By Denis Bright
The mobilization by Australia’s womenfolk on Monday 15 March was a real turning point in Australian social history.
SBS and other news services captured the significance of the March4Justice event on the lawns outside Parliament House (15 March 2021):
One month ago, Brittany Higgins broke years of silence to announce her alleged rape inside Australia’s halls of power.
On Monday, she bravely returned to the lawns of Parliament House to address the thousands who attended the Women’s March4Justice rally in Canberra.
The former Liberal Party staffer was not expected to speak at the rally, but she says she did so out of “necessity” and in the hopes of protecting other women from sexual violence.
“We are all here today not because we want to be here, but because we have to be here,” Ms Higgins said.
“We fundamentally recognise the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institutions.
“We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.”
Cut-off from the wider world by travel restrictions associated with COVID-19, Australia’s womenfolk and wider sections of the progressive movement are welcoming a new spirit of dreaming. Life in a vast country that is Girt by Seas can be better and more inclusive without the contamination of colonial myths about the place of women in society. The real historical factors of the role of women in colonial society are beyond dispute.
Women of course raised the children of Colonial Australia on both sides of the divide between indigenous and immigrant society.
Less than forty years after Ipswich in Queensland had ceased to be a convict settlement, riverboats brought freight from Brisbane and returned with wool and other supplies from rural districts.
Families tuned into the ambience of a sunny climate with the occasional interruptions of disastrous floods like the two epic 1893 floods.
Surprisingly, Ipswich as part of the federal electorate of Moreton, elected an Independent Labor member to the first two parliaments in far-off Melbourne in 1901 and 1903.
A spirit of political innovation saw women’s suffrage extended to an Australian national election in 1903.
During the Great War (1914-18), the women’s vote contributed to the defeat of conscription for overseas military service in the referenda of 1916-17.
However, the excesses of colonial conservatism re-surfaced in the post-war reconstruction as the financial burdens of war became more apparent with re-enforcement from 15-20,000 deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic.
Popular magazines promoted a love of domesticity. Preoccupation with fashions and consumerism replaced just some of the social activism of the pre-1914 era.
Gossip about developments in the royal family added to the alienation from evolving social realities in the very socially divided Australia of the 1920s.
When this domestic bliss was punctured by the Pacific War, the late Sir Robert Menzies opened the prospects of a return to the leadership of those middle class Forgotten People in his broadcasts on the Macquarie Radio Network which commenced in 1942.
With Queen Elizabeth on the throne of the British Commonwealth from 1952, Menzies would encourage involvement in Australian politics by women with the support of conservative women’s networks.
The late Dame Enid Lyons (1897-1981) (widow of Prime Minister Joe Lyons) became the federal member for the NW Tasmanian seat of Darwin (1943-51). She was the first woman to be elected to the Australian parliament but had strong reservations about the leadership style of Robert Menzies.
The Labor Party was slow to endorse women to winnable seats. It was a groundswell from women activists who fostered a change in direction. Joan Child (1921-2013) entered federal parliament after her husband’s death and held the position of House Speaker (1986-89) in the Hawke years.
Had the Labor Party acted earlier to endorse women to winnable seats, Gough Whitlam’s government may have enjoyed greater longevity with better senate results to permit the smooth passage of progressive legislation to avoid The Dismissal Saga on 11 November 1975.
Winning the seat of Henty in Melbourne was not an easy task for Joan Child, even in 1972. Her seat was lost to the LNP in 1975 but reclaimed successfully in 1980.
While women battled for pre-selection and positions of political influence in government, the structures of mainstream mass culture often promoted misogyny under the banner of personal liberation from the old shackles of domesticity.
In her short term as prime minister in a minority government (2010-13), Julia Gillard brought a permanent challenge to the gender divide which has continued to grow since her departure from formal national politics (Image and Quote from Curve, July 27, 2019):
From Julia Gillard 2019 at the Women’s Leadership Forum-King’s College, London
There is just so much poison in social media. We have polarised debate so much today that a lot of people of good will think, ‘I don’t want to spend my life being the subject of such awful personal commentary’.
Australia has regressed back into a bygone era under two of the three LNP prime ministers since 2013.
The excuse of being too busy in the office to meet the assembled crowds at the March4Justice in Canberra by Scott Morrison and senior ministers was a fatal political mistake which will be remembered for generations ahead across the sexual divide in Australian society. The March4Justice was a successful turning point in Australia’s social history. It approached like an unexpected political storm and is far too strong to be resisted as in 2013 when Australian society regressed against its true historical character.
Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.
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