FIONA Baverstock gets angry when she thinks about how history has treated the heroines of WWI.
She tells stories of women who saved lives on the battlefields, developing microbiology medical treatments to preserve limbs and lives, but who could not get a job when they got back to Australia.
Or other stories of women who killed themselves after being ostracised for their at-the-time unconventional – and yet health-saving – sexual education.
The private collector and social historian, along with her husband Keith, has dedicated her life to preserving the stories of these women by combining their collections of stunning early 20th century garments with story banners.
The result, an exhibition entitled Women of Empire, will open this Friday night at Lydiard Wine Bar after having travelled through Geelong, Bendigo, Sydney, Kyneton, Adelaide and New Zealand. It will continue its Ballarat visit until Anzac Day.
Ballarat women such as Tilly Thompson, who galvanised the local workforce, raising money and person-power to creature the Avenue of Honour and Arch of Victory, are also featured in the exhibition.
The Baverstocks have collected exquisite clothes including nurses’ uniforms and suffragette attire to complement the women’s stories of the era in a type of narrative “synthesis”.
“Women’s experiences of WWI have been completely overlooked. History is often just that – his story, so we want to tell her story,” Mrs Baverstock.
She said one of the women who featured in the exhibition, a brilliant scientist and doctor by the name of Elsie Dalyell, would have won a Nobel Prize had she been a man for her medical services to soldiers.
“I get angry when I think about it. She came back and couldn’t get a job. Her business failed because people wouldn’t see a woman doctor. She was a brilliant doctor and a brilliant scientist.”
The Baverstocks have also recreated the uniforms and stories of two women – an Australian woman and a Turkish woman – who saw the bloodied landings at Gallipoli from different hospital bases.
Ballarat residents visiting the exhibition will also have an opportunity to write a letter to an unknown soldier in Flanders Fields as part of a national project.
The exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday at 10am.