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Reed-Gilbert, Kerry
(1956 – 2019)

Activist, Artist, Consultant, Educator, Writer

Kerry Reed-Gilbert was an Aboriginal author, editor, educator and activist. A number of books of her poetry were published in her lifetime. She also compiled and contributed to numerous anthologies, and produced non-fiction related to her work as an educator and consultant. Her memoir, The Cherry Picker’s Daughter was published in 2019, shortly after her death. Her friend and fellow Wiradjuri writer, Jeanine Leane described her as ‘the matriarch of First Nations’ Writing in Australia’.

Kerry Reed-Gilbert was inscribed on the ACT Women’s Honour Roll in 2019.

Marginson, Betty May
(1923 – 2015)

Activist, Councillor, Mayor, Teacher, Volunteer

Betty Marginson was a pioneer in many fields as a teacher, a student and community activist, local Councillor and advocate for citizens’ and women’s rights. Her academic career spanned the World War II years as an undergraduate student to 1985 when she took her Diploma in Public Policy at the age of 62. As well as raising four children with her husband Ray Marginson, she taught at various State Schools from 1943 to 1982. She was the founding President of the Hawthorn Chapter of the University of the Third Age, becoming President of the Victorian network in 1993. The first woman appointed Mayor of the City of Hawthorn from 1976 to 1977, she was a Council Member from 1972 to 1981. In the wider world, Betty Marginson was President of University College, University of Melbourne from 1986 to 1991, and was a voluntary worker in many fields, including at Heide Park and Art Gallery.

Salce, Mary
(1945 – )

Activist, Community worker, Farmer

Mary Salce is a dairy farmer from Gippsland, in Victoria. She has been actively involved in agricultural politics since the 1960s, often, in the first twenty years, as the only woman on industry boards. By the mid-1980s, Mary had emerged as a leader of the Women in Agriculture movement. She was instrumental in establishing the Rural Women’s Network, and her role in organising and convening the First International Women in Agriculture Conference was pivotal in the process of securing a voice in decision making for rural women nationally and internationally. Her leadership and influence has resulted in profound change in the profile of rural women: in the acknowledgement of their contribution to the rural sector, in their empowerment though the development of their leadership skills and confidence, in the development of a co-ordinated voice airing their particular concerns with social, welfare and sustainability issues, and in their role in strengthening communities.

Cummins, Marlene

Aboriginal rights activist, Activist, Musician, Radio presenter

Marlene Cummins is one of Australia’s foremost blues musicians, a lifelong Aboriginal rights activist and the subject of Rachel Perkin’s 2014 documentary Black Panther Woman .

Stevens, Joyce
(1928 – 2014)

Activist, Communist, Historian, Women's liberationist

Joyce Stevens was a prominent member of the Sydney Women’s Liberation Movement, a socialist feminist member of the Communist Party of Australia, and a historian of the women’s movement.

Gorman, Grace

Activist, Refugee Advocate

Grace Gorman is an activist who has campaigned for refugees held in detention in Australia, to raise public awareness of their plight.

Grace became involved in refugee rights before the Tampa affair in August 2001 and was a part of both the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) and Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR).

Turner, Ann
(1929 – 2011)

Academic, Activist, Historian

Ann Turner completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1950 and a Diploma of Education in 1951, at the University of Sydney. Ann then went on to complete a Master of Education at the Universities of Melbourne and New England, from 1980 to 1987.

Ann taught at primary and secondary schools in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and London, prior to taking up positions as lecturer at both the Hawthorn Institute of Education and the University of Papua New Guinea, from c. 1972 until the 1990s.

Plumwood, Val
(1939 – 2008)

Activist, Author, Environmentalist, Feminist, Lecturer, Philosopher, Teacher

Val Plumwood was an eminent Australian environmental philosopher.

