Tag Archives: women

Did a tragic family secret influence Kate Sheppard’s mission to give New Zealand women the vote?



Kate Sheppard (seated at centre) with the National Council of Women in Christchurch. 1896.

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

The family of pioneering New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard kept an important secret – one that possibly explains a lot about her life, her beliefs and her motivation.

The secret involved her father, Andrew Wilson Malcolm, and what happened to him after Kate was born. An extensive and painstaking quest by her great great niece Tessa Malcolm has revealed the truth about his fate.

Sadly, Tessa died in 2013 before publishing her decades-long research. I am now completing her work and hope to publish a new biography of Sheppard in 2023, the 130th anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first place in the world to give women the vote.

Solving the mystery of Andrew’s death deepens our understanding of Kate and her extraordinary life.

What happened to Kate Sheppard’s father?

Following family leads and with detailed searches of official and military records, wills and graves, Tessa finally established the truth: Andrew Malcolm died aged 42 of the delirium tremens (DTs) in New Mexico on January 26, 1862.

The DTs are a severe form of alcohol withdrawal and a horrible way to die. Symptoms include fever, seizures and hallucinations.

Kate Sheppard.

It had already been a long and difficult slog for Andrew. He was one of thousands of Scotsmen who served in overseas armies throughout the 19th century, motivated by a lust for adventure, sympathy for a cause, financial reward, a desire to emigrate or just to escape their lives at home.

When he died he was months short of completing ten years service in the Union Army. His burial site at Fort Craig was recently looted, which led to the official exhumation and reburial of bodies, Andrew’s remains possibly among them.

So we now know the Scottish father of a leader in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) died an alcoholic amid the horrors of the American Civil War. He had served and sacrificed his life on US soil, far from his wife and five children at home in the British Isles.




Read more:
NZ was first to grant women the vote in 1893, but then took 26 years to let them stand for parliament


The personal becomes political

As is well known, after the family left Scotland and re-grouped in New Zealand, Kate went on to play a key role in the movement to grant women the vote.

The late Tessa Malcolm, great great niece of Kate Sheppard.
Author provided

The peaceful campaign was closely aligned with the temperance movement. It argued that moral, enfranchised women were needed to clean up society by voting against the “demon drink”.

A New Zealand tour in 1885 by Mary Leavitt of the American WCTU was a catalyst for local organising. Sheppard became the secretary of the WCTU franchise department.

With her own family experience and connection with America, we can certainly speculate that for Kate temperance was more than a platform from which women could gain the vote. It’s highly probable that her quests for a sober society and votes for women were personally entwined.

A missing page from history

So why did Andrew’s death remain a secret? Stigma, a sense of shame, or just the natural desire for privacy could all be explanations.

In her 1992 biography of Kate Sheppard, Judith Devaliant dedicated only two pages to Kate’s life prior to her 1869 migration to New Zealand around the age of 21. Of Andrew she wrote: “His death has not been traced with any accuracy, although it is known that he died at an early age leaving his widow to cope with five young children.”




Read more:
Hundred years of votes for women: how far we’ve come and how far there’s still to go


The biography is also vague about the details of his life. He was born in Dunfermline, Fifeshire, in 1819 and married Jemima Crawford Souter on Islay in the Hebrides in 1842. Documents describe his occupation variously as lawyer, banker, brewer’s clerk and legal clerk.

There is no mention of Andrew in either the New Zealand History Net or Book of New Zealand Women entries on Kate Sheppard. Until now, the focus is on Kate’s adult life and work, with family taking a back seat.

Even in her own 1993 entry on Kate in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Tessa simply wrote: “Her father died in 1862”. The implication was that Andrew had died in Scotland, although Dublin and Jamaica also appear in genealogical records.

Ruins of the officers’ quarters, Fort Craig, New Mexico, USA: last resting place of Kate Sheppard’s father.
CC BY-SA

The search goes on

But Tessa was already aware of Andrew’s New Mexico fate by 1990, two years before Devaliant’s book was published. After following dead ends and disproving family rumours she had solved the puzzle of what really happened to the ancestor she referred to as the “bete noire” of her research.

Can we conclusively say that Kate Sheppard’s temperance and suffragist work was directly linked to knowledge of her father’s death? Or are we dealing with an irony of history, albeit a sad one?

As yet we can’t be sure. But Kate’s mother definitely knew the cause of Andrew’s death and we know she greatly influenced Kate. I believe it was also likely known by other senior (and also influential) family members, but kept quiet.

The fact the truth was hidden so well suggests a degree of deliberate concealment. By building on Tessa’s groundbreaking research I hope to reveal more of a remarkable story that connects Scotland, America and New Zealand to a global first for women.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How Julia Gillard forever changed Australian politics – especially for women



Lukas Coch/ AAP

Blair Williams, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of pieces on key figures in Australian political history, examining how they changed the country and political debate.

When Julia Gillard was sworn into office as Australia’s first female prime minister on a chilly Canberra morning in 2010, it seemed like the ultimate glass ceiling had been smashed.

But this momentous occasion was marred by the onslaught of sexism and misogyny Gillard endured from the opposition, and especially the mainstream media, over the next three years of her term.




Read more:
Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard: how the media shape our view of leaders as ‘women’


Since she lost the prime ministership in 2013, Gillard has fostered a legacy that extends beyond parliamentary politics, with a focus on women’s rights, education and mental health.

The two Es: education and equality

Born in Wales in 1961, Gillard’s family moved to Australia in 1966. She grew up in Adelaide as the daughter of a nurse and aged care worker.

Gillard was educated at local public schools before studying at the University of Adelaide and then the University of Melbourne.

She told the Harvard Business Review last year her involvement in the student movement, protesting education cutbacks, was a formative experience:

That’s what spurred an activism and engagement in public policy in me, and I went on to lead the student movement nationally … people had said, ‘You really should consider politics’. It was a slow dawning over time that it would be a fantastic way of putting my values into action — and realising that someone like me could do it.

Graduating with an arts/law degree, Gillard joined law firm Slater & Gordon in 1987 and was a partner by 1990.

