Unlikely Connections for a Fairer World – working with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)

As we sat in on our first few lessons of History Beyond the Classroom and Mike encouraged us to start considering what kind of organisation we might want to work with, I knew that I wanted to give back to a community whose history has been ignored and denied for so long in Australia. And so it was with great relief that the opportunity to work with AIME came to me totally as a surprise, arising from a meeting with a mutual friend about a university society partnership. I had heard about AIME before, with some of my fellow History Beyond the Classtorians being involved with AIME, and so it seemed like the perfect fit. 

Watch the Australian Story episode on AIME’s founder Jack Manning Bancroft, who founded AIME in 2004 while at Sydney Uni

Combining my desire to give back to the local Indigenous community and working with young people, AIME’s key focus is helping young First Nations students progress through their education with an increased sense of self worth and belonging. In their own words, AIME wants to create ‘unlikely connections for a fairer world’ by pairing university student mentors with First Nations students, to act as a support network as they make their way through school. Founded in 2004 by Jack Manning Bancroft, AIME was one of the first organisations to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people, with a tangible impact on the educational outcome gap. As an Aboriginal man himself, Jack Manning Bancroft spoke to the ABC for Australian Story of his desire to go beyond the ‘happy smile organisation’ model, where a smiling picture is taken before the organisation leaves without any real impact. Over AIME’s short but impressive history, they have mentored over 25,000 students with over 10,000 mentors, making them the largest ongoing movement of university volunteers in Australia so far. AIME’s impact goes beyond the traditional school setting, breaking down barriers to employment, higher education and decision making positions through their network of resources, leaders and publications. 

AIME’s impact on Year 12 Completion rates and overcoming educational disadvantage

AIME’s vision for a fairer Australia aligns closely with my personal mission, both as a historian and as a teacher. By working with AIME, I hope to bring light to the stories untold, the events ignored and the history neglected. By creating a project based on my work with AIME, I hope to ensure more people gain an understanding of the visceral challenges which young First Nations students face over the course of their education, and work to break down educational barriers. It would be a dream to create some teaching resources for use in a history classroom (and beyond!) that draws upon the work of AIME and their knowledgeable staff and mentors. Naturally at this stage without actually having done any volunteering I am a bit fuzzy with the details – form, content and style all allude me for now. However I am confident that whatever work I do will be meaningful in some way, and that being flexible with my approach will benefit both AIME and my final project. I guess you’ll be finding out how it all goes soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll be chipping away!

SJM: A Museum, A Memorial, and A Monument to Hope

The Sydney Jewish Museum is not just a museum; it is also a memorial, a place of remembrance, a figurative gravesite for a multitude without one.

This sentiment was presented to our class on our visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) in early September. It has been a sentiment that has stuck with me. The power a place like this can have, the meaning it embodies, the facilitation of significant connection it enables – these ideas have rattled around my brain in the weeks following the visit. An idea like this challenges our understanding of what history means, what it does, what its purpose is to both individual lives as well as the life of society.

The visit to SJM was captivating to me, and immediately drew my attention as an organisation I wanted to approach to undertake this subject’s major project with. Alongside History Beyond the Classroom, I am also taking a subject this semester titled The Holocaust: History and Aftermath. The obvious link of subject matter seemed like a perfect opportunity to focus my semester’s study on this specific area. While being a History major in my degree, I also have a second major in Biblical Studies and Classical Hebrew, a part of the Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies Department at the University. As such, this also felt like a perfect opportunity to link my broader subject areas together. In many ways, noticing these connections across the semester and my degree to SJM feels very poignant as a part of the concluding semester of my degree.

