I Am Visible: the history of the Older Women’s Network

Cate Turner (left) at the Lane Cove Older Person’s March in October, 2019 (image Beverley Baker)

To mark the International Day of the Older Person Cate Turner had the idea of marching through her suburb carrying this banner. For almost 25 years Cate has been a member of the Older Women’s Network, and now holds positions on the organisation’s Sydney, NSW and National bodies, as well as the Lane Cove Council’s Age Friendly Committee. Cate is one of the remarkable women I have interviewed for my History Beyond the Classroom project. Cate is indomitable; she celebrated her 90th birthday last year with a trip to Paris with her nephew.

Pat Zinn from the OWN Aboriginal Support Circle at Boomalli Gallery (image Amanda Armstrong)

A few weeks later, I met Cate again at the Boomalli Indigenous Art Gallery in Leichhardt with an OWN group visiting the new Anarchy and Alchemy show. She’s also a member of OWN’s long running Aboriginal Support Circle. For twenty-five years, these women have been quietly working on reconciliation, driven by their motto: listen – learn – understand. Their unofficial leader is a poised and unassuming woman, Pat Zinn who is almost ninety. She experienced life under apartheid in South Africa, but defied the system by helping to set up preschools in black townships in Capetown. When she left South Africa in despair in 1991, Pat wanted to learn about Australia’s Indigenous culture in her new country, and the Older Women’s Network has been her vehicle. Pat Zinn’s story is one I have captured for the new website, in a section called ‘Stories’, a celebration of some of OWN’s long serving members.

The members of the group range from late fifties upwards, there are many in their eighties and some in their nineties who’ve been members for more than two decades. As I have discovered through recording their histories and documenting the achievements of the organisation, many women in this generation did it tough, and still face struggles with financial security, elder abuse and sheer invisibility. Nonetheless, they project a feisty spirit, great camaraderie and have learned much from each other.

As a generally unsung but active organisation, I want to demonstrate through the timeline of achievements and individual profiles that OWN has been at the forefront of many struggles affecting women, especially older women who largely missed out on the benefits of higher education, career choices and economic independence through equal pay and superannuation.

Barbara Malcolm of Illawarra OWN does Tai Chi every day (Amanda Armstrong)

The women I have interviewed embody these themes. Barbara Malcolm, aged 85 can recall the day in 1939 World War Two was declared, on the radio by Prime Minister Robert Menzies. But her young life was most affected by the divorce of her parents; her father leaving Barbara aged ten and three younger siblings in a small country town. She left school at thirteen to help her mother who worked overnights in a factory. Barbara has been at the forefront of launching and running wellness activities for women in the Illawarra for OWN, from Scottish dancing to Argentinian drumming and meditation. Cate Turner enjoyed a secondary education but teaching was one of the few careers open to her.  She switched to Human Resources roles, but despite many decades in senior positions has no superannuation or home ownership.

Having lost some long serving members in the past two years, there’s a sense of urgency in getting the stories of older members recorded. This is a work in progress, and the new comprehensive OWN site is unlikely to be completed by the deadline for this project, but it should be up and running by the end of 2019.  OWN would like to build the ‘Stories’ section to include many more profiles. These members’ stories could also feature in shorter formats on other OWN platforms such as their facebook page, twitter, and their regular newsletter.

This has been a personally enriching and rewarding project. It has attuned me to the importance of staying engaged and active during later life, and of giving back through volunteering. It has been a privilege to record the stories of these modest, good humoured and undervalued women, and their organisation that has done so much to put issues affecting older women on the agenda.

(Image Beverley Baker)

The Nightingale: Gender, Race and Troubled Histories on Screen: A symposium

Friday 13 December

University of Technology, Sydney, Building 10, Level 5, Room 580


Acclaimed Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s film The Nightingale (2019) has generated intense debate – and prompted audience walkouts – since its premiere at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. Set during the Black War in Van Diemen’s Land in 1825, the film is an unflinching depiction of colonial, and sexual violence. Kent told The Saturday Paper that she ‘wanted to tell a story that is relevant to my history and my country.’ Her vision of British colonisation, and its consequences for those caught in its wake, taps into a conversation with a strong presence in Australia’s public, political and cultural life over the last three decades. This symposium will investigate this complex and groundbreaking historical film from a number of interdisciplinary perspectives, drawing together scholars across Australia to explore and interrogate the historical representation of gender, race and colonialism on screen.

Spaces are limited. For further information and RSVPs, contact: james.findlay@sydney.edu.au

The ECGs’ 10 Year Anniversary Booklet

The project that I undertook with Hurstville City Uniting Church’s English Conversation Groups (ECGs) is the creation of their 10th Anniversary Booklet. We asked both current and former students and helpers to share their favourite memories at the ECGs. We also sorted and included photos from the past ten years to be added into the booklet. The purpose of such a project is to reflect on how much the organisation has grown over the past ten years and to celebrate a big milestone for the organisation. The testimonies shared by those involved have also revealed the positive impact that the ECGs have had on the students’ and helpers’ lives and reinforces the value of volunteering and cross-cultural exchange. Whether the student or helper has been a long-standing member of the group or was simply involved with the ECGs for a few months, these testimonies reveal common experiences of self-growth and a sense of community within the organisation.

The main components of the booklet include a nine year photo timeline, a foreword written by the organisation’s founder and coordinator, student testimonies, helper testimonies, and a few pages of photo collages. The purpose of the nine year photo timeline is to demonstrate how the group has changed over the years but to also recognise the long-standing members of the group. Unfortunately, group photos were not taken each year so from 2011 to 2013, substitute photos have been used that do not include all members of the ECGs that year. I also asked Ivy, the founder and coordinator of the group, to write a foreword reflecting on the ten years of the ECGs since its inception in 2010. Following the foreword is the main component of the booklet, which are the student and helper testimonies. The testimonies do not encompass everyone who has been involved in the group but former and current students and helpers who were willing to share their experiences and responded to our request for written submissions. We also went through old photos to find pictures of these helpers and students to include in the booklet alongside their testimony. The final pages include photo collages with group photos and photos of members of the ECGs who weren’t depicted in the previous pages.

The reason why I decided to become involved in this project was because I was a volunteer of the ECGs myself. I was able to witness the value of the organisation first hand and felt a personal connection with the organisation through my own involvement. I felt that many of the students and helpers had stories to share and different reasons for coming to the ECGs. While this group only formed a small part of their routine on a Tuesday morning, it had made a significant impact on their lives more holistically. While the aim of the group is to improve students’ English speaking skills through conversation groups, the underlying experiences of self-growth and cross-cultural understanding is something that is not recognised enough and is an important aspect to highlight when celebrating the ECG’s ten year anniversary. I am excited for the ten year anniversary of the ECGs next year and my hope is that all students and helpers will be able to read this booklet, realise the difference that they are making and continue to work hard and be involved in such a worthwhile organisation.