While she has said she felt “quite at home in many ways” as a young woman in the “larrakin” culture of the law firm, she also worked on affirmative action campaigns in the 1990s. She was a founding member of Labor women’s support network, EMILY’s List Australia.

She continues to maintain this focus on gender and education in her post-politics advocacy.

Going to Canberra, creating history

Gillard was elected to federal parliament in 1998 and was a frontbencher by 2001.
In 2007, with Labor’s election victory, she became deputy prime minister and minister for education, workplace relations and social inclusion.

Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s 27th prime minister by Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
Alan Porritt/ AAP

However, despite the popularity of prime minister Kevin Rudd, the Labor party became increasingly frustrated with his leadership style ahead of the 2010 federal election.

These tensions saw Gillard challenge Rudd for the top job in June 2010, in one of the most dramatic episodes in recent Australian political history.

Gillard’s unexpected promotion would have lasting consequences for her, the Labor Party and Australian political culture.

It initiated a “coup culture” in Australian politics, where a series of challenges saw the removal of four out of the five most recent prime ministers.

A sexist backlash

The unprecedented removal of a popular first-term prime minister during an election year also prompted an overwhelming backlash from the opposition, the media and the public.

Gillard faced accusations of disloyalty that marred the historic significance of her victory and status as the “first woman”. It also unleashed what seemed like a ceaseless tirade of sexism and misogyny that she endured for the next three years of her term.

The more prominent examples include broadcaster Alan Jones saying Gillard should be put in a “chaff bag” and taken “out to sea”. A menu at a Liberal National Party fundraiser described a dish as “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”.




Read more:
Dining out on the prime minister – time to change the ‘Menugate’?


Opposition leader Tony Abbott stood in front of – and tacitly endorsed – sexist placards.

Julia Gillard faced repeated sexist abuse during her time as prime minister.
Alan Porritt/AAP

A productive parliament

After the 2010 federal election, Gillard had to work with a minority government.

But in a sign of her formidable negotiating skills, Gillard’s term as prime minister was extremely productive.

Despite the surrounding political turmoil, 570 bills were passed by the Senate, with key achievements including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the child abuse royal commission, a carbon price, education funding and paid parental leave.




Read more:
Labor’s legacy: six years of … what exactly?


It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy

Yet not all Gillard’s policies are so fondly remembered.

On the same day Gillard delivered her famous “misogyny speech”, her government passed welfare reforms that moved single parents off the parenting payment and onto Newstart (now called JobSeeker Payment). This reduced people’s payments by $60 to $100 a week, disproportionately affecting women.

Her asylum seeker policies and opposition to marriage equality also garnered widespread criticism from progressive Australians, particularly the LGBTIQ+ community and refugee advocates.

‘I will not be lectured by this man’

Twelve iconic words have come to define Gillard’s legacy:

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.

This statement launched a blistering 15-minute speech, in which Gillard called out the sexism and hypocrisy of Abbott during Question Time in October 2012.

The anger and frustration she felt about Abbott – known for his sexist sentiments – and the systemic double standards she’d endured for years, resonated with women around the world.

Julia Gillard delivered her “misogyny speech” on October 9 2012.

Though it was initially critiqued by the Canberra Press Gallery, which accused Gillard of “playing the gender card”, the speech went viral.

It has become the definitive moment of her prime ministership and is often the only thing people overseas know about Australian politics.




Read more:
Gillard’s misogyny speech looks even better than it reads


Earlier this year, it was voted the “most unforgettable” moment in Australian TV history by a Guardian Australia poll. Last month, a senior advisor to former-US President Barack Obama revealed they often watched the speech whenever they were frustrated with then-prime minister Abbott.

The misogyny speech has even entered into the pop cultural canon, inspiring young women today to create memes and TikToks paying homage to those famous words.

Changing the way we talk about sexism and politics

Gillard’s misogyny speech and her time as our first woman prime minister changed the way that politics and sexism were talked about in Australia and highlighted the toxic nature of parliament.

Rather than “playing the gender card”, Gillard drew attention to it, calling out the sexism and misogyny that many women in politics had to silently endure.

Julia Gillard, pictured here with former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, continues to advocate for gender equality.
David Moir/ AAP

Speaking with Gillard last year in preparation for my doctoral research, she noted how the conversation around gender and sexism is “everywhere now”, and that people are far more aware of and likely to challenge gendered double-standards.

In recent years, we have seen multiple women politicians breaking their silence, from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young suing fellow senator David Leyonhjelm for defamation, to former Liberal MP Julia Banks calling out “gender bias” and “bullying”.

Post-politics: ‘what would Julia do?’

Gillard lost the Labor leadership in 2013, when Rudd got his revenge and his old job back.

Gillard left Parliament immediately after she lost the leadership.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

But she has left a lasting legacy as a role model for girls and young women. This stems not just from her political career, but for the way she has gracefully moved on.

Since leaving politics, Gillard continues to work in the areas she cares about, with high-profile appointments in education, mental health and women’s leadership. Earlier this month, she was also appointed as the next chair of medical research giant, the Wellcome Trust.

Julia Gillard’s official portrait was unveiled in 2018.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Like all politicians, she’ll continue to have her critics, but her post-political life and demeanour has largely been admired. Gillard’s former foe, Abbott, even attended the 2018 unveiling of her official portrait.




Read more:
The political tragedy of Julia Gillard


And her career continues to resonate with people, particularly women.

This was recently seen when she received a handwritten note from a stranger on a flight, which thanked her for being “such a strong, intelligent and unapologetic role model for myself and so many of my peers”.

The note added that the author and her female colleagues used the phrase “WWJD” or “what would Julia do”.

As the woman explained: “It’s our rallying cry to be the absolute best at our jobs”.The Conversation

Blair Williams, Political Scientist, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Cook commemorations are mute on intimate encounters and their profound impact on Indigenous women



Artist: John Pickles, Author provided

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.

Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.

Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Colonial comfort

The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.

Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.

