Monthly Archives: July 2019

Essay: ‘The Long Road to Uluru’ by Megan Davis

I enjoy reading essays and articles, and so I’ve decided to write about them on my blog. Apart from the fact that they interest me, one of my criteria for selection is that they are available online or through a State Library library card.

NAIDOC week took place this month, with the theme ‘Voice, Treaty Truth’. This essay by Cobble Cobble woman, Megan Davis,  first appeared in the Griffith Review 60 ‘First Things First’  in April 2018 and it has been recently unlocked on the Griffith Review website in celebration of NAIDOC 2019. In the essay titled  The Long Road to Uluru: Walking together- truth before justice, she goes back to 1999 to describe the last twenty years of fumbling towards substantive and symbolic recognition. She is well placed to write this essay: she is Professor of Law at UNSW and an independent expert on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was also heavily involved in the Referendum Council that produced the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which this year’s NAIDOC slogan echoes.

It seems odd to read now of Rudd’s 2008  “2020 Summit” and realize that we’ve almost reached 2020 already. Not long after that summit, Rudd was presented with The Yolngu and Bininj Leaders Statement of Intent which in many ways foreshadowed the Uluru Statement some ten years later.

The old tactic of Delay by Report has been well exercised over the past 35 years:

Australia has amassed many reports on the exigency of structural reforms for Indigenous peoples, including a 1983 Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, a 1988 Constitutional Commission, the post-Mabo Social Justice Package of 1992–95, the 1998 Constitutional Convention, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 2000 and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2003, as well as a 2008 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

In mid-2010 Gillard convened the Expert Panel with representation of a diverse cross-section of Australians and direct representation of all sides of parliament, charged with “leading a broad national consultation and community engagement program to seek the views of a wide spectrum of the community.” After handing up its report, the outgoing Gillard government generously funded the ‘Recognize’ campaign. This might have made white Australians feel better, but neither the Expert Panel Report or the Recognize Campaign had widespread support amongst indigenous Australians. Five years later the Referendum Council was formed, this time with a remit to give Aboriginal people a voice.

This article makes clear the differences between the Expert Panel and the Referendum Council which followed it December 2015 in terms of indigenous participation and findings. It explains how the Regional Dialogues were organized, what happened on the three days of the twelve dialogues held in different locations, and what the priorities were that emerged from these dialogues.  One of the strongest themes that came from the activities planned on the first day was the importance of ‘truth’ and making the indigenous story known to all Australians. Davis refers in particular to the Final Report of the Referendum Council, most especially the section ‘Our Story’ which starts on p. 16 of the text (p.24 of the PDF document)

The Final Report is interesting reading. Appendix D is  Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s essay ‘Rom Watungu: The Law of the Land’ from The Monthly July 2016.  As a shot across the bow on the part of conservative forces, Appendix E is Referendum Council member Amanda Vanstone’s ‘Qualifying Statement’ which has been echoed in recent commentary on Ken Wyatt’s referendum proposal.

I feel a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t realized the nuances of ‘recognition’ and I had no real idea of how the Uluru Statement came to be written. This essay highlights that the Uluru Statement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because it was foreshadowed many times when indigenous people were consulted in a meaningful way. It’s a rather depressing thought, although this essay is more optimistic than I am that we will ever to move past the fear and denial that has stymied action in the past.


‘The Vagabond Papers’ by John Stanley James



1969, 256 p.

John Stanley James (1843-1896) , a.k.a ‘Julian Thomas’ and ‘The Vagabond’ was a journalist, originally of Staffordshire England, who ended up in Australia and the New Hebrides. His most famous articles were written in Melbourne in the 1860s through to the 1880s, where he worked under-cover in what we would now call immersive journalism, which was published in a number of newspapers, most notably the Argus. I hadn’t heard of him, and neither had Jill Giese who featured him in her The Maddest Place on Earth (see my review here) but he has been on historians’  and journalists’ radars for some years. He has even been inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame!

The version I read of this book was published in 1969 with an introduction by historian Michael Cannon. It has been recently republished by Monash University Press, with the original 1969 Cannon introduction supplemented by additional essays by Robert W. Flippen and Willa McDonald. I had heard podcasts of their presentations to the RHSV (see my review here), so having heard about their discoveries about James’ life, I felt comfortable enough with the older edition where Cannon signposts the very absences that Flippen and McDonald were to fill.



