A mountain climber, state premier, airline pilot and AFL coach might not seem to have much in common, but Brigitte Muir, Joan Kirner, Deborah Lawry and Peta Searle share a common bond as the first women to conquer the top jobs in their fields of passion.
Brigitte Muir was the first Australian woman to climb Mt Everest, Joan Kirner was the first female Victorian premier, Deborah Lawry (nee Wardley) because Australia’s first female airline pilot and Peta Searle is the first female AFL coach and they are among 10 notable women whose achievements are celebrated in a new exhibition Her Place: Women of Influence.
The exhibition, at the Esmond Gallery at The Warehouse in Clunes, highlights the stories of Victorian women. Some stories are well known, others not so much but each woman has had an impact on the lives of people around them.
Her Place Women’s Museum Australia general manager Penelope Lee said Women of Influence was the third in a series of regional and metropolitan exhibitions highlighting female achievement.
“It is part of a bigger agenda. Her Place Women’s Museum Australia and Heritage Women’s Archive came together last year to work toward the idea of establishing Australia’s first national women’s museum,” Ms Lee said.
“These pop up exhibitions are like a proof of concept. If we had a permanent bricks-and-mortar space this is how we would go about it.
“It is a test to show people what can be gained by learning about women in the community.”
The exhibition also profiles the stories and achievements of CFA volunteer Pat Bigham, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Senior Elder Aunty Fay Carter, leader and mentor of women in agriculture Val Lang, Australia’s first female electrical engineer Florence McKenzie, community activist Halima Mohamed, and Trentham doctor Gweneth Wisewould.
“Some of the women in this Clunes exhibition are well-known, some less well-known,. The lesser well-known often don’t get written in to history,” Ms Lee said.
A program of educational and public events accompanies the exhibition, which features biographies, short films and artifacts from the women.
Opening the exhibition in Clunes, historian Professor Marilyn Lake said the diverse group “showcased the very different class, ethnic and religious backgrounds and varied circumstances and conditions in which Victorian women have lived their lives”.
“Women’s history has its own long history, yet it so often seems we have to reinvent the wheel.”