Captain Cook charted New Zealand during his voyage in 1769.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.

But as historian Anne Salmond has written, bodily contact involved Cook’s sailors exchanging items such as nails for sex with women.

In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.

Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.

In historian James Belich’s view, described in his book Making Peoples, sexual contact became the initial intercultural trade in New Zealand.

The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.

But Hazel Petrie has argued that intimate encounters have to be considered within the context of cultural practices that emphasised hospitality.

Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


Women as agents of history

According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:

A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.

Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.

As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:

Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.

Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.

Mikaere has argued that:

It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.

It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.

Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.

Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Auschwitz: Women used different survival and sabotage strategies than men at Nazi death camp



Women prisoners at the Auschwitz train station around 1944.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Bar-Ilan University

Nearly all the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, were murdered – either sent to the gas chambers or worked to death. Life expectancy in many of these camps was between six weeks and three months.

Over a million of the Auschwitz dead were Jews, and scholars have concluded that more than half of them were women.

While male and female slave laborers in Auschwitz faced the same ultimate fate, my research on gender and the Holocaust finds that some of their behaviors and responses to captivity differed.

Methods of sabotage

Gender has been long overlooked in Holocaust research. Writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, early scholars such as Joan Ringelheim and Sybil Milton had to fight for their legitimacy in a field that insisted that separating stories of Jewish men and women under the Nazi regime was a blow to their joint fate or to Jewish solidarity.

Today, however, the topic is being explored in depth, allowing us to better understand not only how Jews died during the Holocaust, but also how they lived.

Of 1.3 million men and women sent to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, 1.1 million died.
API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

During the late 1980s, I conducted a study of Jewish men and women who had been part of Auschwitz’s “Canada Commando,” the forced labor detail responsible for sorting through the possessions inmates had brought with them to the camp and preparing those items for reshipment back to Germany for civilian use.

Since the barracks were the only place in the camp where one could find almost unlimited food and clothing, this forced labor troop was named after Canada – a country seen as a symbol of wealth.

Examining the behavior of the men and women of the Canada Commando, I noted an interesting difference. Among the items of clothing sorted there were fur coats. While both male and female prisoners in the Canada Commando tried to sabotage this work, acts punishable by death, their methods differed.

Male prisoners would usually rip the lining and seams of the coat to shreds, keeping only the outer shell intact. At first use, the coat would come apart, leaving the German who wore it coatless in the winter.

The few surviving women in the commando whom I interviewed did not use this tactic. Rather, they told me, they decided together to insert handwritten notes into the coat’s pockets that read something along the lines of: “German women, know that you are wearing a coat that belonged to a woman who has been gassed to death in Auschwitz.”

The women, in other words, chose psychological sabotage. The men, physical.

Coping with hunger

One of the most central experiences of all camp prisoners during the Holocaust was hunger. While both men and women suffered from hunger during incarceration, male and female prisoners used disparate coping methods.

The former Auschwitz Nazi extermination camp, in occupied Poland, now a public museum.
Peter Toth/Pixabay, CC BY-SA

While men would regale each other with tales of the fantastic meals they would enjoy once liberated, women would often discuss how they had cooked they various dishes they loved before the war, from baking fluffy cakes to preparing traditional Jewish blintzes. Cara de Silva’s 1996 book, “In Memory’s Kitchen,” movingly documents how this phenomenon played out among women prisoners in the Terezin camp.

The differences between men’s and women’s coping methods may have derived from the gendered behavior in their lives before the war, in which men ate and women cooked – at least in the middle and lower classes.

In the case of women, this may also have been a female socialization process meant to solve two dilemmas simultaneously: the psychological need to engage – at least verbally – with food, and the educational need to prepare the young girls in the camp for culinary and household tasks after the war.

Under normal circumstances, mothers would have taught their daughters by example – not story.

Motherhood under Nazi rule

Various historical studies make mention of motherly sacrifices during the Holocaust, such as women who chose to accompany their children to death so that they would not be alone during their last moments on Earth.

Jewish women and children, some wearing the yellow Star of David patch on their chests, undergoing ‘selections’ at Auschwitz circa 1943.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some mothers, however, acted otherwise, as documented by the Polish non-Jewish Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowsky in his book “This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen.”

During the “selections” at Auschwitz – when prisoners were sent either to live or die – prisoners arriving were usually divided by sex, with the elderly, mothers and small children being separated from men and older boys. The mothers with small children, along with the elderly, were automatically sent to death.

Borowsky writes about a number of young mothers who hid from their children during the selection, in an attempt to buy themselves a few additional days or possible hours of life.

If a German soldier found a small child alone at a “selection,” Borowsky writes, he would take the child up and down the rows of prisoners while screaming, “This is how a mother abandons her child?” until he tracked down the hapless woman and condemned them both to the gas chambers.

At first, the female Auschwitz survivors I’ve interviewed said they’d never heard of any such thing. Eventually, however, after I returned to the question several times via different topics, a few women admitted to hearing that a handful mothers who arrived in Auschwitz with small children did indeed try to hide to save their own lives.

Historians are not judges. I do not mention the actions made in mortal fear to condemn these women but rather to contribute, 75 years later, to our understanding of Jewish life and death under Nazi terror. Doing requires relinquishing preconceived notions about both men and women, mapping out a broader canvas of the grim reality at Auschwitz.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Director, the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research, Bar-Ilan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The hidden history of women’s filmmaking in Britain



Ruth Stuart, the filmmaker of To Egypt and Back with Imperial Airways (1933)
EAFA, Author provided

Melanie Williams, University of East Anglia

The history of women making excellent films but not having their achievements fully acknowledged stretches back a very long way. This was most recently seen in Pamela B Green’s documentary Be Natural about the “lost” foremother of film, Alice Guy-Blaché. The French-American filmmaker was largely forgotten in formative accounts of the history of cinema. This was despite her important innovations, including making what is arguably the first narrative film La Fée aux Choux (1896).