Inside the Sydney Jewish Museum, courtesy of SJM Collection (sourced from the SJM Website)

My first session volunteering with the museum occurred this past Friday. I had various opportunities to meet with several members of staff who were exceptionally warm and welcoming. I then received a brief orientation to the museum, particularly focusing on the curatorial department, from the museum’s head curator Roslyn. My project began with a day spent scanning the pages of an old scrapbook, an item donated to the museum in 2010. Contained within the scrapbook was a collection of newspaper clippings from 1960-1961. The story goes that this scrapbook was put together by the mother of the writer of these articles. Working my way through the scrapbook, I tried to conjure up a picture of the circumstances that lay behind its creation. A loving mother, immensely proud of her son who is off reporting as a correspondent in New York, or deployed to various other places over the globe including Jerusalem and Havana depending on current events. Each week, possibly eagerly awaiting a new edition of the paper to scan through for any reports written by her son, she would cut out any that were there in order to memorialise them within the scrapbook.

What struck me is the many ways this item has potential to hold significance. The stories that are told not just in the reports throughout the scrapbook, but also in its creation. The personal, familial significance behind its creation. For SJM, a section of reports covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann are their primary section of interest in the object. The remainder of my time volunteering with SJM will primarily focus on reading, analysing and reporting on the Eichmann related material in the book. What they offer the museum, how the reporter approaches reporting it, what he has to say about it will all be part of my analysis. For the museum, my work will hopefully help further colour in the broader narrative of justice, and the theme of upholding human rights through the prosecution of a major architect of the Holocaust. Through this, my hope is that this work might help SJM (even if only in a small way) to continue to be more than just a collection of objects, but that it might contribute to their goal for the Museum to be a place ‘where history has a voice,’ as their tagline states. That the museum may continue to be a monument to hope. That for those who enter the museum, that it may be a place that ultimately encourages and facilitates deep reflection on the past and the present, and the upholding and advocating of human rights today.

Sydney Jewish Museum: An Educational experience.

My initial expectations:

When I first contacted the staff at Sydney Jewish Museum, I was apprehensive. Jewish history is not something I am familiar with, and to be honest, it did not feel like it was my place to tell it. I worried that the history I would end up involved in would be too far away from what I knew. But then, isn’t that what a good historian does? Push out of their comfort zone, engage with projects that, whilst unfamiliar, excite them. The history the Museum involves itself with is delicate, it needs to be carefully considered before engaging with it. There is real tragedy within the objects I handle. It is quite something to hold in your hand a medal emblazoned with the Nazi emblems. It feels heavy. Not just in weight, but in responsibility. Am I the right person to tell this story?

The reality:

The reality of what I have experienced is very different from my expectations. The highlight of working at the Museum for hasn’t been about what objects they have, but the staff there too. My main contact in the Museum has been nothing short of wonderful. Accommodating and always willing to impart his knowledge upon me. The staff are incredibly welcoming and eager to help, this immediately quelled my fears.

Working with the Education side of the Museum is fantastic, as the work they do is so vital. Educating Sydney’s students about the horrors of the Holocaust and giving children a transformative experience is something to be treasured. There is so much experience in the Education team, and the care I saw them put into their work was inspirational. The Museum staff are truly dedicated to providing the highest quality educational experience to kids. It is a shame to me that my first interaction with the Museum was in university, and not in High School. Staff informed me that my former High School does now take classes there, which is good to see, as exposure to new perspectives in history is always important.

The project:

I have spent, and will spend my time at the museum cataloguing objects in their Education Collection. Personally, for me, it was a real joy to spend time cataloguing some German bank notes from 1922-1923. Having learned of the hyperinflation a decade ago at school, it was incredible to hold in my hands notes from this time. My colleague had so many interesting stories attached to not just the notes but their journey into the Museum’s possession too. But they showed so many signs of life too: A rip in the right corner, a fold down the middle, water stains and sun damage. Signs of a life well used. To get to hold something from a century ago is not something that one can experience every day. It speaks to the amazing work the museum does in curating their displays. Working in the Education office has impressed upon me that the students aren’t the only ones learning here.