The chapters in this book are taken from his newspaper articles that deal with Melbourne and Sydney only,  illustrated by sketches from Punch, The Australasian Sketcher and the Illustrated Australian News. They have been arranged in six parts, reflecting their content.

In Part 1 ‘Down and Out’, James visits the places where the indigent gathered, often working ‘under-cover’. He pretends to be an outpatient at the Melbourne Hospital, where it takes him four attempts to be attended. He visits the police court (as Helen Garner was to do 140 years later) and visits the refuges and services offered. He compares the lodging houses in Melbourne and Sydney,  and writes about the Waifs and Strays of Sydney where his writing evokes Charles Dickens. He eats at a Sixpenny Restaurant and goes to the Melbourne General Cemetery to witness pauper funerals.

Part II “Life in Prison’ draws on his four-week undercover assignment at Pentridge Prison, where he works in the different divisions of the jail. In  Part III ‘Middle Class Morality’ he turns his attention to the churches including fashionable Scots Church in Collins Street, under Rev Charles Strong (who later formed the Australian Church), the suburban parish church of South Yarra and the bazaar at St Luke’s Church Emerald Hill. He turns a jaundiced eye to ‘Sabbath Breaking’ in Sydney at the theatres and bars.

Part IV ‘Cold Charity’ takes him to the Immigrants Home, the Benevolent Asylum, the Sailors Home, a Ragged School and fostering-houses for neglected children.  He picks up on this theme in Part VI ‘The Demi-Monde’, where he goes to the Magdalen Asylum at Abbotsford (now an artistic and cultural centre), and a Protestant Female Refuge in Carlton.  In Part V ‘Manly Sports’ he describes a football match and boxing rounds.

He often sets up oppositions within these chapters, where he compares organizations of different sectarian and social hues.  His language is often racist, with particular disdain shown for Jews and Chinese. It is disconcerting to hear his praise of the Magdalen Asylum, given what we now know about them, but his writing is very much of its time. In spite of this, his humanity, concern for the ‘underdog’ and his scorn for hypocrisy and cant shines through.

It was only when the end of the book was approaching that I realized that I hadn’t read the one thing that I had borrowed the book for- his expose of conditions in the Kew and Yarra Bend asylums. They are not included, and so I had to turn to the original newspaper sources instead through our wonderful Trove. It was interesting reading them in their newspaper format instead of the reader-friendly reproduction of his articles in book-form in ‘The Vagabond Papers’. (If you’re looking for them, they are in the Argus No I 22 July 1876; No. II 29 July 1876; No. III 5 August 1876; No. IV 12 August 1876; No. V 19 August 1876; No VI 26 August 1876). It made me realize how unaccustomed I am  to reading long-form journalism, especially with such small font and narrow columns.

I’m really pleased that I have met ‘The Vagabond’. He was years ahead of his time in his journalism, which is vivid and engaging, giving a good (if colourful) picture of Melbourne and Sydney from the bottom-up.  And what a fascinating personality, full of contradictions!




‘The Shape of the Ruins’ by Juan Gabriel Vásquez


2018 (English translation, originally 2015), 505 p.

When I learned that there was a new Juan Gabriel Vásquez book available, I made sure to put a hold on it as soon as it became available at the library. I had really enjoyed The Sound of Things Falling and looked forward to this new book. But I must confess that for about the first 100 pages I felt disappointed. Was this even a different book? I wondered. Many of the same elements were in both books: the tone of the narrator, who becomes obsessed with a murder at the same time as his partner is undergoing a health crisis; the fictionalization of a real-life event, and the sticky web of crime and conspiracy in Colombia. Is Vásquez only capable of writing the same book over and over?  That question still lingers, even though I was soon won over by the author’s smooth writing (no doubt ably assisted by an excellent translation).

The narrator is Juan Gabriel Vásquez himself, so already the lines between fiction and memoir are blurred. He becomes drawn into his friend Doctor Benevidas’ obsession with the (real life) murder of Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaítan on April 9, 1948, an obsession that was almost handed down from father to son. Vásquez learns that his friend is not the only one obsessed: so too is Carlos Carballo, a former student of Dr Benevidas’ father, who conflates this assassination with other historical assassinations including J. F. Kennedy and the 1914 assassination of Liberal leader General Rafael Uribe Uribe. So there is this whirlpool of assassinations and conspiracy theories, investigated to the point of madness by amateur historian/detectives. Vásquez finds himself drawn into this whirlpool, while at the same time distancing himself from the conspiratorial world-view that propels it.