It is vital historical work to recover women’s filmmaking, which is always prone to being overlooked, downplayed or forgotten. Organisations like the Women Film Pioneers Project and the Women’s Film and Television History Network, alongside other initiatives and people, have laboured to prevent its erasure from the historical record, but there is always more to be done to ensure its preservation and celebration. Archiving is key to this.

The recently released report, Invisible Innovators: Making Women’s Filmmaking Visible across the UK Film Archives, strives to rewrite women into history. Commissioned by Film Archives UK, the report surveys work by women held in UK media archives and proposes strategies for making it more accessible. It suggests there are incredible riches waiting to be unlocked, and compelling stories that deserve to be more widely known.

Creative amateurs

Amateur film of various kinds constitutes a large proportion of those collections. Many are home movies, which women were actively encouraged to make at the advent of home movie-making technology in the early 20th century. This was because it was seen as an extension of their roles as wives, mothers and custodians of family keepsakes.

Although some amateur films might have interest solely as historical or familial records, others are much more aesthetically inventive. Such films suggest how filmmaking could become a vehicle for unleashing women’s creativity.

For instance, one of the most intriguing filmmakers discussed in the report is Ruth Stuart. A teenage prodigy, she was described as “the maestra of Manchester” by Movie Maker magazine after her 1933 travelogue To Egypt and Back (begun when she was only 16) and her 1934 apocalyptic vision Doomsday. Both won the highest accolades for non-professional work from American Cinematographer and Amateur Cine World.

However, a gendered double standard was in operation around the status of amateur film at this time. While amateur filmmaking could act as a launchpad for the professional filmmaking careers of talented young men like Ken Russell and Peter Watkins – who both went from amateur filmmaking to the BBC and onto acclaimed feature film production – no such leverage seems to have been available to their female equivalents, however talented. As such, Stuart’s filmography is frustratingly brief. Little is known about her life or why she appears to have stopped making films altogether by the 1940s.

Clearly some women relished their adventures as hobbyist filmmakers and enjoyed the freedom of amateurism. In the flourishing cine club culture from the 1930s to 1960s, women were key participants, and not merely as helpful companions or tea-makers. As early as 1928, an all-female amateur filmmaking team put together the madcap comedy Sally Sallies Forth. Featuring an all-female cast, it was a rare gynocentric achievement.

A still from the 1928 film Sally Sallies Forth.
EAFA, Author provided

More often women worked collaboratively with men, but this has resulted in systemic problems in their work’s attribution. When the prize-winning films made by married couple Laurie and Stuart Day were discussed in amateur film magazines, it was automatically assumed that Stuart was the main filmmaker and Laurie just his wifely assistant. Evidence from the films themselves seems to suggest that actually the reverse was true. However, these kinds of assumptions have impacted the cataloguing of films when deposited in archives, inadvertently effacing women’s contributions.

Films by female filmmakers to watch:

Women’s films should be a priority for digitisation, and archival catalogues and records should accurately reflect female contributors. If all relevant works across all film collections could be marked with an easily searchable term like “woman filmmaker”, it would really help to bring these women’s works out from the shadows.

Here are five films by female filmmakers that have been successfully digitised from the East Anglian Film Archive which give a flavour of the range and richness of women’s filmmaking across the 20th century:

  • Doomsday (1934): Ruth Stuart’s haunting vision of a very English apocalypse.

  • 1938, the Last Year of Peace (1948): Laurie and Stuart Day’s montage of memories of suburban family life just before the outbreak of the second world war.

  • England May Be Home (1957): A moving documentary about Italian migrant workers. Bedfordshire cine-club member Margaret Hodkin is part of the team behind this.

  • The Stray (1965): Marjorie Martin’s moody tale of an errant wife with laddered stockings returning to her taciturn shepherd husband.

  • Make-Up (1978): A hand-drawn animation about “putting on a face” from Joanna Fryer, who went on to work on The Snowman(1982).The Conversation

Melanie Williams, Reader in Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Forgotten diaspora: remembering the pregnant Irish women who fled to America in 19th century



Irish immigrants, 1874 in Harper’s Weekly.
Library of Congress

Elaine Farrell, Queen’s University Belfast and Leanne McCormick, Ulster University

For the first time in Northern Ireland, women will be able to access abortions without having to travel to Great Britain as of April 1. This is the culmination of years of fighting for access to reproductive healthcare and follows similar changes in Ireland, where abortion became legally accessible in January 2019.

As heated debate raged across both Northern Ireland and Ireland in the lead up to these changes, the stories of women, who for various reasons, took the “abortion trail” across the Irish Sea became more widely shared. These are personal and often harrowing stories of being forced to travel to Great Britain to terminate a pregnancy.

New York, 1882, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
Library of Congress

Indeed, while it may not be widely known, women who did not want to be mothers in Ireland are also a consistent feature of Irish migration throughout the 19th century. Some took the short journey across the Irish Sea to Great Britain. Others, however, took their chances further afield responding to the promises of a fresh start in America.

We have been researching these stories for our “Bad Bridget” project, a three-year study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council named after the fact that Bridget was commonly used in 19th-century North America to refer to Irish women. From looking at criminal and deviant Irish women in Boston, New York and Toronto, we have uncovered many who made the extreme decision to emigrate while pregnant and often alone.

It is clear from our research that the stigma and shame attached to illegitimacy in Ireland, in both protestant and catholic communities, led girls and women to make this journey to the “new world” rather than be condemned and possibly ostracised at home. In 1877, for instance, Maggie Tate, an Irish Protestant, migrated to New York to “cover her shame”. She hoped that the father of her child would join her in the US to fulfil his promise to marry her.

Kate Sullivan, who was 18 when she travelled to New York, was “betrayed” by the son of a farmer for whom she worked in Ireland. He had allegedly “shipped her over [to New York], promising to follow on the next steamer”. He didn’t and she gave birth to their twins there.

Other women in similar situations gave up their children for adoption. While some relatives and friends would likely have been complicit in decisions to hide pregnancies by migrating across the Atlantic, others likely remained entirely ignorant. Unfortunately, many Irish women found that when they arrived in America, attitudes towards single mothers were no more positive than at home. For some women the experience of migrating while pregnant ended in tragedy.