The Australian National Maritime MuSEAum: The centrality of waterways to the Australian story

So much of the story of Australia is in the story of its waterways. Yes, the stories of Cook and invasion and European migration. But also the stories of First Nations communities connections with waterways, how these bodies have provided for and been cared for since Deep Time. The Australian National Maritime Museum is deeply aware of these huge and varied stories that they have the opportunity to tell. A new permanent exhibit, ‘Under Southern Skies’ has been designed to interweave these histories and perspectives, to create a coherent timeline and find connections with these many stories.

Constellation by Gail Mabo, 2014. An Indigenous artwork featured in the Under Southern Skies exhibit.

There is something fascinating about the many worlds that are encompassed by a maritime museum: boats of course, but also stories of migration, of dock unions, of coastal fashion, of aquatic life. There is somehow intriguing about the interplay of this incredible sense of eclecticism and coherence; of the many things tied together under this umbrella. I am not entirely sure as of yet what my project will look like, but the scope of this museum really excites me. As with so much of history, it is simultaneously huge, global, expansive – yet also intimate, specific, personal.

The social justice agenda of the museum really sparked my interest. Looking after the seas, they do incredible work around climate change. One of their ongoing exhibits displays artworks made out of found, discarded fishing net, done by Torres Strait Islander artists. The different ways that they are able to engage the public in these environmental issues is so interesting to me, and they have such an array of approaches. Currently they also have multiple temporary exhibits that use marine science to demonstrate the wonders of the oceans, the threats to it and the innovations working to save it. The museum does an amazing job of utilising a diverse range of disciplines and modes of engagement to try and engage with the public in a myriad of ways.

I am particularly excited by their integration of Aboriginal ways of knowing and understanding throughout many exhibits. It is evident that they take their role as storytellers on Gadigal Land very seriously and make an effort to go beyond acknowledging custodianship to championing it. This is especially vital for a museum that houses a replica of the HMB Endeavour, which is such a symbol of violence and oppression for First Nations Australians. I am hoping to learn how they go about engaging in processes of truth telling and working to champion these voices, as it is some of the most important history that can be told on this land.

Kisay Dhangal by Alick Tipoti. This is an artwork that features in a temporary exhibit called Mariw Minaral (Spirtitual Patterns). This exhibit shows the works of Tipoti, a Torres Strait Islander artist whose art shows what it means to be a sea person.

In a museum of this scope, it is easy to see the huge collection of boats as the most noteworthy or important acquisitions, but of course there are so many smaller artefacts and exhibitions that have so much to tell. My project will most likely involve writing the story of one such donation, that is still waiting to be fit into the larger narrative of Australia’s maritime history. It is such an honour and a privilege to be a part of this process and to have the opportunity to contribute to this public history.

The Women’s Library, Newtown

– A place of books, tea, and feminism.

I never liked the colour pink. As a kid, I thought it was babyish and I wanted to be a cool, strong, smart, grown-up girl. I have since learnt the phrase ‘pink shaming’ which describes the anti-feminist act of shaming girls or women for liking traditionally feminine things, like the colour pink. More recent feminist activism, like the ‘pussyhats’ movement, are embracing tropes such as pink, and turning the feminine into the feminist. The Women’s Library in Newtown beautifully continues this idea of reclaiming space and ideas for women. When I first visited The Women’s Library, I was told they had recently repainted the space. I looked around, and sure enough, I was surrounded by walls of pink and purple.

A comfortable space of purple couches, and walls that are now painted pink. The Women’s Library, 2016.

The Women’s Library is an inviting place, a sanctuary for local women. Unlike your typical library, this library, by and for women, has soft music playing, constant offers of tea and Tim Tams, and a strong feminist mission. All the books in the collection are written by women or about women and range from health, biographies, fiction, poetry, feminist literature, lesbian texts, science, to history, and beyond. Since building its collection in 1991, and opening in 1994, the library has run on donations and volunteers, creating a truly community space. To establish the collection, the library set up red tea chests as collection boxes around Sydney and asked people to donate books by or about women with the aim of creating a 4,000 strong collection. Watch this short clip from the library about its founding.

