Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 02 Hansard (Thursday, 11 February 2021) . . Page.. 528 ..
However, while this is a fine collection, there remains a gap—a gap of roughly the size of 51 per cent of Australia’s population. There are 30 gendered sculptures listed on Arts ACT’s website. Eleven of them are female, while there are 16 male sculptures. Of those 11, only one represents a historical figure, while the other 10 depict various abstract concepts. These are shopping, being a sister, dreaming in the nude, separation, being a mythical serpent queen, civic pride, whimsy, naivety, driving, stepping out of the house, and celebrating play. The 16 men include 10 historical figures. That is a 10 to one gender imbalance. As the saying goes, you cannot be what you cannot see.
Along with leaving women out of our political heritage and implying that we are not worth commemorating, this imbalance reveals that when women have been depicted in our public art, we are mostly detached from our individuality and instead deployed to express notions of feminine public life in this city. There is nothing inherently wrong with depicting abstract concepts, but it becomes a problem when it means that men get to share in our concrete history while women are left out.
I appreciate that the statue on Constitution Place was an initiative of the National Capital Authority and not of the ACT government. I also appreciate that since self-government we have never let the federal government stop us from living our progressive values. With this in mind, I would like to use my platform of being able to talk in this place to acknowledge a few women who have been integral to our political history by advancing women’s political representation, and without whose advocacy and activism our democracy would most certainly have unfolded quite differently.
Henrietta Dugdale and Annie Lowe were the co-founders of the first female suffrage society in Australia. Catherine Helen Spence was the first female political candidate in Australia, standing in 1887 for the Federal Convention in Adelaide. Edith Cowan was the first woman to successfully be elected to an Australian parliament.
Rose Scott was a women’s rights activist who advocated for women’s suffrage and founded the Women’s Political Education League, which successfully campaigned to have the age of consent raised to 16. Mary Moore-Bentley, Nellie Martel, Vida Goldstein and Selina Anderson were the first four women to stand in the 1903 federal election, the first election where women were eligible to stand. Eva Seery and Henrietta Greville were the first two female candidates to stand for Australian parliament and to be endorsed by a major party—the Labor Party naturally.
Enid Lyons was the first women elected to the federal parliament House of Representatives, in 1943. Dorothy Tangney was the first woman elected to the federal parliament Senate, in 1943 as well.
Outside of this were also Mum Shirl, a prominent Wiradjuri woman, social worker and humanitarian activist, committed to justice and the welfare of Aboriginal Australians; Sue Wills, an Australian activist prominent in the women’s liberation movement and the press for LGBTI rights; and Gladys Elphick MBE, a Kaurna woman and Ngadjuri woman of South Australia, best known as the founding president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia.