Backward Glance – A proud history of women on the Sunshine Coast
  • Wednesday 28 February 2018

This week, Backward Glance will reflect on some milestones for women in Australia.

There are many stories about the hardship and sheer determination of pioneer women in our region.

Nevertheless, as you will see in this week’s images, women got on with life and made significant contributions to their communities over the years. 

Queensland Women’s Week 2018 (March 3-11) recognises and celebrates the achievements of women and girls in Queensland. 

International Women’s Day is recognised globally each year on March 8.

Over the years, women have fought for equality, including their right to vote, own land and even take out a home loan and manage large corporations or government agencies.

The development and progress of the Sunshine Coast would not have been possible without the contributions of women from all walks of life. 

Women have contributed through their labour, intelligence, handicrafts and community spirit.

Women have freely given their time for the betterment of the Sunshine Coast.

Courageous pioneer women came to this area when it was nothing more than scrub and rainforest.  

They worked the land, raised their children and laboured tirelessly through all seasons in an extremely hard, isolated environment.

We acknowledge the significant contribution to this region made by midwife Nurse Bade, Eumundi’s Nurse Luke from Sunny Brae Hospital, Yandina’s Christina Low, Mary Cairncross, the Thynne sisters, Sybil Vise and Nurse Axe – to name only a few.

The bravery of our police force is demonstrated by the work of Nambour police Constable Margaret Little who, with fellow officer Trevor Rice, received the Queen’s Medal for Gallantry when they apprehended an armed man in Nambour in 1977.

Constable Little wrestled a rifle from a man in a domestic situation, who had fired shots, as Constable Rice restrained him.

Noosa’s police officer Deb Mahoney (retired) also deserves to be mentioned as a courageous, kind woman who did so much for her community.

During World War II, women again assisted and worked within their communities.

Nambour’s Selangor Private Hospital has a proud history around two extraordinary women who we should never forget. 

Ex-Australian Army nurses Sister Christine Oxley and Sister Dorothy Ralston established Selangor Hospital. 

Sister Oxley was taken prisoner and interred in Malaya’s Selangor War camp.

Sister Ralston saw active service in Singapore, then thankfully evacuated just before Singapore fell to the Japanese during WWII. 

Upon their return to Australia, the nurses set up an old home in Nambour using their savings and a war service loan.

They called the building Selangor after the prisoner of war camp.

It was a tremendous effort and the two women never faltered, opening the hospital in 1947 and dutifully looking after everyone in the district, including returned veterans.

In 2017, Selangor still looks after Australian veterans and others in the Sunshine Coast community.

Many women who have made a difference to our community and its betterment include environmentalists and historians Isabel Jordan, Kathleen McArthur, Crs Jill Jordan and Charmaine Foley, Esma Armstrong, Audienne Blyth, Berenis Alcorn, Erica Riis, Elaine Green and Jill Chamberlain.

Caloundra’s Joan Sheldon, a Liberal Party politician and leader of the Liberal Party in Queensland from 1991-1998, became the first female party leader in Queensland.

In 2011, Joan was appointed the inaugural Ethics and Integrity officer for the Local Government Association of Queensland.

Looking back, so much has changed for women.

On January 1, 1891, The Married Women’s Property Act came into effect in Queensland.

This allowed married women to both acquire and dispose of property and their own investments separate from their husbands.

Also under this act, what a woman owned prior to marriage was her own to retain. 

Fighting for the rights of women was another step forward. 

Women obtained the right to vote in state elections and the first time women voted in Queensland was the state election of 1907. 

By 1915, women could be elected into Queensland Parliament.

The Queensland Jury Act in 1923 introduced the right for women to take part in jury service.

Did you know Queensland was the first state in Australia to give women this right?

Hard to believe today, but there was a ban on married women as permanent employees in the Queensland state public sector, which was lifted in 1969. 

If you wanted to continue working after marriage women needed departmental approval up until 1973 in many states.

No wonder there were some radical ladies making headlines at this time.

Australian Helen Reddy’s song “I am woman - hear me roar” rocketed up the charts in Australia and overseas during the 1960s. 

By 1970, women were no longer excluded from drinking in public bars in Queensland.

Did you know, two women chained themselves to the bar of a Brisbane Hotel in protest? They did not budge and bolt cutters were used to cut the chains of resistance.

Politics was also a hurdle for the fairer sex.

In 1975, Senator Margaret Guilfoyle became the first woman to be given a Federal Government portfolio – Minister of Education. She later became the Finance Minister which was also a first.

In 2007, Anna Bligh was voted in as the first female Premier of Queensland.  

Queenslander, Dame Quentin Bryce became the first Governor General of Australia in 2008, after finishing her role as Queensland governor.

In 2010, Australia had its first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  

Justice Mary Gaudron became the first female Justice of the High Court of Australia, appointed in 1987.

In 2011, the Australian Government agreed to the removal of gender restrictions from Australian Defence Force (ADF) combat roles.

Women can now work in any ADF position, including combat roles, provided they have the ability to meet all of the physical demands of the role.

Times have changed and today life is much fairer for all.

This year the Queensland Women's Week theme is “Celebrate wellbeing. Everybody wins”.

This year’s theme aims to encourage women and girls to celebrate their wellbeing which benefits not only individual women and girls, but the whole community.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council and supported by YWCA Queensland and the Queensland Government, you can attend a range of free inspirational events during Queensland Women’s Week.

Head to council’s website for more information and bookings, and follow the conversation on Facebook.

Image Captions 

Hero: Bli Bli Branch of the Q.C.W.A. fortieth Birthday Celebration, February 1970. The branch was formed on 7 February 1930. Pictured include: Mrs Balcombe, Mrs M. Bennett, Mrs S. Philbrook and Mrs E. Stacey, recipients' of long service badges.

Image 1: - Official opening of the Yandina Ladies Bowling Club, Yandina on 17 May 1956. The Club held their inaugural meeting in May 1953. The ladies first game of bowls took place on 17 March 1955 and on 5 November 1956, the Club affiliated with the North Coast District Ladies Bowling Association.

Image 2: - Neptune Ladies Life Saving Team, Mooloolaba Beach, April 1929. The Neptune's were a Brisbane based club.  They competed for and won the Neptune Cup at Mooloolaba Beach on 1 April 1929.

Image 3: Three W. R. A. N. S. signallers relaxing on Kings Beach during time off from their military duties during WWII, ca 1940. The women were stationed at the Royal Australian Navy Station, Number 1, Caloundra. Kings Beach was a restricted zone at this time.

Image 4: Four generations of Burgess women at Bankfoot House, Glass House Mountains, ca 1952. Clementina Burgess nee Grigor pictured (left) holding her first great grandchild. Clementina (1878-1963) was born at Bankfoot House, where she lived her entire life. 

Image 5: Order of the Rainbow for Girls charter night CWA hall Nambour 15 May 1963. The Rainbow Girls was originally established in the United States in 1922 for young women whose fathers were members of the Masonic Lodge and their friends. Rainbow teaches leadership skills through community service and charity work. It is open to girls aged between 11 and 20 years.

Image 6: Women harvesting ginger by hand on Henry Ham's property, Buderim, 1968. Until mechanisation ginger picking was repetitive and physically taxing work. Pickers, mostly women, sat on boxes and picked into buckets which were emptied into bags.

Image 7: Trainers and staff members at the Queensland Egg Marketing Board Depot, Nambour, 1959. The Depot handled the receipt, grading and sale of eggs in the area from Caloundra to Noosa.

Image 8: Q.A.T.B. Driver and nurse with the first ambulance based in Eumundi, ca 1930.

Image 9: Beerburrum Centre of the Queensland Bush Nursing Association, 1930s. The Beerburrum branch of the Bush Nursing Association was officially opened on 1 August 1934.  Regular clinics were held at the Beerburrum Clinic and nurses also made regular visits to homes throughout the district.

Image 10: Significant Sunshine Coast historian Audienne Blyth (left) with Jane (Team Leader Library Operations Sunshine Coast Libraries), February 2018.