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Women with attitude: 100 years of political action

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Media Release (/Ocme/i ο poU'hoo

W M n n w ith A iilS u d · 1 0 0 Y ears o f P o litical A c tio n

Women with Attitude is the new exhibition being developed by the National Museum of Australia with assistance from the Western Australian Museum.

"Australia led the world in legislation on women's political rights at the beginning of this century. At that time, women could not vote and stand for parliament in any other country," says exhibition curator, Dr Marion Stell.

"Women who fought for the vote were radicals. They were loud and persistent. They took to the streets, they lobbied members of parliament and collected thousands of signatures for petitions.

"They wrote to newspapers, published magazines and formed their own organisations and groups. They had attitude," says Dr Stell.

But women soon discovered that voting did not guarantee change. And women were not elected to parliaments in significant numbers. So, they continued to take action. Some were revolutionary, but many more were ordinary women who never thought of themselves as


Together these women came up with different ways to change society. Women with Attitude explores some of those different approaches to political action.

The exhibition deals with suffrage campaigns; the representation of Australian women in popular political cartoons; international influences on the women’s movement; strategies used to change society; women's involvement in social issues; mral, indigenous and multicultural women's action; women and the union movement; green politics; the Women's Electoral Lobby; the Women Against Rape movement; the campaign for women's ordination; and the Office of the Status of Women. Young women's thoughts on what political action means today will also be included in the exhibition.

The Hon Joan Kimer will launch Women with Attitude on International Women's Day, 8 March 1995 at Old Parliament House in Canberra. The exhibition will then travel to Western Australia and further venues around the country.

Contacts: Dr Marion Stell, Curator (06) 242 2121

Ms Anne-Marie Grey, Marketing (06) 256 1111 or 018 628 106

3 January 1995



A National Museum of Australia Travelling Exhibition

OF FICE OF THE S t a t u s o f W o m e n


W om en with Attitude: 100 Years of Political Action

Women with Attitude explores the lively and colourful relationship between w om en

and politics over the last 100 years, from the suffrage struggles o f the 1890s through

to the equity conflicts o f the present day. It focuses on the issues, organisations and

w om en involved in political action at both com munity and parliamentary levels.

A ccording to exhibition curator Dr M arion Stell, "Every wom an will see herself

reflected in this exhibition. The fact that women have not been present in our

parliam ents in significant numbers over the last 100 years does not mean that they

have not been political. We look at the strategies w om en have used to change society

outside the formal political processes."

Women with Attitude introduces the women who fought so strongly for the vote, m aps

the successes o f the suffrage campaigns and traces the lives o f pioneering w om en

who stood for political office. W omen like V ida G oldstein who stood for Federal

Parliam ent five tim es and was unsuccessful each time. According to Dr Stell, "Vida

was dubbed 'a dangerous and persuasive woman', yet her failure to gain political

office in this country did not deter her fight for political rights for women. V ida

G oldstein joined the battle for the right for women to vote in England and was one o f

the first A ustralian w om en to have an im pact on international feminism."

The exhibition explores the changing strategies o f women in the political arena and

highlights issues such as conscription, dom estic violence, equal pay for work, sexual

discrim ination and land rights that m otivated women to take political action.

Through this process, the exhibition brings to public attention a num ber o f w om en

w hose contributions to Australia have been largely unrecognised. M any o f these

w om en w ere unable to break dow n the barriers that prohibited them from political

office. Their response was to form organisations that would address the issues that

affected their everyday lives.

Women with Attitude looks at the form ation and purpose o f a wide range o f wom en's

groups, from conservative to radical; from working class to upper class; and from

rural to urban. The exhibition places organisations such as the Country W om en's

A ssociation and the W om an's Christian Tem perance Union alongside left-wing

organisations that include the U nion o f A ustralian Women.

Three very im portant them es w ithin this exhibition are, the role o f women w ithin the

trade union m ovem ent, ethnicity and indigenous women.

