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Thursday, 18 July 2019
Government House
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC

As Patron, I am delighted to welcome you to Government House on this special birthday occasion - the 90th Anniversary of the Women’s Pioneer Society of Australasia.

In welcoming you, I acknowledge our traditional owners and custodians on the land on which we come together – the Gadigal of the Eora Nation and I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

Our State and our nation was founded on many qualities and one of the qualities we celebrate today is the strength and resilience of women – Indigenous and non-Indigenous; the Gadigal women who, from near here, launched their nawi canoes into this Harbour to fish, and who held a central position as lawmakers and providers, and our pioneering women settlers, who contributed so much to building the fabric of our community.

Our pioneering women in New South Wales, of whom many of you are descended, forged lives in this land under very difficult circumstances – with few resources and little assistance, reliant on their own capabilities and determination, often bringing up sizable families. They were explorers, some travelling vast distances in harsh landscapes to establish lives far removed from towns and other communities.

You may know the award-winning novel and family history by Kate Grenville which was made into a play and TV series, The Secret River. This gives us a glimpse of the harshness of this life, in this case, on the Hawkesbury River.

A beautiful statue near Government House, the Pioneer Woman Statue in the Jessie Street Gardens, on Loftus Street, Circular Quay, honours this important history.

Unveiled by then patron, Lady Rowland, wife of Governor Rowland on Saturday 19th November 1988, as a Bicentennial gift, it was commissioned by the Women’s Pioneer Society in recognition of the courage and endurance of our Women Pioneers and the vital role they played in the development of this nation.

This morning, we come together to celebrate our women trailblazers and the work of the Women’s Pioneer Society, which has continued without interruption since 1929.

1929, as we know, was the first year in what came to be known as the Great Depression, so we can imagine the challenging economic and social environment in which five women who formed the Women’s Pioneer Society on 7 June 1929 came together in the shadow of Governor Arthur Phillip’s statue in the Royal Botanic Garden.

Their intent was to preserve the memory of our early pioneering women, to celebrate their strength and in doing so, they found strength and in support from each other.

These five women were:

-       Miss Carlotta Doyle (1870-1946) Ancestor: Cyrus Hastings Doyle 

  • Honorary Organising secretary of the Women’s Pioneer Society – born in Killarney Station, Narrabri.
  • The Doyles lived at “Ulinbawn” in Sackville Reach – built in 1812.
    • “Ulinbawn” = still standing. The name was brought by the Doyle family, from their family home in County Wicklow, Ireland.
    • “Ulinbawn” is still standing – it started as a family home, for a number of years from 1923 it was used as a school (for 12 local pupils), during WWII to billet RAAF personnel, and since the 1960s has been a family home again.

-       Miss Alma Laycock

  • First honorary treasurer of the Women’s Pioneer Society; great-great-granddaughter of Captain Thomas Laycock, who came out on the Second Fleet in 1789.
  • Captain Laycock was 6ft 8in tall and a member of the court that inquired into the Norfolk Island Mutiny.

-       Mrs Kathleen Shekleton (1873-1959), her sister

-       Miss Alma Ruth Bedford – a descendant of Sir Alfred Stephen, who arrived in Hobart in 1825 as Solicitor-General, who had 18 children and was painted by Wainwright, ‘the poisoner’ – who painted all the portraits of notables in Hobart in the ‘early days’.

-       Miss Inez M. Radford (1869-1950) Ancestor: Dr Henry Wyatt Radford

-       Mrs (R.C.) Mary F.P. Griffiths (1875-1957) Ancestor: Robert Fitz

-       Miss Iris da Silva Waugh (1879-1942) Ancestor: Lt. Col. Charles Cameron[1]

-       Mrs N V Pockley – The sister of ‘Stacey’, headmaster of The King’s School for 10 years, before resigning to go to the Great War, and then served as Archdeacon of Palestine, and inspector of ophthalmic hospitals in Egypt for some years following the war. 

I understand the Sirius Room at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia features a magnificent collection of miniatures of these pioneers and many others - including women of the Macarthur, Garling, Hume, Cox, Blaxland and Johnston families – and ancestors of women here, who contributed so much to our community. I look forward to viewing this collection.

Today, we should take a few moments to reflect on the lives and the achievements of these women - and of women in general, in New South Wales, over the past 90 years.

In doing so, we recognise the contribution of the present generation of women of the Women’s Pioneer Society of Australasia, including everyone here today. I know this year is also a special year as one of your members, Mrs Marlene Reid, former President and Treasurer of the Society for the past 8 years, is soon to receive her Queen’s Birthday Order of Australia Medal for ‘Service to women and the community.’ I look forward to presenting Marlene with this medal in September.

To all members here, thank you for continuing to promote the spirit and the legacy of the Women’s Pioneer Society.

It is so important that the stories of these women are not forgotten. They are an important part of our nation’s history, of which women’s history forms an integral part.

Please join me as we sing Happy Birthday and cut the cake.       

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