin silver photograph
Marcia Langton AM (b. 1951), anthropologist and scholar, is a descendant of the Yiman and Bidjara nations of Queensland. An authority on contemporary issues in Indigenous affairs, Langton was educated at the University of Queensland and the Australian National University, having become active in the women’s and Aboriginal rights movements during the 1970s. Later, she worked for organisations including the Northern Territory’s Central Land Council and Aboriginal Issues Unit, and with the Cape York Land Council was involved in the landmark native title claim made by the Wik peoples in the 1990s. Langton was Ranger Professor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at Charles Darwin University from 1995 to 2000,when she was appointed Foundation Chair and Professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely in the field of Aboriginal studies, on topics including land tenure, agreement-making, environmental management, art and film. Her publications include Burning Questions: Emerging Environmental Issues for Indigenous Peoples in Northern Australia (1998) and Settling with Indigenous People (2006). Langton is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia, a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), and a board member of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993 for services to anthropology and advocacy of Aboriginal rights; and in 2002 was the joint winner of the inaugural Neville Bonner Award for Indigenous Teacher of the Year.
Jill Ker Conway 1987
Sarah Belchetz-Swenson (b. 1938)
oil on canvas
Gift of an anonymous donor 2001
Jill Ker Conway (b. 1934) is an academic, writer and company director. Born in Hillston in western New South Wales, she spent her early years on her father’s sheep station, Coorain, which was so isolated that she was seven years old before she saw another girl. She was eleven years old when her father died, after which her mother took on the running of the property during a prolonged period of drought. Ker Conway was sent to Sydney to finish her education, attending Abbotsleigh before enrolling at the University of Sydney, where she was awarded the University Medal for history. Despite her success, she was unhappy with the direction of Australian scholarship, and her own job prospects in this country in the 1950s were minimal. She went to the United States in 1960 to complete a doctorate at Harvard, and has taught in Canadian and American universities ever since. In 1975, she became the first woman appointed president of Smith College, Massachusetts, the largest women’s college in the United States. She has edited a number of anthologies of women’s life writing; and written several books on the historical experience of American women as well as three volumes of autobiography: The Road From Coorain (1989); True North (1994); and A woman’s education (2001).
Cathy Freeman 1995
Montalbetti + Campbell (b. 1957 and b. 1958)
type C photograph
Gift of the artists 2003
Cathy Freeman OAM (b. 1973), sprinter, was born in Mackay, Queensland and was eight years old when she won her first race at a school athletics carnival. Coached initially by her stepfather, she had won a number of titles before earning scholarships to boarding schools in Toowoomba and Kooralbyn, where she trained with professional coaches. Aged sixteen, she was selected for the Australian women’s 4 x 100m relay team which took out the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, making her the first Aboriginal runner to win a Commonwealth gold medal. She won two more in 1994 with victories in the 200m and 400m. The first Aboriginal track and field athlete to represent Australia at the Olympic Games, she won a silver medal in the 400m in Atlanta in 1996. She was ranked first in the world in her signature event, the 400m, in which she won back-to-back World Championships in 1997 and 1999, and, memorably, the Olympic gold medal in front of her home crowd in Sydney in 2000. She was the first person to be named both Young Australian of the Year (in 1990) and Australian of the Year (in 1998). Freeman retired from running in July 2003, still enjoying the immense popularity she earned during her exceptional career. The Catherine (now Cathy) Freeman Foundation was established in 2007 with the aim of enhancing educational opportunities for Aboriginal children living in disadvantaged Australian communities.
