The Aussie women that deserve a statue next to all those white guys.

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The statues in public spaces around Australia tend to have something in common (other than a healthy smattering of pigeon poo). They are, overwhelmingly, of blokes; white blokes, more specifically. Long-dead explorers and Governors, politicians and sports stars, soldiers, even botanists.

To be fair, there are a couple of women in the mix. Although, they tend to have earned a spot atop a plinth by being royalty, or giving birth to the Son of God (hello, Mary).

As Caroline Overington noted on ABC’s The Drum last week, the lack of public recognition of women in statue-form has occurred because, historically, women’s stories have not been widely told.

“The histories that have been written have been written by men, and they have been written about the things that men do. And men owned the newspapers, and edited them and sat in parliament, and were the Prime Minister and the Premier,” she said. “And as a result you have a history skewed toward men.”

So perhaps it’s time we let our statues tell herstory, too. Note, that’s too, not instead of. Because it’s not about tearing the others down, or the men they honour, but about accepting that there’s room for both, in our story and our squares.

Here are a few suggestions.

Muriel Matters

This is the woman Overington would like to see immortalised “in every public square in Australia”. Born in South Australia, in 1905 Muriel took the fight for suffrage to the UK where she become one of the most pivotal figures in the women’s rights movement.

As well as chaining herself to the Grille of the Ladies’ Gallery to protest segregation in British parliament, ‘that daring Australian girl’ campaigned on street corners, lectured at home and abroad, toured England with a horse-drawn carriage, and even took her fight for suffrage to the sky by dropping pamphlets over London from a hot-air balloon.


Listen to Holly Wainwright, Mia Freedman and Jessie Stephens discuss the case for female statues, on Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues after audio…)

Sister Claire Trestrail

Sister Trestrail is one of the many heroes of World War One. A nurse in the beleaguered Belgian city of Antwerp, her makeshift field hospital was caught in the midst of an attack by advancing German forces. As shells rained down around them, the South Australian woman and her colleagues carried nearly 100 injured soldiers – one by one – to the safety of the cellars below.

The next morning, the city still ablaze, Sister Trestrail managed to convince bus drivers carrying live ammunition to help her staff and patients escape. The vehicles crossed a bridge out of the city just moments before it was blown to ashes.

Sister Claire (seated) at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit, Antwerp. Image: Australian War Memorial.

Dr Catherine Hamlin

This is Dr Susan Carland's pick. "She's AMAZING and has saved and changed so many lives," the Melbourne University academic said. "She definitely deserves statue-level recognition."

Dr Hamlin is an obstetrician and gynaecologist who, with her husband, co-founded Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital - an Ethiopian medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric surgery to women suffering from childbirth injuries.

It's believed more than 45,000 women have been treated by Dr Hamlin and her colleagues since 1974.

Professor Elizabeth Helen Blackburn

Only 48 women have won the Nobel Prize, and only one of them is Australian - Professor Blackburn. The Tasmanian-born biologist was awarded the prize in the 'Physiology or Medicine' field in 2009 along with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak for her work in discovering Telomerase - an enzyme that protects our chromosomes from ageing.

Research is underway, but it's believed the trio's discovery could not only have implications for slowing the ageing process but also for treating inherited diseases and cancers.

Professor Blackburn. Image: Getty.

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, OAM

Professor Marcia Langton would like to see Aboriginal rights activist and Yunkunytjatjara woman Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue immortalised.

After a lengthy struggle, O'Donoghue eventually won the right to complete nursing training at a South Australian teaching hospital - something previously denied to black women. Motivated by her experience, she joined the Aboriginal Advancement League and went on to become of the foremost advocates for the equal rights of her people.


In 1976, she was awarded an Order of Australia - the first female Indigenous recipient - and in 1984 she was made Australian of the Year.

Jessica Watson

After seven knockdowns across three oceans over 210 days, Jessica Watson docked in Sydney Harbour on 15 May 2010 with a new title: the youngest person to sail around the world, solo and unassisted.

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood in front of the Sydney Opera House and labelled her an 'Australian hero' that day, the then-16-year-old replied, “I would like to disagree with our Prime Minister. I do not consider myself a hero. I am just an ordinary person, who had a dream and worked hard at it. By sailing solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, I have proved that anything really is possible”.

Obviously, this list could go on and on.

Professor Fiona Wood, the innovative plastic surgeon behind of spray-on skin burns treatment; Elizabeth Kenny, a founding practitioner of physiotherapy who changed the treatment of polio; Nancy 'Bird' Walton, Australia's first female commercial pilot; Nancy Wake, the most decorated servicewoman of the World War Two.

Let's hope there's enough bronze.

You can listen to this week's full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, below. 

Which great Australian woman would you like to see honoured in statue form, and where?

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