The book unfolds almost like those Russian dolls, starting off with one assassination, which is then likened to another, and then another.  There are stories within stories, each subtly but recognizably different from the other. The historical detail is rich, as I found when I googled to supplement my sketchy knowledge of Colombian history. This is not a bad way to have your history delivered, but Vásquez plays tricks too. He inserts completely fictional artefacts into the story, and makes references to his own fictional characters in his earlier books, as well as referencing other Latin American writers like Borges and, in a factual sense, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are photographs in the text, like a W.G. Sebald text, and the book is permeated with that same elegiac Sebaldian tone. It feels baggy and discursive, but it is always controlled.

So after playing with your head for 500 pages and making you feel as if you are stuck in one long Oliver Stone documentary, where does Vásquez leave you? The line between fiction and truth is blurred for him, as well as for you:

There are two ways to view or contemplate what we call history: one is the accidental vision, for which history is the fateful product of an infinite chain of irrational acts, unpredictable contingencies and random life events (life as unremitting chaos which we human beings try desperately to order); and the other is the conspiratorial vision, a scenario of shadows and invisible hands and eyes that spy and voices that whisper in corners… where the cause of events are silenced for reasons nobody knows (p. 496)…it would no longer be the fictional characters of that novel who would occupy my solitude, but a true story that showed me at every step how little I had understood until this moment of my country’s past, which laughed in my face, as if making me feel the pettiness of my narrative resources before the disorder of what had happened so many years ago. It would no longer be the conflicts of characters who depended on my will, but my attempts to understand truly and for ever, what ..had [been] revealed over the course of several encounters that were now blending in my memory (p. 501)

This is a complex read, but a compelling one. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for 2019.  I’m frustrated that it is so similar to his earlier book, and yet I can’t help feeling that this similarity is completely intentional – that it is all part of a bigger vision. And so, when his next book comes out, I’ll be rushing to read that too.

My rating: 9.5

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.



I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 16-23 July

Who Runs This Place (ABC) Part IV The People looks at people power- quite a relief after all this depressing nefarious network stuff in the earlier episodes. Richard Aedy looks at the distrust of politicians worldwide. He points out that Macron was seen to have betrayed the movement that put him in power (and hence the yellow jackets) whereas Trump is governing completely for the movement that voted for him (and he hopes will do so again). The program looks at unions, social media (Get Up and Advance Australia) and indigenous politics, most particularly through the Uluru Statement. He finishes by observing that this was the only episode in which they were able to achieve gender equity, which goes to show who really does run this place.

13minutes13 Minutes to the Moon (BBC)  Website here. I wasn’t intending to get caught up in the 50th anniversary celebrations, but after a doco and a film, I decided to listen to this twelve-part production. It’s excellent. Episode 1 contextualizes Kennedy’s decision to go for this very visible project (did you know that he was considering, as an alternative, a big desalination project to solve the problem of water shortage?), Episode 2 emphasizes the youth of the people involved (average age of 26, many straight from university). Episode 3 focuses on that weird-looking, gold-wrapped Eagle module, and Episode 4 deals with the crash of Apollo 1, and its effect on the project.  Episode 5 is a fascinating look at the role of the computer in the moon landing- this one is really well done.

Heart and Soul (BBC) This episode A Spiritual Awareness from Space is narrated by a former astronaut and discusses the ‘overview effect’ of seeing earth from Space. As this episode points out, and demonstrates in itself, you interpret things from your pre-existing perspective, with either a more scientific/abstract or religious emphasis. I found myself bristling against the more orthodox ‘religious’ interpretations of the experience in space.

‘Four Soldiers’ by Hubert Mingarelli


2018 (English translation), 155 p. Translated from Italian by Sam Taylor.

I must confess that I borrowed this book solely because of Hilary Mantel’s blurb ‘A small miracle’ on the front cover. I’m not so sure about the ‘miraculousness’ of the book, but it certainly is small at only 155 pages and could probably be better described as a novella than a novel.

It is set in 1919 in the Russian Civil War. As winter sets in, the Red Army commanders break up their regiment, turning them out into the winter landscape to fend for themselves until the weather improves and the fighting commences again. Four soldiers – Benia, Pavel, Kyabine and Sifra – set off with their tent (a rather poor defence against the ravages of winter) and establish a camp near a lake. Here they live day-by-day, a quiet self-contained peaceful existence in the midst of war, with the prospect of returning to battle hanging over them.