Dame Roma Mitchell 1998
Jessica Hromas (b. 1972)
type C photograph
Gift of the Hammond Care Group 1999
The Hon. Dame Roma Mitchell AC DBE CVO (1913–2000) was a jurist, constitutionalist and state governor. No other Australian woman was first to achieve so many official appointments, although she longed for the day when the appointment of a woman would not be noteworthy. Mitchell was born in Adelaide, the youngest of two sisters, and was four when her father was killed in the battle of Villers-Bretonneux. The consequent financial difficulties experienced by her mother helped shaped Mitchell’s awareness of social justice and women’s issues. Having excelled as a student at St Aloysius College, she won a scholarship to study law at the University of Adelaide. She was admitted to the Bar on graduating in 1934, some of her earliest cases being those of women experiencing violence at the hands of unemployed husbands. Later, she became known for her advocacy of issues such as equal pay and the appointment of women to juries in South Australia. In 1962 she became Australia’s first female Queen’s Counsel, and in 1965 she was appointed Australia’s first female Supreme Court judge. During the 1970s she chaired the South Australian government’s criminal law and penal methods reform committee, was Chair of the Australian Human Rights Commission from 1981 to 1986, and in 1982 became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her community service. She achieved another first when appointed Chancellor of the University of Adelaide in 1983, making her the first woman to hold that role in any Australian university. She became Australia’s first female state governor when she was sworn in as Governor of South Australia in 1991 at the age of 77; she retired at 82. Mitchell was devoutly religious, and her career was characterised by compassion, generosity and integrity.
Imelda Roche 2003
Paul Newton (b. 1961)
oil on canvas
Commissioned with funds provided by the Basil Bressler Bequest 2003
Imelda Roche AO (b. 1934), businesswoman, bought the Australian franchise of cosmetics company Nutri-Metics in 1968 with her husband. The couple started in business together in 1957, selling clothes door to door and investing in commercial premises before they bought their first house. In 1992 they were able to buy Nutri-Metics International, which had a turnover of more than $250 million a year by the time they sold it to the Sara Lee Corporation in 1997. Roche was always the face of the company, which challenged the notion of direct selling as a dodgy and high-pressure enterprise, emphasising instead an honest engagement between the seller and her clientele while also demonstrating that it was possible for full-time homemakers to build financial well-being and independence. Following the sale of Nutri-metics, the Roches went into residential property and tourism development. Named one of the world’s 50 leading female entrepreneurs in 1997, Roche was the first woman and the first Australian appointed Chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (1993); and in 1995 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for her services to business, the community and women’s affairs. She served as the Chancellor of Bond University from 1999 to 2003; was awarded an honorary doctorate by Macquarie University in 2001; and was Australia’s representative on APEC’s Business Forum and Business Advisory Council under the Keating and Howard governments.
Quentin Bryce 2000
Lorrie Graham (b. 1954)
gelatin silver photograph
Quentin Bryce AC CVO (b. 1942) is the current Governor-General of Australia and the first woman to have served in this role. Born in Brisbane, Bryce spent the first several years of her childhood in Ilfracombe, in central Queensland, and was home-schooled by her mother. She finished her school education at a boarding school in Brisbane before commencing at the University of Queensland, where she completed degrees in Arts and Law. She married architect Michael Bryce in 1964. One of the first women admitted to the Bar in Queensland, she became the first female member of the University of Queensland’s law faculty when she took up a teaching role there in 1968. By the time she retired from lecturing in 1983, she was increasingly involved in human rights and advocacy work. A founding member of the National Women’s Advisory Council, in 1984 she was appointed Director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service and in 1987–88 was Director of Queensland’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. She was the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner from 1988 to 1993. Having spent three years as chair of the National Childcare Accreditation Council, she became principal and chief executive officer of The Women's College within the University of Sydney in 1997. She became Governor of Queensland in 2003 and left that post in 2008 when appointed Australia’s 25th Governor-General. She was named a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2003 and a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 2011.