Nicholls, Yvonne Isabel
(1914 – 2009)

Activist, Administrative officer, Author, Civil Libertarian, Public speaker, Teacher

Harford, Lesbia Venner
(1891 – 1927)

Activist, Lawyer, Poet, Writer

Lesbia Venner Harford (1891-1927), poet, was born on 9 April 1891 at Brighton, Melbourne, daughter of Edmund Joseph Keogh, a well-to-do financial agent, and his wife Helen Beatrice, née Moore, both born in Victoria. Her mother was related to the earl of Drogheda. About 1900 the Keoghs fell on hard times and in an effort to retrieve the family fortunes Edmund went to Western Australia, where he eventually took up farming.

Lesbia was born with a congenital heart defect which restricted her activity throughout her life. Nettie Palmer remembered her at a children’s party as ‘a dark-eyed little girl who sat quite still, looking on’. She was educated at Clifton, the Brigidine convent at Glen Iris, and Mary’s Mount, the Loreto convent at Ballarat, but she rebelled against the family’s staunch Catholicism: in 1915 she conducted services for Frederick Sinclaire’s Fellowship group.

In 1912 she enrolled in law at the University of Melbourne, paying her way by coaching or taking art classes in schools. She graduated LL.B. In December 1916 in the same class as (Sir) Robert Menzies. During her undergraduate years she had become embroiled in the anti-war and anti-conscription agitation, forming a close friendship with Guido Baracchi (son of Pietro Baracchi) who claimed later that ‘she above all’ helped him to find his way ‘right into the revolutionary working class movement’.

On graduation she chose what she considered to be a life of greater social purpose and went to work in a clothing factory. Much of her poetry belongs to this phase of her life and she shows a growing solidarity with her fellow workers and an antagonism towards those whom she saw as exploiters. She became involved in union politics and like her brother Esmond (later a Melbourne medical scientist) joined the Industrial Workers of the World. She went to Sydney where she lived with I.W.W. Friends and worked, when strong enough, in a clothing factory or as a university coach. On 23 November 1920 in Sydney she married the artist Patrick John O’Flaghartie Fingal Harford, a fellow I.W.W. Member and clicker in his father’s boot factory: they moved to Melbourne where he worked with William Frater in Brooks Robinson & Co. Ltd and was a founder of the Post-Impressionist movement in Melbourne.

For many years Lesbia had suffered from tuberculosis. She tried to complete her legal qualifications but died in hospital on 5 July 1927. She was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Lesbia transcribed her poems into notebooks in beautiful script; she sang many of her lyrics to tunes of her own composing. Some she showed to friends or enclosed in letters. She was first published in the May 1921 issue of Birth, the journal of the Melbourne Literary Club, and then in its 1921 annual. She provoked much interest at the time and Percival Serle included some of her poems in An Australasian Anthology (Sydney, 1927). In her review of the anthology, Nettie Palmer singled out Lesbia’s poetry for special praise, and in September and October 1927 published four of her poems in tribute to her. Lesbia mistrusted publishers, explaining that she was ‘in no hurry to be read’. In 1941 a collection edited by Nettie Palmer was published with Commonwealth Literary Fund assistance. No complete collection exists. On her death her father took custody of her notebooks and they were lost when his shack was destroyed by fire.

Watson, Irene

Academic, Activist, Barrister, Lawyer, Solicitor

A proud Tanganekald and Meintangk woman from the Coorong region and the south east of South Australia, Irene Watson was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from the University of Adelaide with a law degree, in 1985. She was also the first Aboriginal PhD graduate (2000) at the university, winning the Bonython Law Prize for best thesis. Her research motivation has been clear from the outset: to gain a better understanding of the Australian legal system that is underpinned by the unlawful foundation of Terra Nullius.

Watson’s work has made a significant impression on everyday legal practice in respect of centring an Indigenous perspective in the long processes of law reform. In 2015 she published Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law the first work to assess the legality and impact of colonisation from the viewpoint of Aboriginal law, rather than from that of the dominant Western legal tradition.

Watson has been involved in the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia since its inception in 1973, working as a member, solicitor and director. She has taught in all three South Australian universities and was a research fellow with the University of Sydney Law School. She is currently a research Professor of Law at the University of South Australia and she continues to work as an advocate for First Nations Peoples in international law.