Catherine O’Donnell ended up in court in Boston in 1889 for the suspected manslaughter of her baby, having allegedly “sought the shore of America to give birth to an illegitimate child, her lover [in Ireland] deserting her”. Her case reveals the issues experienced by many single mothers, both in the past and today, of having to support a child alone. Catherine initially paid for her baby’s board, but her financial difficulties were exacerbated when money from home ceased. She was refused assistance at charitable and religious institutions and, after wandering around for two days in a storm, seems to have left her infant on the shoreline at low water where the baby drowned.

Abroad and alone

Our research on Bad Bridget has also shown that many Irish female migrants became pregnant after their arrival to North America. This is undoubtedly related to the fact that many Irish women emigrated alone and at a young age, some as young as eight or nine. This was unlike their counterparts from continental Europe, who tended to travel in family groups.

Two Irish mothers on the cover of Puck, 1901.
Library of Congress

But if many Irish migrants in large cities experienced a new found sexual freedom outside of parental and family control, this lack of supervision also meant a lack of support and assistance. The experience of Rosie Quinn who became pregnant while in New York in 1903 reveals the tragic consequences that could follow. Rosie was found guilty of throwing her nine-day-old daughter into a reservoir in Central Park and sentenced to life in prison. Her case generated considerable public support, with one woman writing to the governor of New York:

my heart is so burdened for that poor Irish girl (alone in a strange country deserted by family and friends) that I cannot rest.

Like Catherine O’Donnell, Rosie explained during her trial that she had sought and been refused charitable assistance. She had gone to Central Park intending to drown herself and the baby, she claimed, but while contemplating suicide the baby had slipped from her arms. She recalled that she “got scared and ran away”. Servants at the hotel where Rosie had worked on Fifth Avenue appealed to patrons to help appeal her case and she was pardoned in December 1904.

These examples are only some of the wide variety of stories and experiences of unmarried Irish mothers in North America. In many situations, pregnancies outside marriage will have turned out well; women will have managed on their own, married or used support networks. But for others, experiences of emigration ended badly. Historical discussion of emigration often ignores the female experience.

Understanding the myriad migration stories in the past will give greater insight and understanding into the pressures and demands of migration today, especially relating to women migrants. Such stories also complicate rose-tinted views about economically, socially and politically successful Irish migrants who contributed to their new home countries. An awareness of the variety of pressures and stresses that led to a decision to emigrate, and an understanding that not all migrant experiences in the past were positive, can encourage a more empathetic consideration of migrants and migration today.The Conversation

Elaine Farrell, Senior Lecturer in Irish Social History, Queen’s University Belfast and Leanne McCormick, Senior Lecturer in Modern Irish Social History, Ulster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Sonia Revid created public health ballet at the height of ‘dance fever’



Dickenson-Monteith/The Australian Performing Arts Collection

Averyl Gaylor, La Trobe University

Today’s latest medical advice is to wash our hands to the chorus of songs from the likes of Lizzo, Gloria Gaynor or Beyoncé. This is to mitigate the boredom of washing to Happy Birthday … twice!

Public health strategies have been linked to popular culture before. In the 1930s, it was modern dance that taught Melburnians how to perform personal hygiene.

Dance classes were so popular the Sun News Pictorial reported:

Doctors, Barristers, other professional men are learning or relearning dance, and there are busy classes for business and married girls, tiny toddlers, and even mothers of families, and social heavyweights.

One dance instructor, Russian immigrant Sonia Revid, specialised in the instruction of hygiene through movement.

Revid choreographed and performed ballets that taught audiences how to brush their teeth. She also published a pamphlet outlining the importance of personal hygiene. The City of Melbourne’s medical officer, John Dale, publicly praised Revid’s efforts and parents were advised to enrol their children in her classes.

Revid in full flight, circa 1935.
Rosa Ribush Collection/Australian Performing Arts Collection

Body and soul

Revid had opened her dance studio in Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1933, a year after her arrival in Australia.

The Sonia Revid School for Art Dance and Body Culture was promoted as ensuring “physical well-being and lasting health” and provided “lessons to correct specific physical defects, such as obesity, flat feet, unshapely hands, self-consciousness and shyness”.

By 1936, Revid was promoting her method as not only a way to stay fit and healthy but also as means of acquiring a “consciousness of cleanliness”.

Revid asserted the capabilities of her practice based on the evidence of a medico-social experiment she conducted on a group of poor children in 1935. Revid wanted to see whether poor children who lived in the then “slums” of Fitzroy could learn to distinguish between hygienic and unhygienic practices through dance education.

Poor hygiene had been associated with a lack of social responsibility and immorality and so Revid’s published pamphlet asked through metaphor: Do Slum Children Distinguish Light From Dark?

From her observations, Revid concluded modern dance had a cleansing capacity – performing a sort of physical and spiritual bath. Not only did it teach children how to identify hygienic and unhygienic practices, she wrote, but imparted a more hygienic constitution.

In recent years, ballet has returned to vogue as a tool for everyday fitness.

Don’t forget to smile

Emboldened by her belief in the hygienic potential of dance, Revid began to include ballets with public health messages in her performance repertoire.

Her 1938 ballet, Little Fool and Her Adventures, instructed audiences how to brush their teeth correctly and portrayed the painful consequences of poor dental hygiene.

The ballet was first performed at the University of Melbourne’s Union House Theatre and later at school halls such as at Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School, now Melbourne Girls Grammar. It was performed in four parts. Part one was an introduction to the protagonist, Little Fool, and to the themes of the ballet.

Little Fool Has a Toothache, the second section, told of the pain associated with dental decay. It was dramatically enhanced by a thumping musical score by the French composer, Charles Gounod, titled Funeral March of a Marionette. The score alluded to the serious medical consequences of poor dental hygiene. Audiences reported its repetitive rhythm reminded them of the thumping pain of a sensitive nerve.