Nicole Kidman 2002
type C photograph
Nicole Kidman AC (b. 1967), actress, made her film debut as a teenager in Bush Christmas in 1983 and in 1987 won an AFI Award for her role in the television mini-series Vietnam. She then went to America, starring in the thriller Dead Calm (1989) and then Days of Thunder (1990). Having appeared in several films in the early 90s, Kidman was named Best Actress at the Golden Globes for her performance as a murderous weathergirl in To Die For (1995) and later took out the same award for Moulin Rouge (2000) and The Hours (2002). Kidman received her first Academy Award nomination in 2002 and in 2003 became the first Australian woman to win an acting Oscar, for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours. For the same film, she was named Best Actress at the BAFTA ceremony and the Berlin Film Festival. Kidman’s subsequent film credits include Dogville (2003), Cold Mountain (2003), Bewitched (2005), The Golden Compass (2007) and the Baz Luhrmann epic Australia (2008). More recently, she has co-starred in Rabbit Hole (2011), The Paperboy (2012) and the telemovie Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012), the latter two earning her further Golden Globe nominations. Renowned worldwide for her elegance, in 2004 she became the ‘face’ of Chanel N° 5 perfume. Kidman was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2006 for her contributions to the arts and to charity and in the same year was named a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
Julia Gillard 2006
Robin Sellick (b. 1967)
type C photograph
Courtesy of Robin Sellick
Julia Gillard (b. 1961), the 27th Prime Minister of Australia, was born in Wales and came to Australia with her family at age five. She commenced studying for degrees in Arts and Law at the University of Adelaide in 1979, but relocated to Melbourne in 1982 for a role with the Australian Union of Students. Having graduated from the University of Melbourne, she joined the firm Slater & Gordon in 1987, specialising in employment law. Gillard had become involved with Labor Party while a student in Adelaide and in 1995 took leave from work to contest a Senate seat in the 1996 Federal election, but was unsuccessful. She then resigned from the law firm to take up the position of chief of staff to then Victorian Opposition Leader, John Brumby, in which capacity she oversaw the implementation of a policy designed to ensure the pre-selection of women in winnable seats. Two years later, she was elected to the House of Representatives and in 2001 entered the shadow cabinet, serving as Shadow Minister for Immigration (until 2003), Indigenous Affairs (2003), Health (2003–2006) and Employment and Workplace Relations (2006–2007). Elected Deputy Leader of the Opposition in late 2006, she became Australia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister following Labor’s victory in the 2007 Federal Election and also served as Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. In June 2010, as a result of a leadership ballot, Gillard became the first woman to lead the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and Australia’s first female Prime Minister. A founding member of EMILY’s list – an organisation which has assisted in the election of 142 women to Australian parliaments – Gillard was returned as Prime Minister in the Federal Election held in September 2010.
Elizabeth Blackburn c. 2010
Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2011
Elizabeth Blackburn AC (b. 1948) is Australia’s first female Nobel laureate. A molecular biologist, Blackburn, with her colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, was named a joint recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for research that resulted in possibilities for new ways of treating cancer. Born and raised in Tasmania, Blackburn studied biochemistry at the University of Melbourne before completing a PhD at Cambridge and postdoctoral research at Yale. She joined the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of California in Berkeley in 1978; in 1984 she and Greider, her former student, announced their discovery of an enzyme, telomerase, which replenishes the telomere, a protective ‘cap’ at the end of the chromosome. The discovery is considered one of the most important to have been made in molecular genetics. Blackburn took up a professorship at the University of California San Francisco in 1990 and during that decade, among numerous other honours, was named a fellow of the Royal Society and received an honorary doctorate from Yale. She was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics in 2001, but was dismissed after criticising the Bush administration’s negative stance on embryonic stem cell science, the insult and its implications incensing international scientific circles. President-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research, Blackburn has received the Heineken Prize, the Lasker Award, the Australia Prize and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science as well as the Nobel Prize which, as well as being the first awarded to an Australian woman, was the first to be awarded jointly to two women.
1 February – 16 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.
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.
Catherine Helen Spence, Australia’s first female political candidate, stands unsuccessfully for election as a delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jessie Street co-founds the NSW Social Hygiene Association to provide information and advice to women on family planning and maternal health.
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.
Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female politician, is elected to the Legislative Assembly in Western Australia.
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.
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Matrimonial Causes Act establishes 14 grounds – including cruelty, adultery, desertion and habitual drunkenness – on which spouses could seek a divorce.
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.
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.
Roma Mitchell, having become Australia’s first female Queen’s Counsel in 1962, is appointed Australia’s first female Supreme Court judge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Australian armed forces cease the practice of discharging servicewomen on grounds of pregnancy.
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.
Ita Buttrose takes the helm of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, making her the first female editor of a major Australian metropolitan newspaper.
Legislation enacted in New South Wales enables women to prosecute violent husbands or de facto partners.
The Sex Discrimination Act (1984) is passed in federal Parliament, making discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status and pregnancy illegal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nova Peris, as a member of the Australian women’s hockey team, becomes the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Australian women’s basketball team, the Opals, defeats Russia to take out the women’s basketball World Championship.
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.
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.
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.
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.