I first came across The Women’s Library when I was walking down King Street in Newtown. As I was crossing Brown Street, I saw a sign pointing to The Women’s Library. I was intrigued and for the next year, every time I walked past that sign, The Women’s Library lodged itself further into my mind. When I started to think about community organisations in my local area for this History Beyond the Classroom project, I remembered that blue street sign and decided to finally follow it. I got in touch with the library and received a response immediately. It was a sign in my inbox that I had to now visit this illusive place behind Newtown Library. I visited one day and met a lovely volunteer who welcomed me to this place of pink walls, floating music, and shelves and shelves of books.

The Women’s Library Street sign at the corner of Brown Street and King Street. Google Maps, 2022.

At this stage, my time at the library involves me sorting through boxes of annual reports, minutes, financial reports, letters, essays, and office documents, a History student’s dream! And I’m not being sarcastic. I’m looking through these boxes and labelling files. As I do this, and chat with the library volunteers and members, I feel as though I am getting closer to the library, its history, and community. The Women’s Library has an incredible ‘Herstory’ that I have enjoyed reading through. It details the continuous hard work of the library volunteers over the years to fight for this special place which acts as a safe haven for many women in the area. Hosting concerts, exhibitions, group meetings, children’s story time, and even blind dates with a book, The Women’s Library has a lot to say for itself, and I hope I can do justice to its voice.

Irish-Sydney in Transition.

Newspaper advertisement for the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau and Resource Centre Annual General Meeting – found in a pile of documents I’m cataloguing and digitising for this project.

A short way up from the corner of Devonshire and Randle St, right next to Central Station in the metropolitan heart of Sydney, sits the Irish National Associations building, the Irish Cultural Centre. Most know this building for the Gaelic Club. However, at the back of the club room, through a little door, sits the office of a perhaps lesser-known organisation, the Irish Support Agency (ISA).

The ISA was established in 1995 by Frank O’Donoghue under the name of the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau & Resource Centre NSW Inc. Today, the ISA, rebranded in 2015, is a registered charity responsible for a series of public-facing community wellbeing initiatives and events. Current service initiatives include things as diverse as men’s mental health walks, wellbeing seminars for mothers, visa information evenings, book clubs, and much more, giving a sense of the diversity in their work. The ISA also directly supports individual Irish and Irish-Australian community members, supporting people through crisis, unemployment, immigration, housing and accommodation, funeral, and repatriation.

As with Irish and Australian society at large, since 1995, the ISA has undergone unprecedented change. It is in understanding the nature of this change that my project sits. With increased community demand and funding, notably in 2005 with financial assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, the ISA has grown from an entirely volunteer organisation to now employing two Outreach Workers and a Project Officer. In addition, with the organisation’s 2025 thirtieth anniversary approaching, the ISA has felt the need to understand better how they have developed over the years. Accordingly, the ISA has identified their desire to record a much-needed oral history, presented in video format, for their anniversary commemoration.

I will work closely with the ISA team to develop a clear outline of the organisation’s early years, including key personnel, service developments, and achievements. Through this project, by establishing a more transparent, more objective understanding of the ISA’s early history, we can look toward the planning and execution of interviews with early members of the organisation.

These interviews are critical to the ISA and offer the opportunity to shed light on the history of Irish Sydney at the turn of the millennia. One of the strengths of oral history is the ability to capture the stories and reflections of the past still in living memory. As many members within the Irish community here closely associated with the ISA start to age, there is a growing urgency to capture these stories. The stories attached to these members also hold the potential to not only tell the story of the ISA but also shed light on the motivation and experience of Irish immigration in the second half of the twentieth century, more generally.

My interest in the organisation stems from my ongoing interest in Irish history throughout my degree. I felt like it was time to give back to the Irish community in Sydney, those whose history has already given me so much. With my initial engagement and work to date, I’ve been met with great enthusiasm from the ISA team.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead.

