When it comes to immortalising women trailblazers, Brisbane is a virtual statue-free zone. Plenty of men, but hardly any women other than a few queens of England.
Thanks to an eight-year-old Auchenflower schoolgirl, however, that could be about to change.
After being able to find only two statues of women in Brisbane among the many sculptures of men, Malia Knox wrote to Women’s Minister Di Farmer, who met with her and her Mum Kelley and pledged her support for more women statues to be erected.
The Minister promised to read Malia’s letter in Parliament next month, hopefully leading to more statues of Queensland women to add to those of suffragette Emma Miller in King George Square and Lady Diamantina Bowen, the celebrated wife of Sir George Bowen, who was appointed the first Governor of Queensland in 1859. Lady Bowen’s statue is outside Old Parliament House.
The Diamantina River in Central West Queensland was named after her by William Landsborough in 1866.
A quick glance back at Queensland’s history and you will find many women worthy of a statue, with Dr Lillian Cooper, the first woman registered as a Medical Practitioner in Queensland back in the 1890s arguably near, if not at the top of, the list.
The skill and courage of this exceptional women lives on today in the form of the Lilian Cooper Women’s Health Centre in Spring Hill which was opened in 1987 offering expert advice and treatment for a range of women’s health issues from Pap smears, menopausal and post-menopausal issues, gynaecological problems and psychological issues – anxiety, depression and grief.
After studying in the United Kingdom in the late 1800’s, Dr Cooper worked as an assistant to a country Practitioner in a rural England.
On the recommendation of a colleague who had visited Australia, Dr Cooper came out to Brisbane in 1891, and started her own private medical practice here.
With her professional skill and conscientious devotion to her patients’ welfare, she gradually dispelled the public’s distrust of a “lady Doctor”, building up a successful general and surgical practice, and earned the respect of her male colleagues during her 50 years of medical practice.
During her career Dr Cooper made several trips abroad, working at the Mayo Clinic and the John Hopkins Centre in the United States.
In England she undertook special courses in gynaecological studies.
She was an honorary surgeon on the staff of the first Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Brisbane from 1911 to 1914 and an inaugural member of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ)
At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 she resigned from the Mater and joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital, serving as a surgeon on the front line in Serbia.
Returning to Australia just before the end of the war Dr Cooper continued her work until her retirement in 1941. She lived quietly at her home at Kangaroo Point until her death in 1947.
She is buried in the Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane. The site of her old home is now that of the Mt Olivet Hospital at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.
Other remarkable Queensland women deserving of a statue to remember them by, include:
- Oodgeroo Noonuccal, who was, and continues to be, recognised as one of Australia’s leading literary figures, who used her pen to give voice to the Indigenous struggle for rights and justice. Born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska on the 3rd of November 1920, a descendant of the Noonuccal people of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), she was instrumental in advocating for citizenship rights for Indigenous people as Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), work that gave rise to the 1967 referendum. In recognition of a lifetime commitment to Indigenous peoples and her outstanding contributions to Australian literature Oodgeroo Noonuccal was awarded three honorary doctorates by Universities within Australia.
- Nancy Bird-Walton a pioneering Aviatrix who in 1932, at the age of 17, was the youngest female Australian to gain a pilot’s license. Two years later, aged 19, she became the first female Australian to become a commercial pilot. She was named a Living National Treasure by the National Trust in 1997 and many more accolades followed, culminating in Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing in 2019 that the new Western Sydney Airport would be named Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport.
- Dame Annabelle Jane Mary Rankin DBE was an Australian politician and diplomat. She was the first woman from Queensland elected to parliament, the first woman federal government minister, and the first Australian woman to be appointed head of a foreign mission.
- Margaret Sterling Bain, pioneer missionary who was insightful and successful in cross cultural communication, and community development in Finke/Aputula. She was greatly respected and trusted by the Aboriginal people through her willingness to listen, learn, be compassionate, and culturally empowering to them. On 31 December 1976, she was awarded OBE (Aboriginal Welfare).
A statue of former Australian Diamonds captain Laura Geitz was unveiled at the Queensland State Netball Centre last year opening the way for more women sports stars, past and present, to have statues built to remember them by.
Sporting icons of yesteryear worthy of a statue could include:
- Annette Kellerman (6 July 1887 – 6 November 1975) who was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress, and writer. She was one of the first women to wear a one-piece bathing costume, instead of the then-accepted pantaloons, and inspired others to follow her example. Annette took up swimming to strengthen her legs after a bout of polio as a child and became world famous as a distance swimmer and movie star, mainly in the US. In 1970 Annette and her husband returned to live in Australia. In 1974 she was honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A. Predeceased by her husband, she died in hospital at Southport, Queensland, on 6 November 1975.
- Maud Margaret Molesworth, who was born in 1894, was the first Australian woman tennis player to be listed in the world’s top ten rankings. Wallis Myer of the Daily Telegraph rated her No. 10 in 1922 and 1923 describing her “as the first woman competitor to hit the ball as hard as a man. Some contemporaries claimed that she had the widest range of shots of any player of her era—male or female.” The Mall Molesworth perpetual trophy is awarded each year to the winner of the Queensland women’s championships.
Malia and her Mum have started a campaign to even up the statue imbalance. Search or#FemaleFaces4PublicPlaces.
Alternatively write to us here at SheSociety with your ideas and comments.
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