Watson was involved with the drafting of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples between 1990 and 1994 and has more recently, in 2009 and 2012, made interventions before the UN Human Rights Council Expert Advisory Committee of the current position of Indigenous peoples.

In 2016, Watson was appointed The University of South Australia’s inaugural Indigenous pro-Vice Chancellor.

Irene Watson was interviewed by Nikki Henningham for the Trailblazing Women and the Law Oral History Project. For details of the interview see the National Library of AustraliaCATALOGUE RECORD.

Eggleston, Elizabeth Moulton
(1934 – 1976)

Academic, Activist, Lawyer, Solicitor

Motivated by a burning sense of injustice, Elizabeth Eggleston was a trailblazer in advocating justice for Aboriginal people. An academic lawyer and activist – she was the first doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Law at Monash University – Eggleston’s research revealed systematic discrimination of Indigenous peoples in the administration of justice. She was a founder of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service in 1972.

Uhr, Marie-Louise
(1923 – 2001)

Activist, Biochemist

Read more about Marie-Louise Uhr in our sister publication The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia.

Paul, Camille Agnes Becker
(1932 – )

Activist, Feminist, Moral theologian, Social justice advocate

Read more about Camille Agnes Becker Paul in our sister publication The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia.

Pavy, Emily Dorothea
(1885 – 1967)

Activist, Lawyer, Social theorist, Solicitor

Emily Dorothea Pavy was an advocate for the welfare of factory workers before becoming a lawyer to pursue women’s issues. Known for her dedicated and meticulous work, Pavy was a trailblazer both as a sociologist and a lawyer.

Read more about Emily Dorothea Pavy in our sister publication The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia.

Bell, Diane
(1943 – )

Activist, Anthropologist, Social justice advocate

Read more about Diane Bell in our sister publication The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia.

Cunningham, Mary Emily
(1869 – 1930)

Activist, Pastoralist wife, Poet, Red Cross Worker, War Worker

Born to English parents, and daughter of the Surveyor General, Mary Emily Twynam married wealthy pastoralist James ‘Jim’ Cunningham and became an important and formative figure in the developing pastoralist community in the Tuggeranong district. She was a compassionate, sensitive and intellectually curious woman whose capacity for friendship and kindness turned her homestead ‘Tuggranong’ into the social focal point of the community. Her early married years were taken up with raising eight children and battling with the bouts of serious depression that would shadow her for her entire life. As her children grew she found time to indulge in her love of gardening as well as pursue her passion for poetry and the written word. Cunningham was also an outspoken advocate for conscription during the two referenda in 1916 and was dedicated to fundraising for soldiers in the Great War.

McRae-McMahon, Dorothy Margaret
(1934 – )

Activist, Minister

A retired Uniting Church Minister, Dorothy McRae-McMahon was a former Minister of the Pitt Street, Sydney Church, which was renowned for its work in human rights and local activism. She received recognition for her work with the award of the Australian Government Peace Medal in 1987 and in 1988 with the Australian Human Rights Medal. In 1997, she came out as a lesbian at the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Perth and resigned from her position later in the year, citing the focus on her sexuality, which she felt was affecting the church.

O’Connor, Ailsa Margaret
(1921 – 1980)

Activist, Artist, Teacher

Ailsa O’Connor was a radical artist who was a member of the Social Realist Group and the Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne. She joined the Communist party in 1944 and was a founding member of the Union of Australian Women in 1953. She participated in the feminist movement during the 1970s.

Scutt, Jocelynne Annette
(1947 – )

Academic, Activist, Barrister, Lawyer, Writer

Jocelynne Scutt has worked consistently in her capacity as lawyer, activist and writer to improve the lives of women generally and by changing the laws on rape and domestic violence. She founded the feminist publisher, Artemis and was a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in both Canberra and Sydney.