Port Macquarie’s Best-Kept Secret: Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard

On the highway into Port Macquarie—a beautiful seaside town on the Mid North Coast—there’s a sign reading “Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard”. Behind that sign lies a menagerie of wonders, including the oldest timber dwelling in the region. Despite this, barely anyone knows about Douglas Vale’s historical treasures… even the volunteers call it “Port Macquarie’s best-kept secret”.

Photograph of the Francis family at the homestead in 1884, currently held at Douglas Vale.

Douglas Vale’s History

When I finally visited a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe that such a compelling history has missed out on the public spotlight for so long. Douglas Vale’s story as a homestead and vineyard stretches back to 1859, when English mariner George Francis bought 20 acres to grow Black Isabella grapes on. As the site’s curator, Ian Cupit, told me, wine was one of the region’s leading industries after the closure of the Port Macquarie penal settlement in 1832. Of course, the rich red soil that made for such a flourishing wine industry speaks to an even older history of Port Macquarie—the local Birpai people have cared for the region’s coastal environment for thousands of years before George Francis arrived.

The Douglas Vale homestead today.
Margaret Francis’s chair in the homestead.

Plus, it’s important to note that the history of Douglas Vale also continued long after George Francis. Following his death in 1898, his daughter Margaret Wilson took up the reins, becoming one of Australia’s first female winemakers and growers. By all accounts, Margaret was a very powerful and admirable woman—indeed, one of the museum’s artefacts is the very chair she died on, with the signage reading that even “after death she still sat upright”. 

After Margaret’s death in 1932, her relatives operated the property until its last resident—an eccentric barefoot gravedigger known as Patsy Dick—passed away in 1993. After this, the site fell into disrepair until some passionate locals formed the Douglas Vale Conservation Group in 1995 to preserve its heritage. 

Douglas Vale’s Volunteers

Since then, an extraordinary community of volunteers have tended to the site, operating Douglas Vale as a museum and Australia’s only volunteer-run vineyard and cellar door. These volunteers (who now number at over 80) harvest the grapes, look after the gardens and veggie patch, run tours, repair the buildings and provide wine tastings… among countless other jobs. They have done a tremendous job caring for Douglas Vale and honestly, barely need the help of a young, city-living historian like me. 

However, every volunteer I’ve spoken to told me they’re struggling to get more young people, locals and historians through the doors of “Port Macquarie’s best-kept secret”. Boosting visitation numbers is especially pertinent given funding for regional community organisations is often unreliable or insufficient.

Our Project

My project will seek to address this issue by broadcasting why Douglas Vale is worthy of visiting: its artefacts and its volunteers. I don’t believe I could do a project that focused on one or the other, because without the volunteers there’d be no collection to look at, no homestead to tour and certainly no delicious wine to taste.

At this stage, I’m proposing we upload some of the site’s most fascinating artefacts to an online database—including what I call Douglas Vale’s “living artefacts”, like its original Black Isabella grape vines and 1860s bamboo entrance. Alongside the artefacts, I’d like to attach videos of the volunteers speaking about what the artefacts and Douglas Vale mean to them. In doing so, I hope that more people will be let in on the secret of Douglas Vale and enjoy the wonders of community-led storytelling, wine-growing and place-making for years to come.

Original Black Isabella grape vines at the property.
Bamboo entrance to Douglas Vale, planted in the 1860s.

Outloud: The RESPECT Program

Outloud is a social impact arts organisation which facilitates meaningful creative and performing arts opportunities and experiences for culturally and linguistically diverse young people in Western Sydney. Many of Outloud’s programs serve as early intervention harm reduction projects that target issues affecting young people in the Canterbury-Bankstown community. My project will focus on the history of RESPECT, a music program which educates boys in Years 5 and 6 about gender equality and family violence in a school setting.

