As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s shine a light on our own backyard. Take some time today to learn about some iconic and transformative women who helped shape the nation for the better.

A mural dedicated to Margaret Tucker in Shepparton.

Margaret Tucker

“I used to feel that colour was a great problem.. now I don’t feel a scrap concerned about colour and I’m delighted to be a person. Colour is not the issue. We can all live together without hate and bitterness.” – Margaret Tucker.

Margaret Tucker, also affectionately know as ‘Aunty Marge’ was a highly influential Aboriginal civil rights campaigner, political figure, and author.

Margaret, a Yorta Yorta woman, was born in 1904 at Warrangesda Mission, and at the age of 12 became part of the stolen generation. Forced from her parents and sent to Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls as an inmate, Margaret was trained to become a domestic servant for upper class white families.

In 1932, after experiencing years of servitude and abuse, Margaret helped form the Victorian based Australian Aborigines League, becoming the organisation’s treasurer.

She represented the group at the ‘Day of Mourning’ conference, held on Australia day in 1938, a concept still alive today through organisations such as NAIDOC.

In 1964 she became the first Koori woman appointed to the Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board, and in 1968 she was awarded an MBE for services to the Koori community.

A tireless speaker and campaigner for decades, Maragret was instrumental in unearthing and illuminating the lack of rights, racism, and abuse inflicted on indigenous people.

In 1977 she published the first autobiography written by an Aboriginal person, ‘If Everyone Cared’. Her book became one of the pivotal texts which brought aboriginal civil rights into the mainstream consciousness.

Edith Cowan has graced the Australian $50 note since 1995.

Edith Cowan

“One says that I cannot achieve. Well, that one now says, ‘I cannot think properly.’” – Edith Cowan.

Have you ever looked at $50 note and wondered who that is staring back at you? Well, you happen to be looking at Edith Cowan every time you hand over a 50. But what do you know about who she was and what she achieved?

Born in Geraldton in 1861, Edith Cowan grew to become a fierce voice of feminism and cultural and political change in Australia, eventually going on to become Australia’s first ever female MP.

She became a powerful societal voice advocating for women and children’s rights and education in the 1890s, after witnessing clear societal disparity, partly through her husband’s role as a magistrate.

Openly discussing prostitution, domestic violence, sex crimes, and a lack of education for women, Edith became a stalwart of progression through the early part of last century.

She was instrumental in the creation of the Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in 1916, campaigned for women to become justices of the peace 1n 1919 (becoming one herself), became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1920, and was the first female elected to parliament in 1921.

Julia Gillard pictured at the launch of the Multicultural Council 22 August 2011.
Image credit: Kate Lundy.

Julia Gillard

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not.”- Julia Gillard.

From Edith Cowan becoming Australia’s first female Australian MP in 1921, it took another 89 years until we saw Australia’s first and only female Prime Minister.

Regardless of your political views, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Australia finally achieving a female head of state.

After graduating with degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Melbourne, Gillard joined law firm Slater and Gordon, swiftly becoming partner in 1990.

After launching her political career as Chief of Staff to John Brumby, she was elected to the House of representatives in 1998.

After a lofty career in the Labor party, becoming Deputy Prime Minister in 2007, she eventually replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and won the 2010 election.

The Gillard Government was responsible for introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Gonski funding for Australian education, carbon pricing in Australia, and oversaw the National Broadband Network (NBN).

She also delivered a landmark speech to parliament on the pervasive and persistent specter of misogyny and sexism in the workplace and broader society.

She also delivered a national apology to those indigenous families affected by forced adoptions, stating in her speech,

“Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.’

She now serves as Chair of Beyond Blue, a prominent mental health awareness organisation.