T he Trade Union M ovem ent

Women with Attitude explores the im portant role o f women in the trade union

m ovem ent. Leading trade union organiser Edna Ryan, author o f several books and

advocate o f the equal pay decision o f 1969, has agreed to be featured in the

exhibition. The National M useum has negotiated several important loans including

early trade union material featuring wom en's participation in the workforce and a

panel on Em m a M iller, Q ueensland's best known trade unionist and a foundation

m em ber o f the Labor Party. Brisbane artist, Rachel Apelt produced the panel entitled

Frontline Female in 1994 for the Q ueensland ACTU as part o f the A CTU 's Art in

W orking Life Program.


O ne o f the greatest difficulties facing w om en from non-English speaking

backgrounds is the non-recognition o f overseas skills and qualifications. A ccording

to D r Stell, "M any m igrant w om en are forced to begin w ork at the very bottom rung

o f the labour m arket and w ork their w ay up."

The exhibition will feature the lives o f prom inent non-English speaking background

w om en Franca Arena, A ntonia Grasso and Annette Shun Wah. Women with Attitude

looks at the types o f political issues that are significant to non-English speaking

background women, especially in their efforts to achieve a voice in discussions on

'm ulticultural Australia'.

Indigenous Issues

The N ational M useum is sensitive to A boriginal and Torres Strait Islander wom en's

stories being separate and distinct but has nevertheless been keen to interweave their

histories into the exhibition.

Women with Attitude exam ines the influence o f A boriginal and Torres Strait Islander

w om en in political organisations that addressed the rights o f indigenous and m igrant

women. It looks at w om en who exerted influence w ithin their own com m unities.

These w om en include M arg Tucker, Ellie Gaffney and Pearl Gibbs. Women with

Attitude also explores their roles in the passage o f the 1967 Referendum.

Individuals with A ttitude

The N ational M useum is devoting one section o f the exhibition to women who have

played a significant part in A ustralian political life in the last 25 years. Individuals

with Attitude features 24 w om en who are strong, dynam ic and spirited. The N ational

M useum asked these w om en from many cultures, backgrounds and perspectives to

contribute a significant object and to write some words about themselves. Robyn

A rcher, Lisa Bellear, B ronw yn Bishop, Carm en Lawrence, Jennie George, Dale

Spender and H elen Razer are ju st a few o f the w om en who are profiled in the


Women with Attitude aims to broaden the definition o f what constitutes 'politics' in

A ustralia and to reconstruct and reinterpret our rich cultural and political heritage in a

fresh, innovative and entertaining fashion.

"The N ational M useum w orked w ith ethnic and Aboriginal organisations,

contem porary m usicians, cartoonists, educators, poster artists and media including the

A BC's Triple J, to ensure that as many w om en as possible o f all ages and

backgrounds are aware o f and em powered by the exhibition and its associated

activities", says D r Stell.

Follow ing the Canberra showing o f Women with Attitude, the exhibition will travel to

capital cities including Perth, M elbourne and Sydney over the next 24 months.

D etails o f this tour are currently being negotiated.

Proudly sponsored by the Office o f the Status o f W omen, The Australian Council o f

Trade U nions, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Com m ission and the

A ustralian M em bers o f Zonta International. D eveloped with the assistance o f the

W estern A ustralian M useum.

Women with Attitude: 100 Years of Political Action A National M useum o f A ustralia Travelling Exhibition

MFDTA PRFVTFW 11:00 am - 12:00 pm 8 March 1995 Old Parliament House, Canberra

OFFICIAL· OPENING 6:00 pm By the Hon Joan Kirner AM

Dr Dale Spender, Australian Feminist Helen Razer, Triple J Presenter and Dr Marion Stell, Exhibition Curator will be available for interviews on the Day.

For further inform ation contact: A nne-M arie Grey (06) 256-1112 or 018 628 106.