The score has since become familiar as theme music for the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The ballet’s climax was in part three: The Toothache Leaves a Mark on Little Fool – She imagines she is pursued by evil spirits. This section was ominously danced to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre (known in English as Dance of Death). The choreography showed Little Fool overcome by delirium.

Revid’s ballet concluded with a positive message of calm vigilance. Little Fool overcame her sore tooth and departed the stage to a lively and uplifting tune.

Sonia Revid strikes a pose, circa 1931-47.
Photograph by Andre, Melbourne/Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Lessons today

Little Fool remained in Revid’s repertoire for many years, providing hygienic instruction and a cautionary public health warning to all who saw it.

Revid’s dance classes and her performances taught the importance of daily hygiene and kept the community informed of best practices through the fluctuating realities of Melbourne’s public health.

With advances in medicine and technology, such as vaccines, we often take the basics for granted, losing sight of the importance of thorough handwashing until a global pandemic reminds us of its preventive power.

Although hygienic instruction hasn’t been a part of popular artistic culture for a while, in 2020 Beyoncé and Lizzo are taking matters into their own clean hands.The Conversation

Averyl Gaylor, PhD Candidate in History and Manager, Centre for Health, Law and Society at La Trobe Law School, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals



Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital.
A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of Australia

Kerrie Davies, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Macquarie University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In 1886, a year before American journalist Nellie Bly feigned insanity to enter an asylum in New York and became a household name, Catherine Hay Thomson arrived at the entrance of Kew Asylum in Melbourne on “a hot grey morning with a lowering sky”.

Hay Thomson’s two-part article, The Female Side of Kew Asylum for The Argus newspaper revealed the conditions women endured in Melbourne’s public institutions.

Her articles were controversial, engaging, empathetic, and most likely the first known by an Australian female undercover journalist.

A ‘female vagabond’

Hay Thomson was accused of being a spy by Kew Asylum’s supervising doctor. The Bulletin called her “the female vagabond”, a reference to Melbourne’s famed undercover reporter of a decade earlier, Julian Thomas. But she was not after notoriety.

Unlike Bly and her ambitious contemporaries who turned to “stunt journalism” to escape the boredom of the women’s pages – one of the few avenues open to women newspaper writers – Hay Thomson was initially a teacher and ran schools with her mother in Melbourne and Ballarat.

Hay Thomson, standing centre with her mother and pupils at their Ballarat school, was a teacher before she became a journalist.
Ballarat Grammar Archives/Museum Victoria

In 1876, she became one of the first female students to sit for the matriculation exam at Melbourne University, though women weren’t allowed to study at the university until 1880.

Going undercover

Hay Thomson’s series for The Argus began in March 1886 with a piece entitled The Inner Life of the Melbourne Hospital. She secured work as an assistant nurse at Melbourne Hospital (now The Royal Melbourne Hospital) which was under scrutiny for high running costs and an abnormally high patient death rate.

Doctors at Melbourne Hospital in the mid 1880s did not wash their hands between patients, wrote Catherine Hay Thomson.
State Library of Victoria

Her articles increased the pressure. She observed that the assistant nurses were untrained, worked largely as cleaners for poor pay in unsanitary conditions, slept in overcrowded dormitories and survived on the same food as the patients, which she described in stomach-turning detail.

The hospital linen was dirty, she reported, dinner tins and jugs were washed in the patients’ bathroom where poultices were also made, doctors did not wash their hands between patients.

Writing about a young woman caring for her dying friend, a 21-year-old impoverished single mother, Hay Thomson observed them “clinging together through all fortunes” and added that “no man can say that friendship between women is an impossibility”.

The Argus editorial called for the setting up of a “ladies’ committee” to oversee the cooking and cleaning. Formal nursing training was introduced in Victoria three years later.

Kew Asylum

Hay Thomson’s next series, about women’s treatment in the Kew Asylum, was published in March and April 1886.

Her articles predate Ten Days in a Madhouse written by Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Cochran) for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

While working in the asylum for a fortnight, Hay Thomson witnessed overcrowding, understaffing, a lack of training, and a need for woman physicians. Most of all, the reporter saw that many in the asylum suffered from institutionalisation rather than illness.

Kew Asylum around the time Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover there.
Charles Rudd/State Library of Victoria

She described “the girl with the lovely hair” who endured chronic ear pain and was believed to be delusional. The writer countered “her pain is most probably real”.

Observing another patient, Hay Thomson wrote:

She requires to be guarded – saved from herself; but at the same time, she requires treatment … I have no hesitation in saying that the kind of treatment she needs is unattainable in Kew Asylum.

The day before the first asylum article was published, Hay Thomson gave evidence to the final sitting of Victoria’s Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and Inebriate, pre-empting what was to come in The Argus. Among the Commission’s final recommendations was that a new governing board should supervise appointments and training and appoint “lady physicians” for the female wards.

Suffer the little children

In May 1886, An Infant Asylum written “by a Visitor” was published. The institution was a place where mothers – unwed and impoverished – could reside until their babies were weaned and later adopted out.

Hay Thomson reserved her harshest criticism for the absent fathers:

These women … have to bear the burden unaided, all the weight of shame, remorse, and toil, [while] the other partner in the sin goes scot free.

For another article, Among the Blind: Victorian Asylum and School, she worked as an assistant needlewoman and called for talented music students at the school to be allowed to sit exams.

In A Penitent’s Life in the Magdalen Asylum, Hay Thomson supported nuns’ efforts to help women at the Abbotsford Convent, most of whom were not residents because they were “fallen”, she explained, but for reasons including alcoholism, old age and destitution.

Suffrage and leadership

Hay Thomson helped found the Austral Salon of Women, Literature and the Arts in January 1890 and the National Council of Women of Victoria. Both organisations are still celebrating and campaigning for women.

Throughout, she continued writing, becoming Table Talk magazine’s music and social critic.

In 1899 she became editor of The Sun: An Australian Journal for the Home and Society, which she bought with Evelyn Gough. Hay Thomson also gave a series of lectures titled Women in Politics.

A Melbourne hotel maintains that Hay Thomson’s private residence was secretly on the fourth floor of Collins Street’s Rialto building around this time.