Benia, the narrator, is closest to Pavel, with whom he often walks at night when Pavel is disturbed by nightmares. Kyabine is a large, not very bright Ukrainian, whom they brought along soley for his brute strength in a harsh environment. The title is a misnomer, because there are in fact five soldiers when they are joined by Kouzma Evdokim, a young peasant recruit. He says that he is going to write their story in his notebook, and they are anxious that his words capture the truth of their experience.

The story is very simply told, with short sentences. The translation feels very clean and precise. The chapters last only a couple of pages, almost like a film script. Very little happens, even though the narrative is infused with a sense of dread.  Its simplicity and precariousness makes it a more memorable read than it would be otherwise.

My rating: 7.5

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library


Movie: Apollo 11

I had no real intention of getting swept up in the 50th anniversary until I caught the final part of SBS’ three part documentary Chasing the Moon (available on SBSOnDemand). Then, reading the magazine part of the Age a week late, as is my wont, I read Stephanie Bunbury’s review of Apollo 11. “Let’s go see this!” I said. And so we did.

This documentary covers the nine days of the lunar launch, using only contemporary sources. There are no talking heads, and no analysis. The footage comprises material sourced from other countries (because NASA had taped over its own records of the moon landings) and a huge unprocessed collection of large-format 70 millimetre film that had been sitting in cold storage.  There was also a huge cache of 11,000 hours of audio recordings taken from the headsets of mission personnel.

It starts with excerpts of Kennedy’s 1962 promise to put a man on the moon, and it shows people gathering with their campervans and sunglasses to watch the launch. Once Saturn is launched, the action moves to inside the control room and the lunar module. There is no explanation – you just watch it happen, and even though we all know how it ended, I found myself holding my breath as the various stages unfolded.

It is a visual experience, and having seen it, I decided to listen to BBC’s 13 Minutes to the Moon, which is a completely aural experience. I have two regrets: first, I think I would have enjoyed the movie even more had I listened to the podcasts first, and second I wish I had seen it at IMAX.

Movie: An Unexpected Love (El Amor Menos Pensado)

Very much an over-60s film, this Argentian movie looks at a long-term marriage that breaks up after the only son leaves home. Like all good comedies, it has a bit of an edge to it, as these middle aged characters negotiate Tindr, Instagram and the complexities of pulling apart two lives that have become integrated after years of marriage.  I guess you’d call it a rom-com, which is not my normal fare, but I really enjoyed it.

Spanish with English subtitles

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.


I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 July 2019

Revolutions podcast: Once again, an excellent podcast about Marxism, this time looking at Historical Materialism. I wish that I had heard this back in the 1970s doing undergraduate European history! If you’ve ever been a bit fuzzy about Marxism, this and the preceding podcasts are must-listens.

Earshot (ABC) In November last year, we began hearing about the ‘caravan’ of refugees heading towards the Mexican/American border. This episode Life on the Border:Tijuana migrant stories features interviews with people who joined this ‘caravan’, counting on the strength of numbers for safety and as a tactic for safe passage. Very human.

Rear Vision (ABC) When we think of slavery, we tend to think of the southern states of America and the British slave trade in the West Indies.  Less often do we think of the Dutch, and even less often do we think of Denmark. But Denmark did have its own slave trading and sugar plantation economy. Hans Jonathan was born in 1784 the son of a white Danish colonist on the island St Croix and a slave mother. After being brought to Copenhagen, he decided to escape to Iceland. The blue man was black: Hans Jonathan’s slave saga captures this unknown perspective on slavery and colour.

Rear Vision has also had two features on the signing of the treaty of Versailles. They are repeats from 2009. The first one, the Paris Peace Conference, looks at the various motivations of the different participants, including Australia.  The second episode, also first aired in 2009 explores The Impact of the Versailles Treaty. It’s a bit repetitive of the first episode, but it’s interesting in that Margaret Macmillan rebuts the idea that the Treaty directly led to the Second World War, and Robert Fisk gives a good perspective on the Middle East.

Duolingo. Duolingo’s Spanish podcasts are roughly 50/50 English/Spanish and at intermediate level. There are transcripts on their webpage, and Google Translate could help you with the Spanish if you’re stuck.  Mi Dos Papas (My Two Dads) is about a Colombian woman who decides to look for her ‘real’ father, only to find a father in another place.

rubbleHistory Hour (BBC) This program advertises itself as ‘historical reporting by the people who were there’. As a result, it focuses on 20th century history, drawing on the huge archives of the BBC. There are about four stories in each episode. I was drawn to this podcast by the feature on the burning of Kenya’s ivory stockpile (the remains of which are still in the Nairobi National Park in this picture). There was also a story about the execution of high-ranking colleagues of Castro in Cuba; the historian who translated Ann Lister’s journals; and an experimental facility where they deliberately gave people the common cold in order to research it. But the most fascinating of all was a segment on the introduction of tampons to China in the 1980s. It was a difficult product to market and even now only 2% of Chinese women use tampons.

