Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Queensland Women's History Project

I spoke a number of times in this place about the Centenary of Women's Suffrage in Queensland in 2005. Amongst many projects that were celebrated during our year of commemoration last year was one that was put together by a couple of women who looked at the issue of women's history. I want to pay tribute this evening to Dr Jullian Clare from the QUT, my friend Beverley Perel, who was a founding member of UNIFEM in Australia, and Ms Scotia Monkivitch, a choreographer and artiste in the Queensland area, who thought that during 2005 we needed to encourage women and their families across Queensland to be part of a project they called the 'Women's history shoe box collection' . The concept of this project was: celebrating, researching and recording. The idea was that by talking with women across the state-personally where possible, by website, by phone-throughout the year, we would encourage them to take time during the year of the centenary to think about the things that were important to them and their families, to look at their own history, to go back and to commemorate what was important to them and their families about the issue of the vote, about the issues of being part of a democracy and about what they were doing now and also what their mothers and their grandmothers were doing then. The women were encouraged to go back to the time of the 1905 decision and then the first vote in 1907 to see whether they could trace back and celebrate the achievement of the vote, research their own histories and then record them. One of the real issues that we consistently find in our community is that our history is not being effectively recorded. The Queensland Women's History Project was part of making a statement in Queensland that wonderful and exciting things have happened for women and we should know about them.

What this group did was seek funding, which is always really important, and then work with an increasing group of people to try to get this message out there. They called upon students at the QUT to work with them, to develop websites and to work with student communities to document through film some of the achievements of the process to ensure women were part of our year. Guidelines were developed for the kinds of things that could be involved in the project. People were looking at what is important in our lives. When people took the time to stop and think about the issues, they could look back through their own lives and find things that were important to them.

I want to talk a little about my own experience in this process because, whilst I am totally committed to the project, it took me a bit of time to actually sit down and create my own shoe box. But I did, and it was a fascinating experience because it gave me the chance to look in my own cupboards, to think back about the things that my mum and my grandmother-whom I did not know-did, to trace my family history, to see how long my own family had been involved in community politics on the Darling Downs and where they were at the time the decisions were being made about suffrage, and then to somehow put all that information about my own family in one small box. This caused a lot of consternation among the people in my office and also with my two sisters, because we got into the process-which was one of the exciting aspects-of celebrating, researching and talking to each other about the kinds of things that we would put into the box. We got the normal documentation.

We found records-such things as birth certificates and school reports, which caused a bit of interest in terms of who actually did get the higher marks at different times. We also found out about different statements that were made in the family regarding celebrations that occurred. We found old cards that had been circulated in the family on the occasions of birthdays and marriages, and we were able to put them in the boxes. That brought back memories of the family members who have passed now. Through this process we were able to relive experiences. We found things like candles that were used at special celebrations, graduation certificates and photographs from school. This led to people talking and catching up with old school friends. So the process and the project had a life of its own-and it grew, because as we did this we gathered more people into our celebration and our research.

The project ended on 17 March, when we were able to gather together as a group and look at what had been achieved. It really was a chance to thank the project coordinators and to share the experience. I am hoping that through the film that was made about this whole exercise we will be able to continue growing the research and the celebration. We were able to gather at the QUT campus, which is an historic site itself, and talk with other people who had created their own shoe boxes-boxes of memories about them and their families. In one particular case, we had three generations of one family-women who had got together and put in their memories and the collections that they thought reflected the experiences that they had had.

They were personal, but they were also a record of ordinary people and the history of Queensland.

I think this particular project has such relevance and importance for all of us as we move forward into the next centenary of democracy in Queensland. I was able to share some of these experiences with school groups. Recently I returned to the Lockyer Valley to what has become an annual event on the Lockyer Valley school calendar-an International Women's Day celebration. That has now been going for a number of years, and I have been fortunate enough to attend three of them to watch the enjoyment and the growing awareness of the young people in this area about why democracy, the issue of achievement and their own family histories in the area are important.

This year, when I spoke with the large group of kids who had gathered together to celebrate International Women's Day about the fact that we had moved through 2005 and now we were moving into the next centenary of voting in Queensland, I asked how many of them had been at the previous function. A number of hands went up. Then I asked them whether they had done what I had requested the year before, which was to go back and talk with their families in this wonderfully historic part of Queensland and to try and trace their own families, what the families of the Lockyer Valley were doing in 1905 when this monumental decision to extend the vote to women in the colony was made in the Queensland parliament and where the women went to vote for the first time in 1907. The exciting thing was that several of the girls and boys in that group had done exactly that. Through my experiences at that school, I was actually living the celebrating and researching aspects of the women's shoe box project and was able to keep this project alive on behalf of Dr Clare and Ms Perel. Where are all those shoe boxes going to go now in terms of the collections of personal histories and this statement of what was happening in Queensland in 2005? They are now going to be dedicated and given to the State Library and put away for a certain period of time. Some of the fun that we had on 17 March was to imagine what will happen in 50 years or 100 years, when the women of that generation will be able, I hope, to open these boxes and see what all of us thought was important in our time. That encapsulates why it is so important that we do document and record our history, because only by doing that are we able to see the value, the excitement and the wealth of Queenslanders and their lives. Only by doing projects such as the Women's History Project-in particular, this shoe box project, which gives people the chance to look at their own lives-can we encourage the people of 2005-06 to be involved and to plan for the future. Looking back at the last 100 years of the vote, I think that we have great strength and we can do even better in the next 100 years.

28 March, 2006