Home and back

After selling The Sun, Hay Thomson returned to her birth city, Glasgow, Scotland, and to a precarious freelance career for English magazines such as Cassell’s.

Despite her own declining fortunes, she brought attention to writer and friend Grace Jennings Carmichael’s three young sons, who had been stranded in a Northampton poorhouse for six years following their mother’s death from pneumonia. After Hay Thomson’s article in The Argus, the Victorian government granted them free passage home.

Hay Thomson eschewed the conformity of marriage but tied the knot back in Melbourne in 1918, aged 72. The wedding at the Women Writer’s Club to Thomas Floyd Legge, culminated “a romance of forty years ago”. Mrs Legge, as she became, died in Cheltenham in 1928, only nine years later.The Conversation

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The League of Nations was formed 100 years ago today. Meet the Australian women who lobbied to join it



The (all male) members of the commission of the League of Nations. For Australia, the League’s establishment marked the beginning of our independence on the global stage.
Wikimedia Commons

Yves Rees, La Trobe University

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the League of Nations — the intergovernmental organisation, headquartered in Geneva, that emerged from the ashes of the first world war.

Although the League was branded a failure due to its inability to prevent the second world war, recent scholarship has stressed that its legacies continued long after 1939. As the template for modern global governance, and direct precursor to the United Nations, the League profoundly shaped the world we live in today.

For Australia, the League’s establishment marked the beginning of our independence on the global stage. Thanks to the lobbying of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Australia was granted the right to participate as an autonomous member nation. For the first time, our young nation would step out from Britain’s shadow and speak for itself in international affairs.

But who would speak for Australia?

A century ago, Australia was renowned as an international leader in women’s rights. The Commonwealth Franchise Act (1902) made us the world’s first nation to grant white women the right to vote and stand for parliament. The League was also on board with equality of the sexes. Article 7 of the League Covenant stipulated that all positions were “open equally to men and women.”




Read more:
Birth of a nation: how Australia empowering women taught the world a lesson


Australian ‘substitute’ League delegate Marguerite Dale in 1922.
Wikimedia Commons

Yet despite Australia’s reputation as a feminist trailblazer, our 1920 and 1921 delegations to the annual League of Nations General Assembly were male-only affairs.

Australian women’s organisations were determined to get women included. From early 1921, the National Council of Women lobbied Prime Minister Billy Hughes to follow the example of Norway and Sweden and send a female delegate to Geneva. The President of the International Council of Women, Lady Aberdeen, also lent her support.

Hughes was loath to heed these calls but he did make a partial concession: the 1922 Australian League delegation would include a woman as “substitute” or “alternative” delegate, to represent the nation “on all questions relating to women and children.”

The individual chosen was Sydney feminist and playwright Marguerite Dale, who travelled to Geneva alongside three men.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Flos Greig, Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator


Female substitute delegates

From 1922 until 1939, every Australian League delegation included a female substitute (the League formally disbanded in 1946, but no General Assemblies were held during the war). Local women’s organisations made nominations. The federal government made the final selection.

The women chosen tended to be prominent feminists and social reformers, such as Bessie Rischbieth (1935), founding president of the Australian Federation of Women Voters; pioneering woman doctor and National Council of Women leader Roberta Jull (1929); and Melbourne Argus journalist Stella May Allan, known as “Vesta” (1924).

A 1938 portrait of Bessie Rischbieth.
National Library of Australia

These women were real-life versions of Edith Campbell Berry, the protagonist of Frank Moorhouse’s celebrated trilogy of novels Grand Days (1993), Dark Palace (2001) and Cold Light (2011), which depict an Australian woman’s diplomatic exploits in interwar Geneva.

Australia’s female delegates stayed at the Hotel de la Paix, overlooking Lake Geneva, and were swept up in a hectic schedule of meetings and social events. Expected to confine their activities to “women’s issues”, they were typically appointed to the fifth committee, concerned with humanitarian affairs.

Before an audience of international diplomats and global media, they spoke on issues such as the traffic in women and children and the welfare of adolescents.

One individual who deviated from “women’s issues” was 1927 substitute delegate Alice Moss, who became the first woman appointed to the League’s finance committee.




Read more:
Bringing Edith home: Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light


Also notably outspoken was Ethel Osborne, who in 1932 put forward a motion to the political committee to increase women’s involvement as delegates and secretariat officials.

Roberta Jull.
Wikimedia Commons

After returning home, Australia’s female substitutes worked to mobilise public opinion in support of the League. At women’s groups and town halls nationwide, they delivered passionate entreaties about its importance. “If we were to allow it go out of existence, we would be stepping right back into the middle ages,” insisted 1936 substitute delegate Edith Waterworth.

Meanwhile, the campaign for a full woman delegate continued unsuccessfully. Indeed, for the life of the League, only men would represent Australia as full delegates.

Yet Australia was still one of the few countries to consistently include women in its League delegations.

There were only six women out of 177 total delegates at the 1922 General Assembly, a figure which climbed to 14 in 1930. As late as 1936, when 50 countries sent delegations to the League Assembly, there were still only a mere 12 women included.

Women at the table

The tide finally turned in 1943, when Australia began to recruit women into the diplomatic service. That year, Julia Drake-Brockman, Diana Hodgkinson and Bronnie Taylor were appointed the nation’s first female diplomatic cadets. In 1946, Drake-Brockman was named third secretary to the Australian delegation to the brand-new United Nations in New York.

At the UN, Drake-Brockman worked alongside feminist Jessie Street, who was instrumental in enshrining the principle of gender equality in the UN Charter.

Jessie Street.
NSW Parliamentary Register – Jessie Street National Women’s Library

In the UN era, Australian women’s diplomatic work would continue to be dogged by sexism — Drake-Brockman’s 1946 marriage prematurely ended her promising career – but they were permitted to represent the nation on ostensibly equal standing with men.

Yet it would take until 1974 for Australia to appoint its first female ambassador, and until 1997 to have a female Head of Mission to the UN.