New Books in History. This time the podcast is within the field Mormon Studies- who would have thunk that there was such a thing? The rather gushy interviewer talks with Quincy D. Newell, the (female) author of “Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth Century Black Mormon“.  In 1842 free woman Afro-American Jane Manning James joined the Mormon church after being raised a Congregationalist, at a time when the Mormons encouraged pentecostalism – talking in tongues etc.  In a largely white church, she was a bit like Forrest Gump in that she had connections with all the Smiths and the big-daddies of Mormonism, but she was excluded from the ritual of endowment (a type of priesthood) and adoption (a form of sealing making sure that relationships are for eternity) probably on the basis of colour. She was, however, allowed to be adopted as a servant! She was finally endowed posthumously, 75 years after her death!  Like all New Books in History, this is very low-tech and aimed at an academic audience.

Article: ‘Ethel’ by Kath McKay

I enjoy reading essays and articles, and so I’ve decided to write about them on my blog. Apart from the fact that they interest me, one of my criteria for selection is that they are available online or through a State Library library card. Provenance is the online journal of the Public Records Office of Victoria, and it has terrific essays that draw on the resources of the PRO.

‘Ethel’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 16, 2018. ISSN 1832-2522.  Available here

In November 1895,  a little 9 year old girl stood before the Essendon Court of Petty Sessions, giving evidence against the man accused of raping her. The accused was Edwin Worrall, who had ‘taken in’ little Ethel and her two brothers while her sole-parent father worked in the city. She had been assaulted several times over a number of months, and it was only when she told her father that she had ‘a secret’ that the assaults were revealed. The case came before four justices of the peace at the Essendon court, who found the father not guilty. When the case was referred by the police prosecutor to the Victorian attorney-general, the JPs were asked to explain their reasoning for acquittal. It’s a sad litany of prejudices: the girl’s statement was too good to be believed and she had probably been coached; she was too intelligent; when she began to cry after cross-examination, that led to doubt; she never told the accused’s wife.  We’ve heard too many such statements in child sexual abuse cases in recent decades.

And so the case went to the Supreme Court- and I’ll leave you to follow up and find out what happened. This beautifully told and achingly sad essay is written by her grand-daughter, many years later, who found it hard to believe that her beautiful ‘little Gran’ had been this same little, abused child.

‘How Australia led the way: Dora Meeson Coates and British Suffrage’ by Myra Scott


2018 reprint (original 2003 Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women), 120 p.

This book was originally launched in December 2003 at a ceremony in Parliament House Canberra where two crucial documents of Australia’s democracy were put on public display. The first was the Australian Constitution and the second was the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902, which gave the vote at Federal elections and the right to stand for Parliament to white Australian women on the same terms as men. Placed adjacent was the “Trust the Women” banner, made by Dora Meeson Coates in 1911 (which can be seen here) which, 77 years after its creation, was purchased from the Fawcett Library, London by the National Women’s Consultative Council as a Bicentennial Gift to the Women of Australia in 1988. In 2002 it was donated to the Parliament House Gift Collection for permanent display (although it sometimes travels to other museums).

This small book tells the story of the banner, its creator Dora Meeson Coates, and the context in which the banner was produced. Its author, art historian Myra Scott, had already written a thesis in 1992 on George James Coates and his wife Dora Meeson Coates where she described their role in founding a group of expatriate Australian artists in London, which became the base for successive generations of Australian artists seeking to establish themselves internationally. She was well placed, then, to write on Dora Meeson’s activities amongst the suffragists and suffragettes in England, where parliamentary approval for women’s suffrage lagged behind New Zealand and Australia’s pioneering legislation. The book has the British political system as its setting and focus and describes how, after the success of the Australian suffrage campaigns (even in laggardly Victoria) Australians travelled to ‘the mother country’ to encourage the British Parliament to pass similar legislation.

