Amazing Aussie Women Who Changed The Way We Live
International Women's Day is marked on March 8 by the United Nations as a day to ask how we can strive for a gender equal world.
The list of Australian women who have fought for the rights many of us now take for granted is long and rich, but we’ve selected a few to highlight how far we’ve come and the continuing need to fight for our human rights as women.
Barangaroo was a Cammeraygal woman of the modern day Sydney area and a significant figure in the early interactions between Aboriginal people and the British following invasion of the First Fleet. Having survived the outbreak of smallpox which killed both her first husband and about half of the local Indigenous population, she became an influential part of the community with her knowledge of laws and women’s rituals.
Her prominence was also derived from her status as a fisherwoman -- the women in the area were highly skilled and provided food for their families. They juggled fires in their “nawi” (canoes) as well as little kids and big ocean swells (juggling is a recurring theme for us women).
Maybe the most interesting aspect of Barangaroo’s story is (not who she was married to: Bennelong) her refusal to conform to the British mores. She ate, drank and dressed according to Indigenous customs. In fact, it's said that the only thing she wore was a "slim bone through her nose".
Times were tough when Emma Miller migrated from England to Australia in 1879. Widowed after just two years, she put her skills as a seamstress to use to make a living for herself and her two children. Even though she had a sophisticated skill set, she had to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, which inspired her to testify against sweatshop operations during a Royal Commission into the issue in 1891. She encouraged women to join the trade union movement to improve their working conditions and pay and fought her entire life for equal pay, as well as women’s suffrage.
Like her better-known male contemporary Charles Perkins, Faith Bandler was a key figure and full-time activist in the campaign for a referendum to recognise Indigenous people as equal citizens in 1967. She became an activist citing the experience of her father who was “blackbirded” from Vanuatu -- essentially transported in slavery to establish the cane industry in Queensland -- as the motivation for her activism to ensure Indigenous peoples would have the same rights as the white colonists. She was an active member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby and wrote several books including a history of the 1967 referendum.
With reserves of strength and courage many could only hope for, Rosie Batty turned a moment of unimaginable personal tragedy into a campaign to stop violence against women. Rosie continues to campaign tirelessly to change the conversation around domestic violence and described family violence as “the most pressing issue of terrorism our society faces”.
Just like the Fridays for Future movement leader Greta Thunberg, don’t let Jean Hinchliffe’s relatively young years lull you into thinking she isn’t an articulate, organised powerhouse in the climate change movement. She became involved in the School Strike 4 Climate movement when she organised its first Sydney rally.
“When I started working with the School Strike 4 Climate, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing," she said. "I was suddenly thrown into this new world of hour-long online meetings, formal emailing, police negotiating and media appearances. I was scrambling to figure everything out.”
Jean has poured everything she learned as a 15-year-old activist into a book which will be out later this year.
Self-described “appearance activist” Carly Findlay turned the frustration of being discriminated against into her superpower. She’s an advocate of inclusion and in addition to speaking and media appearances, Carly pioneered Access to Fashion at Melbourne Fashion Week and works as Access and Inclusion Coordinator at Melbourne Fringe. She also authored her debut book Say Hello, all about living with a facial difference and edited the anthology Growing Up Disabled in Australia.
Driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge around Survival Day, Kamilaroi woman Cheree Toka noticed the Aboriginal flag wasn’t flying. She subsequently discovered that it is only flown 19 days a year and resolved to change that.
Demonstrating the power of the petition, Cheree aimed to collect 10,000 physical signatures so her proposal to fly the flag year round would be debated in NSW Parliament. Cheree braved criticism and racism (because: the Internet) and in November, presented the petition, (which incidentally got more than 150,000 signatures) to NSW Parliament.
Featured Image: Getty / AAP