In September, I visited Outloud for the first time to meet with Craig Taunton and Van Nguyen who both work on the RESPECT Program. Outloud is based at the Bankstown Arts Centre, and entering the premises, you very clearly get the sense that it is part of a thriving, interconnected hub of artistic activity. The night before we met was the first Tuesday of the month, and so the famous Bankstown Poetry Slam had taken place downstairs. Craig was pleased to inform me that an alumnus of the RESPECT Program had taken up the mantle of timekeeper for the night.

We quickly fell into a discussion about some of the most recent music videos uploaded to Outloud’s YouTube channel, including some very impressive fast rapping in Punchbowl Public School’s “A Good Foundation”. Craig and Van then guided me through some of the framed pictures on the opposite wall of rap performances that had taken place at Bankstown Shopping Centre during pre-pandemic years, explaining that hundreds of boys would usually take part.

Check out “A Good Foundation” below. I hope you appreciate the green screen backgrounds as much as I did— my personal favourite is the Bankstown Sports Club!

“A Good Foundation” – Punchbowl Public School (2022)

After visiting Outloud, meeting Craig and Van, and watching past musical performances, the community impact of this incredibly special program was undeniable. The sheer amount of young people that Outloud has supported to engage with the arts is such a meaningful feat to begin with. RESPECT goes above and beyond even this.

In Craig’s words, while Outloud as a community arts organisation is constantly cultivating artists in the Bankstown area, for this particular program, “art is a tool for engagement”. Over the course of 12 weeks, the boys learn from facilitators and family violence counsellors in a school setting, and write an original song which distils what they have learned. Not all the young boys will be transformed into career musicians (although their rapping is beyond impressive!). Most significantly, 98% of the boys come away from the program having developed a vital understanding of the harms of family violence and the characteristics of healthy relationships. Former participants have overwhelmingly expressed that promoting gender equality and preventing family violence are matters that are important to them.

In November of 2021, Outloud launched UNITY, a sibling program to RESPECT for girls and gender diverse students. This is a testament to the success of the RESPECT Program, as well as Outloud’s ongoing commitment to educating young people about healthy relationships and consent. With the launch of the UNITY Program, Outloud will continue to empower young people in Western Sydney by amplifying their voices in their community through art.

“I Want To Be Treated Equally” – The UNITY Pilot (2018)
“Stand Up and Make a Change” – Georges Hall Public School (2022)

Thredbo Alpine Club – a student initiative

The Early Days

Thredbo in 1957 was not much more than an idea, road access through the valley from Jindabyne having only opened in 1956 thanks to the requirements of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. Thredbo Alpine Club (www.tac.org.au) was one of the first lodges built in the fledgeling resort and was the initiative of a group of Sydney University students who spotted an opportunity and had the enthusiasm and commitment to turn it into a reality.

Between September 1957 and June 1958 this hard-working group managed to secure a site, found a club, raise finance, and design and build a lodge that could accommodate up to twenty-eight people (eight double bunk rooms to sleep sixteen and six double bunk beds in the hallway spaces under the stairs as overflow space for twelve). Most of the original one hundred and fifty members came from the Sydney University Ski Club, the Faculties of Law and Architecture and the residential colleges.

Thredbo Alpine Club in 1958
The more things change….

In the sixty-five years since then, much has changed. Like the resort itself, the club has grown and now has a membership of four hundred and fifty, among them many second-generation families of original members. The building has undergone one major and several minor renovations and now provides accommodation for thirty-two people in sixteen twin bedrooms. What began as a ski club mainly focussed on winter in the mountains is now one that aims at promoting all alpine sports both winter and summer.

Thredbo Alpine Club after the renovation in the 1980s (the original stone wall is still visible at the base of the building)
…the more things stay the same.

While there have been many changes, there remain some constants that speak to the culture at the heart of the club. Just as they did when the club opened, the members share a love of the mountains and the alpine outdoors, and this shared interest forms the basis of the club’s collegiate and connected community. The club was built with the blood sweat and tears of a volunteer workforce and continues to be run on a purely volunteer basis by a committee of its members. And probably most importantly, the opening party in 1958 set the benchmark for the continued importance of inclusive sociability in club life.