The creator of the banner, Dora Meeson was born in Melbourne in 1869. Her father, the founder and headmaster of the now defunct Hawthorn Grammar School, returned to London when Dora was ten years old in order to study law. The family then migrated to New Zealand, and in 1895 moved to Melbourne where Dora studied art at the National Gallery School. There she met fellow artist George Coates, and when he won a scholarship to study art in Paris, Meeson and her family also travelled to Paris. George and Dora married in 1903 and, leaving behind the comfortable economic milieu of her parents, they struggled to become part of the art world in London. After the death of her parents, she became increasing involved in the suffrage movement, most particularly through the Women’s Freedom League where she was founder-member.

Legislation for female suffrage had been presented to the British Parliament several times, but each time was blocked after the second reading. After one of these failures in 1908, they were advised by Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone that the success of the other Reform Bills in 1832, 1867 and 1884 had only occurred after large rallies forced the government’s hand.  It was here that Dora Meeson stepped up.  She was highly active in the Artisans Suffrage League, producing banners, postcards, booklets for womens suffrage – including her “Trust the Women” banner, which featured in the 1911 Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession.

What surprised me in this book that it was not just Australian suffragists who lent their support to their British sisters, but (male) Australian politicians also very publicly supported the campaign as well. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher spoke in support at the International Women’s Franchise Club and at an all-male Labour banquet.   The Australian Senate sent a ‘resolution’ praising the influence of women’s suffrage to the British Parliament in 1910, but it was promptly buried by the British Prime Minister who did not want to publicize it. The proponents of suffrage reform could point to evidence from the Australian experience: women had not been turned into harridans; instead they had influenced important social legislation to benefit women and children. And even though the British Parliament might sniff at the presumption of the colonies to comment on the composition and suffrage of the House of Commons, the colonies and dominions had skin in the game. The proposed Naturalization Bill, whereby a woman’s nationality on marriage would change to match that of her husband’s (even if they were divorced or if the husband had died) was originally planned to extend across the empire, affecting Australia as well. (In the end, the dominions were allowed to grant local nationality under their own terms of qualification.)

The Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession of 1911 was held to coincide with the Coronation of King George V. At the same time the Imperial Conference was held,  bringing politicians from across the empire to London. Margaret Fisher, the Prime Minister’s wife and Emily McGowen, the wife of the New South Wales Premier attended the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession, which took three hours to pass by, with 40,000 women marching five abreast, representing 28 women’s organizations. It was a highly visible march with music, floats and banners. Differences between the varied women’s groups, some of which focussed on parliamentary lobbying while others turned to direct action, were put aside for the march.

Dora Meeson’s banner representing Australia was big, requiring four people to carry it. Unlike other embroidered banners, this one was painted on an olive green background. The image, Scott suggests, references one of the paintings on the walls of the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, created for the Federation ceremony conducted there ten years earlier, which depicted Britannia as Minerva. In what could be- and was- interpreted as ‘colonial upstartness’, the banner depicted a younger woman beseeching a highly unamused Mother England to ‘Trust the Women’ who had received the suffrage in Australia. Far from the ‘aggressive rabble’ as suffragists/suffragettes were often depicted, these are ‘womanly women’, and the image appealed to statesmanship at the highest level.

But none of this agitation, or the urgings of Australian and New Zealand personalities and politicians, swayed the British Government. When war broke out, the campaign for suffrage was suspended and Dora Meeson joined Nina Boyle of the Women’s Freedom League in forming the Women’s Police Force to fill the positions of men who were at the front.  She continued to be a member of the Australian and New Zealand Women’s Voters Association, whose members promoted themselves as the only enfranchised women in Britain. After the provision of  partial suffrage in 1918, it was not until 1928 that Britain finally granted the full suffrage to women.

This book was re-released in 2018. During 2018 another book about the influence of Australian suffragists on the British campaign was also released – that of You Daughters of Freedom by Clare Wright. From my brief perusal of Wright’s book (which I have not yet read), they are two very different propositions. Wright’s book is large, at over 500 pages and weaves a tapestry of many women, told in a warm and colloquial tone. Scott’s book is much smaller, with an emphasis on the banner and its creator, in a more restrained narrative tone.

The story of Australia’s early 20th century progressivism is a good one, and it bears retelling many times, especially in today’s context of increasing conservatism. The actions of Australian women on the international stage, and the willingness of Australian male politicians to champion female suffrage once they found that there was nothing to fear, show Australia as a new nation, bristling with confidence and action.  There’s room enough for many stories celebrating this.

Sourced from: review copy from Australian Scholarly Publishing.

AWW2019 I have added this book to my tally in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.