A graduate in law from the University of Western Australia in 1969, Scutt undertook postgraduate studies in law at the University of Sydney, Southern Methodist University and the University of Michigan in the United States, and Cambridge University in England. She has worked with the Australian Institute of Criminology and as director of research with the Legal and Constitutional Committee of the parliament of Victoria. From 1981-82 she worked at the Sydney Bar and then was Deputy Chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, Victoria. In 1986 she returned to private practice in Melbourne. She served as the first Anti-Discrimination Commissioner of Tasmania from 1999-2004. In 2007 she accepted a judicial post on the Fiji High Court.

Scutt is a member of the UN Committee Against Trafficking, a International Alliance of Women (IAW) representative on International Criminal Court Coalition (ICC Coalition) and a board member of the Women’s History Network in the United Kingdom. She was called to the English Bar in 2014.

Jocelynne Scutt was interviewed by Nikki Henningham for the Trailblazing Women and the Law Oral History Project. For details of the interview see the National Library of Australia CATALOGUE RECORD.

Marchisotti, Daisy Elizabeth
(1904 – 1987)

Activist, Journalist

Born in 1904, Daisy Marchisotti developed an interest in left-wing politics in the 1940s. She eventually joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in the 1950s, giving up a better-paying job as a stenographer to work for the party. In 1964 she was part of a CPA women’s delegation to the Soviet Union.

Marchisotti took an active interest in indigenous affairs and was involved with the Queensland Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (QCAATI) and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). She edited the Federal Council’s newsletter and wrote articles on indigenous issues for FCAATSI and the CPA.

In 1982 she was still fighting for Aboriginal rights. After being arrested for joining an Aboriginal protest outside the Commonwealth Games venue in Brisbane, she told the magistrate: “I am seventy-eight years old and a pensioner. I did not take part in my action lightly. [It was] my belief that the only way to change Queensland’s racist laws was to take the action I did.”

Langton, Marcia Lynne
(1951 – )

Academic, Activist

A member of the Aboriginal Bidjara Nation, Marcia Langton is an authority on social issues concerning Aboriginal people. She holds the Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies in the Centre for Health and Society at the University of Melbourne. During the 1970s she was active in the Women’s Liberation movement, drawing attention to the oppression of black women. She continued to work for Aboriginal causes and became a key participant in the Wik Land rights negotiations which were conducted during the late 1990s. She has appeared in film and television portraying strong Aboriginal characters. In 1993 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia ‘for service as an anthropologist and advocate of Aboriginal issues’. In 2001 she was admitted as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

Putt, Margaret Ann
(1963 – )

Activist, Parliamentarian

A member of the Tasmanian Greens, Peg Putt was elected to the House of Assembly of the Parliament of Tasmania representing the electorate of Denison in 1993. She was re-elected in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2006. In 1998 she became leader of the Greens after the election in which she was the only Greens candidate to retain her seat. She retired from Parliament in 2008.

Egan, Francis

Activist, Café owner

Francis Egan was co-proprietor of the Barrier Café at Broken Hill, New South Wales, during the First World War. In 1915 she famously tarred and feathered the president of the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Employees’ Union (the HC & REU) after he threatened the livelihood of herself and her family by refusing to give her union membership.

Daley, Jane (Jean)
(1881 – 1948)

Activist, Political candidate

Jean Daley was the first woman in Victoria to stand for Federal parliament as an endorsed Labor candidate when she stood for the seat of Kooyong in 1922. As woman organiser for the Australian Labor Party, she established the Labor Women’s Interstate Executive in 1929.

Golding, Annie Mackenzie
(1855 – 1934)

Activist, Feminist, Suffragist, Teacher

A devout Catholic, Annie Golding was president of the Women’s Progressive Association in Sydney from 1904. She lobbied for equal pay for women, and equal opportunity in the work force.

Anderson, Maybanke Susannah
(1845 – 1927)

Activist, Feminist, Journalist

Author and committee member Maybanke Anderson was a vociferous advocate for women. She founded and edited the fortnightly paper, Woman’s Voice.