The Mountain
Where to next?

How a group of uni students came to be involved in creating a ski club and building a lodge in the very early stages of the establishment of what has become one of Australia’s major ski resorts is, to me, an intriguing story. That the club’s story continues to be vibrant sixty-five years later is equally interesting and I hope to be able to trace the arc of that history through old documents and photos so as to pinpoint the major moments that make up the Thredbo Alpine Club timeline.

The Jessie Street National Women’s Library

Esther Whitehead

For my history project I am working with the Jessie Street National Women’s Library. Hidden away amidst the lively Ultimo community centre, between a very competitive table tennis club and a childcare centre. 

The library is fully run by volunteers, many of them retirees who are more than willing to tell you stories of their involvement with feminism, the early women’s movements and the history of the library. So long as you’re generous with the cups of tea these women are generous with their stories. 

Many spoke of the history of the library. The library is named after Jessie Street an early Australian feminist, women’s rights campaigner and an inspiration that many of the volunteers hold dear. A photo of her in black a white is printed on a large canvas frame, the only woman at a conference table of men. 

Jessie was forward thinking for her time and campaigned for the rights of all women. She advocated against discrimination of Aboriginal People. She was involved in gathering signatures for petitions for the 1967 referendum. Before theories of intersectionality existed, even in academic circles, Jessie Street fought for the most marginalised, an inclusive campaigner for peace, for women, for Aboriginal People, for everyone.

The library was opened in 1989, to commemorate the life of Jessie Street almost 20 years after her death. This is an interesting part of the library’s history, it was built to commemorate an individual, but has grown to be so much more than that. It is now a specialist library that holds many rare books, as well the collections from defunct women’s organisations that have sadly lost funding and collapsed over the decades. 

The library holds material related to the kind of women’s history that Jessie Street was involed with, Australian feminist activism and the women’s liberation movement. However it is a broad collection including records on women in the Church and diaries from female migrants to Australia. The shelves are home to many forms of written work from a cookbook from a home economics teacher to government reports into the gender imbalance of Parliament. The remit of the library is anything that aids in telling the story of women, all women, no matter how ordinary their lives. However it only receives material based upon donations so it is not an all encompassing collection, it has blindspots and gaps. Most large donations come from feminists’ personal collections, which are left to the library in their will. So there are things that people don’t think to keep around, or more often, items that the children of these collectors don’t see as worthy of donation. 

One of my favourite parts of the collection is the tapestry collection. These are short pieces of writing by women about their everyday lives. One powerful recount is the story of Antonina Komarowski who lived in Russia throughout Stalin’s rule. She recounts moving to Leningrad for University just before war broke out. 

Some of my favourite artefacts are the serials, these include newsletters, zine and self published literature by feminism activists from 1960’s to 1970’s, the peak of second wave feminism. Multiple zines from the 1970’s contain titlesd like, What Every Woman Should Know About Sex. Followed 

by pages of anatomy diagrams and information on contraception. Access to the knowledge I was taught in year 7 was once radical. We have come so far that the knowledge these women once fought to disseminate is now a mandatory part of the curriculum.

The library’s collection consists of more than just written works, it also has posters, pamphlets and banners. These were the tools activists used to campaign for many of the rights and privileges I enjoy today. From the sign of these posters you can imagine the marches, hear the protest chants and the anger and conviction. But some of the library’s artefacts tell stories of how progress is not linear, and in many ways women are losing the battle.

The wall opposite the entrance to the library is covered in posters, duplicates of those the library already has in its archive. One morning as I was waiting to be buzzed in, looking over these posters and one stood out. It was bright purple and read, “Repeal all abortion laws,” there was no date, but the top stated it was from International Women’s year. 

So I googled it, thinking it would be recent, from the past decade or so, with abortion being such a controversial issue.


47 years ago. Women have been fighting for control over their own bodies. 

Roe v. Wade was just overturned.

Maybe we need to remember these women of the past. So we can continue their fight.