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Alice Springs women celebrate International Women's Day

Alice Springs women celebrate International Women's Day with a parade of costumes, paying tribute to their heritage and their common bound as women in Australia. Photo courtesy of Multicultural Community Services of Northern Territory.

In a speech she delivered at the 1998 conference of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA), Professor Alice Tay celebrated the bravery, tenacity, sacrifice and contribution of Australian women of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. 'Women,' she said, 'have been the leaders who have held families and communities together in times of crisis. Women are usually the leaders at the local community level. In Australian Non-Government Organisations there are skilled women fighting for the most important issues faced by their communities.' She also commented upon how little public recognition they received for this effort. 'As power moves up the ladder from the local community to national and international policy making, women's voices and women themselves, tend to disappear,' she observed. 'Women's experiences are marked by silences, absences, exclusion from the 'mainstream' of resources.' She suggested a possible reason for this. 'Hard work takes a terrible toll on women: they age early, they become hard and hardened; they knowingly neglect the little luxuries of life, the enjoyment of music, art, literature. They grit their teeth and get on with the work. They maintain silence because they have no time to spend talking.' [1]

This project is an important step towards recovering the voices of CALD women in the Australian historical record. Professor Tay's characterisation of these women as silently stoic tells us some of the story, but not all of it. Yes, they did have very little time for talking, and for many women, the realities of work and family life left them very little time for anything else. But many others drew upon superhuman energy reserves and made use of the small amount time they did have, using it effectively and productively to lobby on behalf of their communities and their gender. The existence of the archival material in official repositories and private hands proves this. So does their own testimony. The fact that gaps in the record exist does not mean that they weren't talking. The problem was at the other end of the communication chain; they weren't being listened to, they weren't being heard.

This website is a starting point for anyone interested in arresting this 'communication breakdown'. 'Being Seen and Heard: Migrant Women Organising in Australia, a documentary history' aims to make accessible to a broad audience information about CALD women's records in Australian repositories and private hands. By linking the research findings to the AWAP's online register of historical information about women in Australia, the website provides all interested researchers with a place where they can search, online, for information about women, their organisations, key events and historical information about the various multicultural communities that they represent. The AWAP also hopes that this first step will encourage women and organisations not featured in this project to make contact with the executive officer and make their voices heard as well. The list is not definitive and we hope people will 'speak up' and contact us with information about their archival heritage.

This project could not have been mounted without the support of the National Archives of Australia (NAA). In 2003 the NAA announced the creation of the Ian Maclean Award to encourage excellence in the archival profession and to enhance understanding of the role of archives in Australia. Dr Nikki Henningham, Executive Officer of the Australian Women's Archives Project (AWAP), was granted the award in 2005 to conduct research for this project. Funding through the Award has enabled the content of the AWAP register of historical information about Australian women to be significantly enhanced. The National Archives of Australia are gratefully thanked for their contribution to the expansion of this register and to a greater understanding of the archives of culturally and linguistically diverse women in Australia.

  1. Alice Tay, 'Contributions to Australia by women from diverse cultures', a speech delivered at the FECCA national conference, 22 November 1998, [accessed 2006-09-11] Author's emphasis.    Return to text  


The following people worked on Being Seen and Heard:

Funding for the project was provided by the National Archives of Australia. Special thanks are given to Mr Ross Gibbs, Ms Derina Mclaughlin, Ms Anne Lyons and Mr Ross Latham.

In-kind support from the following is gratefully acknowledged: