To celebrate the centenary of International Women's Day, artisan in Brisbane commissioned jeweller and historian Dorothy Erickson to identify and select one hundred remarkable Australian women in order to commission one hundred brooches by one hundred women jewellers. The exhibition Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor features 100 stories of great Australian women who have broken the barriers in arts, sciences, humanities and sports and, the 100 brooches made in response to these stories. Erickson surveys the challenge of selection and records the inspiration of the women jewellers in their creation of brooches as a response to these remarkable women.
Dorothy Erickson, Inspired brooches for inspired women â 100 years 100 women 100 brooches, essay
The centenary of International Womenâs Day
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailorâŚso begins an old rhyme that little girls would chant to predict the profession of the man they would marry. Not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that all the professions recited, from priests to lawyers, would one day be occupations for women. They are now, but only as a result of a century of struggle and the actions of countless women across the world.
So began the invitation I received to be part of an exhibition celebrating the centenary of International Womenâs Day. 1
The challenge of one hundred remarkable Australian women
I was presented with the challenge of identifying and selecting one hundred remarkable Australian women. The aim was to select innovators and achievers across a wide spectrum of occupations from 1788 to today, and, if having to choose between two equals, as was often the case, I opted for the person with a second career or engaged in charitable endeavour.
Australiaâs first female Nobel Prize winner, the expatriate Tasmanian molecular biologist, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, nephrologist and President of the World Medical Association, Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, and our first royal, HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, all had to be included.
Maureen Faye-Chauhan says of her depiction of Elizabeth Blackburn in her brooch,
The brooch is a three-dimensional infinity form, symbolic of a segment of the now ubiquitous DNA strand (of which the telomere is a building block). Though life and forms have a beginning and an end, there is a continuing process of renewal that is reflected in my brooch.
I also added inspirational Australians of the Year including the founding Director of the TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, paediatrician Professor Fiona Stanley, burns surgeon Professor Fiona Wood (who is Chief Medical Officer of her research company Clinical Cell Culture Ltd.), athlete Catherine Freeman and civil servant and activist, Lowitja OâDonoghue.
The first Australian women tinkers, tailors, soldiers and sailors
The designations tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor through to thief posed their own problems. A Tasmanian tinker, âTin Eyeâ Mary Brown, was identified by jeweller Barbara Heath, Prue Acton garnered the tailor spot as she was the first Australian to take her fashion collections overseas.
Jane Pollard commented,
An artist at heart, Prue describes herself as âan artist who chooses to work in the field of fashionâ.Â Her use of Picassoâs Petit Fleurs as an inspiration for her logo led to the soft sculpted flower that forms the central focus of the brooch. The organic silver shape references the naĂŻve, youthful simplicity, and freshness of her fashion designs that launched her successful career.
The trail-blazing Air Vice-Marshal Julie Hammer was nominated for soldier and another Australian of the Year, Kay Cottee, the first woman to sail solo round the world, was chosen for sailor. While Janet Holmes Ă Court does not like to be thought of as rich, she was once the richest woman in Australia. Moreover, she steered a tottering empire to a safe haven while supporting the arts and so she was chosen not for conspicuous riches but for her courage, business acumen, and philanthropy.
Solitary shepherdess Pru Arber, who slept out under the stars and wore white in her final years so that her body could be found if she died, made a fascinating story for an apparently poor woman. The sexually liberated rebel Bea Miles, who chose to be of no fixed address and declaimed Shakespeare in the streets of Sydney for her supper, was nominated for the beggar while Australiaâs most famous teenage-thief-made-good, convict Mary Reibey, was another rebel of a more inspirational kind. Reibeyâs image, as well as that of politician and social agitator Edith Cowan and philanthropist Caroline Chisholm, appears on our currency.
Firsts and chronology: botanist, astrologer, dress-designer, painters, singers and writers
Placing the women in chronological order highlighted the changes in the development of some professions. For instance the early botanist Georgiana Molloy, described by Bishop Hale as 'âŚ the best-informed, the most accomplished, the most elegant, the most lady-like woman that ever came to the colony', 2 and astrologer Margaret Ann Field were amateurs in fields that were not yet âprofessionsâ for either men or women, while the paper-pattern dress-designer Johanna Weigelâs profession is today virtually obsolete as most women buy their clothes âoff the pegâ.
Nineteenth-century leaders in their fields included painter and intrepid explorer Ellis Rowan, who took out a major art prize from under the noses of the now better-known male Heidelberg School artists.
Vicki Mason says of her brooch,
This work refers to Ellisâs bold moves to step outside the straightened frameworks of her day (while still maintaining her respectability). The Wittsteinea vacciniacea flower is representative of the area she called home and her love of Australiaâs native flowers that she so assiduously sought to record. The bright colours celebrate her boldness and the use of thread acknowledges the care she took in always appearing well-dressed, even in the middle of the jungle!
Diva Dame Nellie Melba, a clever self-publicist, who led a fascinating if somewhat racy life in French and English royal circles and who negotiated the first royalties agreement for singers, together with writer Ethel âHenry Handelâ Richardson were others who fought prejudice to make their mark internationally.
Suffragettes and humanitarian women
Naturally the first profession could not be ignored and Caroline Hodgson (âMadame Brusselsâ), a prominent and colourful brothel keeper in Melbourne was chosen. Anna Davern, in contemplation of Caroline Hodgsonâs life,
Imagine life as a woman in late-nineteenth-century Melbourne. Do you do as is expected of you and follow your husband to become a policemanâs wife in isolated rural Victoria? Or do you see an opportunity to take a risk, go it alone, and perhaps call in a favour or two, to find your independence as a successful business owner in the only business that is available to you as a woman?
At the other end of the spectrum Saint Mary MacKillop, founder of the Josephite order deserved recognition as did blind humanitarian worker Matilda âTillyâ Aston who started the Braille library that became the Vision Australia Library.
It was obviously not possible to include all the suffragists, welfare workers and those who campaigned for the betterment of women. Instead Mary Lee, who first campaigned and prevailed in attaining the vote for women in South Australia but declined to stand for parliament, was selected to represent this aspect of womenâs history.
Edith Cowan who fought for many things in Western Australia including a womanâs right to education and access to careers was chosen for being the first woman elected to an Australian parliament and for her many social and welfare activities. She has had the honour of a university named for her.
Robin Wells notes the details of Edith Cowanâs personal dress and political life;
Edith lived through the Victorian and Edwardian eras and often wore elaborate jewellery. The intricate cut-out pattern recreates the style of an antique brooch and symbolises both her involvement with womenâs organisations and the relationships between these organisations.Â The use of white, green, and purple is significant as these were the official colours of the suffragette movement, of which Edith was an integral part.
Sadly there was no room for Helen Spence, Maybanke Anderson, Rose Scott or Vida Goldstein who fought until all the European women in Australia could vote at both State and Federal elections or Bessie Rischbieth who worked for women internationally.
However, writer Miles Franklin, who was influenced by these women and went on to establish a literary prize, for which both male and female authors strive, is included. Â Roseanne Bartley says of her response to the commission;
I tried to respond to the criteria Miles Franklin established for the literary award in her name:Â âthe highest literary merit which must present Australian life in any of its phasesâ. I am not sure what Miles would have made of the current phase of Australian cultural life. By using the poorest materials availableâmore generally viewed as disposable or of little cultural significanceâmy work suggests something of the cultural experience of our time.
Women artists â turn of the century
By the 1890s, the womenâs movement, married womenâs property rights and other legislative changes, saw careers opening up for some women. It became acceptable to set up studios and become professional artists. Illustrator, cartoonist and artist May Gibbs, woodcarver Norah Payne, potter, painter and art teacher, Flora Landells and, printmaker and painter Margaret Preston were chosen for being first in some aspect of their field. Landells was only seventeen when she set out to support herself and was possibly the first studio potter in Australia to undertake the entire process from digging the clay to the finished product.
Jacquie Sprogoe says of her inspiration;
While Floraâs forms are simple, she obviously loved the glazes she used. The form I was drawn to most was a vessel with two handles that had sweeping, curving line-work. I used it as the starting point for my visual homage to her.
May Gibbsâ cousin Marjorie Ridley had originally been chosen to fill the tinker position but when a real tinker was found it was decided to keep this versatile artist who wove a weed into saleable items during the Great Depression. An eminent art expert nominated Grace Cossington Smith as Australiaâs greatest woman painter ahead of earlier colonial painters Georgiana Macrae, Louisa Atkinson and Vida Lahey whom I had been considering.
Sadly there was no room for composer Dame Margaret Sutherland once the more international and contemporary composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks had been chosen.
Annette Kellerman, the swimmer who became a film star and the highest paid vaudeville act in the USA and Lottie Lyell, the silent-film star, producer and scriptwriter were interesting inclusions from this period. Â Ann Chadwick records that she
had an instant connection to Annette Kellermanâs mermaid image as I have used this motif in previous work. However, my design, using found and recycled elements, was also triggeredÂ by Kellermanâs leg braces and her love of water.
Florence Broadhurst was another fabricator who kept reinventing herself and her past, and had international careers in several fields. Kath Inglis states:
I was inspired by Janine Burkeâs statement that âBroadhurst kept close to the shimmering surface of thingsâan appropriate metaphor for the wallpapers she designedâwhere she was safe. The depths were too real and there confrontation lurked: all the awful lies sheâd told and the selves sheâd tried to bury.â After colouring the material in my brooch, I removed small pieces through making hand-cut incisions and carved patterns. Transformed from its prosaic state, this new material glitters with a play of light and reflection. The fine silver leaf creates a shimmering surface.
Innovation, industry and business
Sister Elizabeth Kenny could not be overlooked for her innovations in treating polio while Florence Taylor, the first qualified female architect and town planner were both worthy inclusions.
The pioneer anthropologist Daisy Bates was selected despite her shortcomings (she fabricated some wild stories towards the end of her life in order to sell her articles) as her empirical studies have been invaluable, not least to the Nyungar people in Western Australia as corroboration in land claims.
Captains of industry and entrepreneurs were harder to find but Nellie Martyn, who became managing director of her family foundry instead of her brother, singing barmaid, hotelier and later philanthropist âMa Raineâ, cosmetics tycoon Helena Rubinstein, and minerals entrepreneur, author and society hostess Deborah Hackett, daughter of the sea-rescue heroine Grace Bussell, are worthy examples.
The Australian Dictionary of Biographyâssupplementary volume provided some of the more unusual stories from the early days as it is dedicated to those who missed out in the male-dominated earlier editions.
Sourced through this volume were internationally recognised international-dance choreographer Mary Lightfoot, entrepreneurial confectioner Teresa Cahill, the equally innovative mechanic and garage proprietor Alice Anderson, much loved Tasmanian organist Lillian Frost, Victorian policewoman Madge Connor and bullocky Agnes Buntine.
New opportunities and occupations â science!
World War 1 (1914â18) allowed women access to a number of occupations while men were fighting overseas. Â Â Although this opened doors most women still had to âfight the systemâ to gain professional recognition. In 1916 Dr Georgina Sweet became the first Australian woman in science to be an acting professor but never attained the rank permanently.
Botanist Ethel McLennan became a tenured lecturer at Melbourne University, developing the field of mycology and plant pathology, ophthalmologist Professor Ida Mannâs career began in London and Josephine Bancroft Mackerras started her important research in entomology and parasitology in Queensland. Professor Ethel Raybould pioneered mathematics for women at the University of Queensland, as did geologist Professor Dorothy Hill.
Ruby Payne-Scott became a groundbreaking physicist and radio astronomer. Fiona Kwong explained her choice of design for Ruby Payne-Scott:
The celestial imagery and orbiting radars employed in the brooch design directly reference Rubyâs ground-breaking work in the field of radio astronomy. They are also a metaphor for her many other achievements. In particular, her roles of âmotherâ and âfeministââeach deeply important to herâare represented in the orbital rings.
Nancy Burbidge developed a career as a taxonomist and conservationist. Naturalist, artist and historian Dr Frederica Erickson began her research into native plants and later commenced the multi-volume Dictionary of Western Australians âa world-first attempt to document the complete population of an area through time.
Air transport, the arts and culture
In the 1930s Nancy Bird Walton became the first female pilot.Â In response, Eliza Tee
felt it was important to create a work that would encourage people to make up their own stories from the different elements of Nancyâs life. The raven feather highlights the fragility of flight; the Gypsy Moth charm represents Nancyâs first airplane; the crystals are a reference to her family and the sky; and the pearl-shell button evokes the resourcefulness of women throughout the war.
Transport has also played a role in womenâs careers; many in the performing arts were forced to live abroad when concert pianist Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) and composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks commenced their careers. The advent of air transport transformed the lives of later artists such as singer Dame Joan Sutherland and conductor Simone Young.
Anne Neil created the brooch for Eileen Joyce âmade from discarded 1930s piano keys. Together they âreadâ as a musical note. The word âplayâ is repeated over and over across the surface of the base and the last line is a quote from Eileen Joyce.â
Linda Hughesâ âconcept has a musical-notation framework with bright undertones, which reflects Peggy Glanville-Hicksâs groundbreaking work.â
Nina Oikawa âwas inspired by Dame Joan Sutherlandâs glowing voice and amazing costumesâ
A transport problem during World War 2 (1939â45) kept ballet dancer Kira Bousloff in Australia and she stayed to found the West Australian Ballet, the oldest ballet company in Australia. German-born sculptor Inge King migrated in the boom years of the 1960s, and teacher and community worker Aziza Abdel-Halim arrived from Egypt in the 1970s. The latter has been awarded an Order of Australia medal for her work in the Muslim community. More recently Norwegian-born architect Brit Andresen, the first woman awarded an RAIA gold medal, Indonesian-born broadcaster Lee Lin Chin and Belgian-born mountaineer Brigitte Muir arrived in an increasingly multicultural society.
Aboriginal achievers selected included anthropologist Professor Marcia Langton, internationally known artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye and weaver Yvonne Koolmatrie together with the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Suffice to say there were many others who could not be accommodated.
Jane Bowden wrote,
As Yvonne uses traditional weaving techniques to create works that often refer to contemporary life, I chose to use the space-age material of titanium. Titanium is an almost-perfect jewellery material because it is biocompatible, doesnât oxidise, and is very strong and lightweight. Its strength and ductility make it ideal for weaving.
A plethora of leading sportswomen
The plethora of leading sportswomen also made selection very difficult. Shirley Strickland, a lecturer in nuclear physics who was the first Olympic gold medal winner in track and field, an Australian coach and later a passionate environmentalist, was selected for athletics rather than Betty Cuthbert, Marjorie Jackson or others.
Brenda Ridgewell stated,Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
As a fellow country person, Shirley Strickland was a name synonymous with achieving your dreams. I have included five gold discs to represent the gold medals she won at Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The moving features along the top edge represent atomic structures and they refer to her achievements as a nuclear physicist.
Representing more recent times, when sportspeople could focus on professional careers, tennis champion Margaret Court, later an ordained Pentecostal pastor, and Paralympian Louise Sauvage, who raised the profile of paraplegic athletes, stood out.
Invitations, negotiations and adjustments
As invitations went out to jewellers, and they negotiated their subjects, some adjustments to the list took place. That few were inspired to make brooches for the sportswomen I had chosen meant omitting Dawn Fraser, âFemale Swimmer of the Centuryâ, and Catherine Freeman, an Australian of the Year, as well as tennis player Evonne Goolagong. It was a major disappointment when Lowitja OâDonoghue, another Australian of the Year, declined to be included. Unease over the possibility of offending cultural sensibilities resulted in Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Marcia Langton being retracted.
Oscar-winning actress and theatre director Cate Blanchett and supermodel and successful international businesswoman Elle Macpherson were also not chosen and substitutions had to be made for the final one hundred.Â
Families and education
As well as access to education, determination, whether provided by tutors, schools or workplaces (such as a family business) have played a role in certain womenâs success. Family training was the case for taxidermist Jane Tost, her daughter Ada Rohu, foundry manager Nellie Martyn, undertaker Kate Mary Smith, pearler Mary Dakas and racehorse trainer Gai Waterhouse. Earlier women such as Mary Penfold and Elizabeth Macarthur had superior educations and even the high-spirited and rebellious thief Mary Reibey was educated and literate while Bea Miles attended university before becoming notorious.
Some women had to fight against family disapproval for their education, as was the case for Queensland mathematician Ethel Raybould who obtained her education despite her familyâs strong opposition to women having a career. Other women became the first in their family to attend university, among them scholarship winner General Eva Burrows, world leader of the Salvation Army, for, until the 1970s the only free Australian university was that in Western Australia, supported by the generosity of the late husband of another of the subjects, Deborah Hackett.
Proceeding through the years, access to education extended to training women in professions hitherto reserved for men. Thus the twentieth century witnessed women overcoming all sorts of obstacles to become the first woman doctor, lawyer, barrister, architect, engineer, mechanic, mathematician and so on.
South Australian Dame Roma Mitchell attained a number of firsts when she became successively the first woman Queenâs Counsel in Australia, first woman Chancellor of an Australian university and first woman Governor in Australia.Â Katheryn Leopoldseder describes the symbolic attributes of Dame Romaâs life;
On the front of the brooch silver hair alludes to the legal wig. When I explored Dame Roma Mitchellâs life, I thought of hairâs symbolic associations with femininity and traditional female roles within society. In a way, Roma, who never married or had children, exchanged her own hair for the leadership and authority of the legal wig. A proverb engraved on the back alludes to the faith that underpinned Romaâs career and a miniature gavel forms the pin clasp.
Further into the twentieth century there were still bars to certain areas of university education and advancement. The few doors that had opened during WWI were quickly shut again in the Great Depression when married women were returned to the home. WWII re-opened them and this time women made sure they did not shut again. Ida Mann extended her work to Australia, while Dorothy Hill, Ruby Payne-Scott, Nancy Burbidge, Pricilla Kincaid-Smith and others all advanced their careers.
Government services and education departments
However, obstacles still existed to advancement in the government services and education departments where until the 1970s women were required to resign on marriage. In this period lawyers began to dominate. Roma Mitchell, Quentin Bryce, the first female Governor General, and Julia Gillard, the first female Prime Minister, are lawyers. One of the last bastions to be overcome was the Anglican Church when in 2008 the Right Reverend Kay Goldsworthy became the first Australian woman bishop.
Over the centuries, some women stood out for their entrepreneurial skills or for sheer persistence, among them amateur astronomer Margaret Field who studied the stars in the outback in the 1870s, and designed and sold crochet patterns based on her studies, and Helena Rubinstein, who arrived in the 1890s and launched her cosmetics empire in Melbourne, becoming a worldwide phenomenon by encouraging respectable women to use cosmetics. Renata Fojtikova
Some of the design elements were inspired by the âHelena Rubinsteinâ product design. A cougar skin pattern signifies a strong woman, while the feather painted underneath represents more gentle and feminine qualities. These visual elements represent the kind of woman Helena was: unafraid to be independent, yet maintaining an extremely feminine approach to life.
Edna Walling converted her talent for garden design into a lucrative career while Nancy Bird turned a childhood obsession into a reality and Alice Anderson grew from running wild in bloomers into owning a successful garage and vehicle-hire service only to die young. Meanwhile, Teresa Cahill subsumed her interest in cars and motorbikes and used her promotional expertise to found a chain of confectionery stores while former actress Gai Waterhouse had to win a court case in 1992 to become the first woman racehorse trainer, and a highly successful one at that.
Other women have causes. Stephanie Alexander, who opened her first restaurant in 1964 and wrote best-selling cookbooks, was chosen for the innovative Kitchen Garden project she commenced in schools to help combat obesity in children and promote healthier eating.
While there were numerous other women who deserved inclusion it was simply impossible to feature them all. However, those inspiring women who could be included give us some insight into the diversity of careers carved out by pioneers throughout our history and some idea of the wide horizons open for women today. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor celebrates the great Australian women who have continued to break barriers in arts, sciences, humanities, business and sports. They are as wonderfully diverse a group as could be assembled in a mere one hundred women.
Dorothy Erickson is a jeweller and historian, author of Gold and Silversmithing in Western Australia: A History , 2010 and curator of Cinderellaâs Stories. Contemporary Jewellery from Western Australia showing as part of the London Design Festival, 2011.Â Â Â
The substantial part of this essay was originally published as âWhat wonderful womenâ by artisan as a catalogue essay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor along with separate inclusions of the artistsâ statements.