And, importantly, aside from rare exceptions — such as Aboriginal activist Joyce Clague, who participated in a 1966 UNESCO conference — Australia’s Indigenous women and women of colour were not given opportunity to represent the nation on the global stage.

Only in 2018, when Julie-Ann Guivarra was appointed ambassador to Spain, was an Indigenous Australian finally included at the highest levels of international diplomacy.The Conversation

Yves Rees, David Myers Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors



Though her brave acts were acknowledged after her death, Wauba Debar’s grave was later robbed in the name of “science”.
Tirin/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Megan Stronach, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, University of Technology Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.

Aboriginal women and girls in lutruwita (Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land) were superb swimmers and divers.

For eons, the palawa women of lutruwita had productive relationships with the sea and were expert hunters. Scant knowledge remains of these women, yet we can find fleeting glimpses of their aquatic skills.

Wauba Debar of Oyster Bay’s Paredarerme tribe was stolen as a teenager to become, according to Edward Cotton (a Quaker who settled on Tasmania’s East Coast), “a sealer’s slave and paramour”.

Servitude and rescue

Foreign sealers arrived on the Tasmanian coastlines in the late 18th century. The ensuing fur trade nearly destroyed the seal populations of Tasmania in a matter of two decades.

At the same time, life became extremely difficult for the female palawa population.

Slavery was still legal in the British Empire, and so the profitability of the sealing industry was underpinned by the servitude of palawa women.

Sporadic raids known as “gin-raiding” by sealers rendered the coastlines a place of constant danger for female palawa.

Pêche des sauvages du Cap de Diemen (Natives preparing a meal from the sea). Drawn by Jean Piron in 1817. Engraving by Jacques Louis Copia.
National Library of Australia



Read more:
Noted works: The Black War


Little is known of Wauba Debar other than tales of a daring rescue at sea. Though variations to her story can be found, it most frequently details her long swim and lifesaving efforts in stormy conditions. As one version tells it:

The boat went under; the two men were poor swimmers, and looked set to drown beneath the mountainous grey waves. Wauba could have left them to drown, and swim ashore on her own. But she didn’t.

First, she pulled her husband under her arm — the man who had first captured her — and dragged him back to shore, more than a kilometre away. Wauba next swam back out to the other man, and brought him in as well. The two sealers coughed and spluttered on the Bicheno beach, but they did not die. Wauba had saved them.

Death at sea

Sadly, no one was there to rescue Wauba when she needed it. Her demise during a sealing trip, was at the hands of Europeans.

According to a sailor’s account to Cotton, Wauba was one of the “gins” captured to take along on a whaleboat sailing from Hobart to the Straits Islands (Furneaux Group) as “expert hunters, fishers, and divers, as in most barbarous tribes, the slaves of the men”.

The sailing party camped at Wineglass Bay but woke to find the women and dogs had vanished. A group set off to pursue those who’d taken them. In his 1893 account, Cotton speculated in The Mercury newspaper on the likely cause of her death:

Wauba Debar had, I suppose, been captured in like manner … and possibly died of injuries sustained in the capture, which no doubt was not done very tenderly.

The crew interred Wauba at Bicheno, and marked her grave by a slab of wood with details inscribed.

Accounts differ as to when this actually took place. In 1893, elderly Bicheno residents said Wauba was buried 10 years before the date on the headstone, placing her death around 1822.

However, in his diary entry on 24 January 1816, Captain James Kelly described how he hauled up in Waub’s Boat Harbour due to the heavy afternoon swell. Considering the area was already named after her, it can be concluded that Wauba was likely buried before 1816.

Cotton’s report imagined her burial:

Wauba Debar did not live to be a mother of the tribe of half-bred sealers of the Straits, which became a sort of city or refuge of for bushrangers in aftertime … But she, poor soul was buried decently, perchance reverently, and I suppose other of the captured sisters would be present by the graveside on the shores of that silent nook near the beached boat.

Here lies Wauba

Wauba’s reputation was such that in 1855 the public of Bicheno decided to commemorate her by erecting a railing, headstone, and footstone (paid for by public subscription) at her grave, with “Waub” carved into it.

John Allen, who had been granted land nearby, donated ten shillings towards the cost of the gravestone – notwithstanding his involvement in a massacre at Milton Farm, Great Swanport, 30 years earlier.

The inscription reads:

Here lies Wauba Debar. A Female Aborigine of Van Diemen’s Land. Died June 1832. Aged 40 Years. This Stone is Erected by a few of her white friends.

Whether prompted by a sense of loss, guilt, or admiration, the community memorialised Wauba, and by extension, the original inhabitants of the land.

Yet by the late 1800s, European demand for Aboriginal physical remains for “scientific investigation” was high. In 1893, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was determined to procure the remains of Wauba.

Waub’s Bay, Bicheno, is named after Wauba Debar.
Shutterstock

The prevailing ethnological theories believed that the study of Australian Aboriginal people, and particularly Indigenous Tasmanians, would reveal much about the earliest stages of human development and its progress.

Wauba’s grave was exhumed, put into a box, labelled “Native Currants”, and dispatched to Hobart.

The locals were outraged. An editorial in the Tasmanian Mail newspaper condemned the act as “a pure case of body snatching for the purposes of gain, and nothing else” that “the name of Science is outraged at being connected with”.

Snowdrops bloom

Wauba’s memorial is the only known gravestone erected to a Tasmanian Aboriginal person during the 19th century, and she is the only palawa woman known to have been buried and commemorated by non-Indigenous locals.

In 2014, Olympic swimmer and Bicheno resident Shane Gould dedicated a fundraising swim to Wauba Debar’s swimming abilities and memory.

The European styled memorial serves as a reminder of the more turbulent interactions between the two peoples that shaped Tasmania’s history from the 1800s onwards.

Wauba’s empty grave is Tasmania’s smallest State Reserve. Her remains were returned to the Tasmanian Indigenous community in 1985. Snowdrops are said to bloom around the grave every spring.The Conversation

Megan Stronach, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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