If we need an example of how feminist advances are uneven and stop-start, then Australia certainly comes to mind. On the one hand, Australians were in the forefront. Women’s suffrage was established before the end of the 19th century, in South Australia (1895) and Western Australia (1899). With Federation in 1902, women also gained the right to vote and stand for election for the federal Parliament. By 1911, this applied to all states and territory parliaments. Australians were therefore in a good position to support others elsewhere in the world. Yet, on the other hand, whilst women were elected early to state parliaments (Edith Cowan being the first in WA), no woman entered federal Parliament until Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tagney in 1943. Most seriously of all, it was 1967 before Indigenous people (male and female) were fully free to participate and 2013 before the first Indigenous woman (Nova Peris) was elected to Federal Parliament. Indeed, ’tis a long row to hoe’…
Sir John Cockburn K.C.M.G (1850-1926) was perhaps the most important of those Australians who gave support and encouragement to those seeking the vote elsewhere. A former Fellow of King’s College, London, he had risen to Premier and Chief Secretary of South Australia and was a regular representative at international congresses in the early years of the twentieth century. He was able to share this wider experience and add his weight to many gatherings, acting among other respects as president of the Men’s International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage, and as vice-president of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.
Several Australian women also lent support to women’s struggle elsewhere, including the redoubtable Vida Goldstein (1869-1949). Daughter of devout Christians (of Polish, Jewish, Irish and Scottish stock), from the 1890s to the 1920s, Vida actively supported women’s rights in a plethora of ways, including through the suffrage organisations, the National Council of Women, the Victorian Women’s Public Servants’ Association and the Women Writers’ Club. She energetically lobbied parliament on issues such as equality of property rights, birth control, equal naturalisation laws, the creation of a system of children’s courts and raising the age of marriage consent. An ardent pacifist, she also became chairman of the Peace Alliance in the First World War and formed the Women’s Peace Army in 1915. In addition, she stood unsuccessfully for Parliament on several occasions.
God of all peoples,
we give you thanks for Sir John Cockburn, Vida Goldstein,
and all who have worked for truth and justice across national boundaries.
May the Spirit of healing and human solidarity
spread through all places of hurt and hatred,
until the world reverberates with joy
and all peoples are free.
In the power of the same Holy Spirit, poured upon all nations at Pentecost, Amen.