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Female convicts' contribution recognised -

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ELEANOR HALL: An exhibition opening in Western Sydney today showcases Australia's convict history
and highlights the contribution to the nation made by female convicts.

While it used to be said that Australia rode on the sheep's back, in the early days of the wool
industry it was the convict women who were shouldering the work in the mills.

Now the unsung contributions of those women are being celebrated in the exhibition, which includes
photographs and letters dating back to the early 1800s. The exhibits have been donated by the
descendants of those convicts and one of them has been sharing her convict heritage with Jayne
Margetts.

SHIRLEY MOORE: Emma is wearing a formal, fairly heavy cotton dress with a pleated top with a collar
with a little brooch.

JAYNE MARGETTS: Shirley Moore is describing a photograph of her great-great-grandmother, Emma
Mayner. It was taken in 1869, 30 years after she was shipped to Australia as an 18-year-old
convict.

How do you feel when you look at this photo?

SHIRLEY MOORE: Fascinated.

JAYNE MARGETTS: Shirley Moore's fascination with her convict heritage began 12 years ago.

SHIRLEY MOORE: On November the 29th 1836 she was charged at the Warwick Quarter Sessions of being
in possession of a stolen shawl and she was sentenced to transportation to Australia for seven
years on the convict ship Sarah and Elizabeth.

JAYNE MARGETTS: Emma Mayner was sent to work at a women's factory in Parramatta and later moved to
Maitland as a domestic servant.

SHIRLEY MOORE: You look at the photo and you see someone who's come from adversity, built a life,
been a good citizen, and still you know her death notice in the paper said that she was respected
by everybody who knew her, so she mustn't have been too bad.

JAYNE MARGETTS: The latter years of Emma Mayner's life were spent living in a railway worker's tent
by the side of the tracks in Uralla in north-west New South Wales. From there she wrote a letter to
her grandson.

SHIRLEY MOORE: "I have had very bad health since you left Armidale and I cannot walk about now ... so
I think dear Willy I must close my letter with fond love to you ... No more now this time."

JAYNE MARGETTS: It's a letter that's close to Shirley Moore's heart.

SHIRLEY MOORE: She was almost bedridden and so it wouldn't have been very nice. She died that year
on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December.

JAYNE MARGETTS: Carol Liston, an associate professor in history at the University of Western Sydney
says it's vitally important that the stories of convict women are told.

CAROL LISTON: I think one of the problems with history is that you believe it happens to somebody
else. For people who do their family history, they start to understand that they are indeed part of
history.

JAYNE MARGETTS: She says the work done by convict women in factories was vital to the development
of the country's economy.

CAROL LISTON: I think it was probably one of those unsung contributions to the reason why the wool
industry became so well established, because here at Parramatta where the female factory was, two
of the most important men in experimenting with fine wool was John Macarthur and the Reverend
Samuel Marsden, both of whom sent samples of their wool to the female factory to be spun into yarn,
woven into cloth so that they could use that to develop their fleeces.

JAYNE MARGETTS: Emma Mayner's letter and photographs along with other artefacts relating to convict
women will be displayed at an exhibition in Western Sydney today.

ELEANOR HALL: Jayne Margetts reporting.