National Council of Women

14 Mar 2012 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the lack of recorded history of women in South Australia and the efforts to correct this by the National Council of Women's local South Australian branch.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:34): I rise to speak today about the lack of recorded history of women in South Australia and the efforts to correct this by the National Council of Women's local South Australian branch. Every year, the National Council of Women has a commemorative tribute on Australia Day to the early women settlers of South Australia in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden. They participate in History Month at their displays at their South Terrace premises. In 2010, they had some significant displays from the Midwives' Association, Girl Guides Association and in relation to a lady by the name of Miss Adelaide Miethke who was a past president of the National Council of Women who facilitated the raising of a large amount of funds for our efforts in World War II and later for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Through this she conceived and founded the concept of the School of the Air, contrary to the beliefs of a number of her contemporary educators.

Last year's Australia Day speech, in the year of our 175th anniversary of the proclamation of the province, we were provided with a talk by Dr Lois Zweck who, in her address, First Fruits, outlined the story of our first German community, which settled in Klemzig, Hahndorf and Glen Osmond very early in the state's history. She said:

The reports of this period of decision are all written by men, and I wonder how much say the women had in those debates, although there are records of wives or daughters making different choices from their husbands or families.

A pioneer trail from Hahndorf down through Beaumont, where the women used to walk with produce on heads and shoulders to the market in Adelaide, is still in existence.

It was my privilege this year to address the National Council of Women on Australia Day regarding legislative advances for the status of women, and that speech is on my website. In order to do research for that speech, the best record I could obtain was a book from the library, from Helen Jones, entitled In Her Own Name: A history of women in South Australia from 1836, which was written for the Centenary of Suffrage. Ms Jones herself remarked on the difficulty of obtaining access to historical materials which would cover the period prior to the 1960s as being lost or stolen. She says:

While some records await further exploration, others are inaccessible; they have been lost, destroyed or even stolen. The last category includes the South Australian Housewives Association records which had been methodically accumulated for almost sixty years. They disappeared when thieves took the safe which housed them from the Association's office in 1980; it was not recovered. Sometimes the destruction of papers and photographs has been accidental, sometimes deliberate. Many records of the Adelaide City Mission's near-century of work, much by and for women, were thrown away in the 1950s. The Mary Lee papers were, according to family members, consigned to a Brompton pug-hole some years after her death., These papers may well have included the missing records of the South Australian Women's Suffrage League.

I note it is even more of a tragedy that the women's studies resource centre has been dismantled by this government for the sake of a few thousand dollars. That collection contained invaluable records, which would have assisted us in mapping our state's history, particularly in the more contemporary periods following the 1950s.

We are familiar with a number of the suffragettes and their life: Catherine Helen Spence, Mary Lee, Mrs Elizabeth Webb Nicholls and Lady Colton. Roma Mitchell, later our state's governor, has a prominent place in our history as well. We have celebrated 35 years of the Sex Discrimination Act. The Women's Housing Association has written book for its 25 years, and the Housewives Association has had some significant work done by historian Professor Judith Smart, who has obtained information from the Mortlock records.

In doing my own research for my speech, it is apparent that lots of information does not exist: the history of our shelters, women's health centres, the Pregnancy Advisory Service and accounts of the Women's Information Service and, while we still have living memories from Carmel O'Loughlin and Steph Key regarding the Working Women's Centre, we ought to get that information. Francis Bedford is to be commended for her work on the Muriel Matters Society.

March is Women's History Month, according to the Australian Women's History Forum, with a focus in 2012 on Women with a Plan. However, I note the Eastern States' focus, which does not contain any information about our South Australian forebears, as I have mentioned. I commend the members for Florey, Ashford and Bragg for their interest in history and I hope that we will all be able to do in recording women's history for future generations.