It is the evening of 1 January 1995. The place is Tennant Creek, community hub for The Barkly Tableland in the middle of the Northern Territory. My friend, Shazza, has come round for dinner. Naturally, at the beginning of the year one's thoughts turn to the year ahead, what one might do, what plans one might make. I said to Shazza I reckon I might go to this women's forum in Beijing. Shazza quickly responded that if I was going she was coming too.
Sharon Kinraid - Beijing 1995
One thing led to another. By the end of January,
- a meeting had been held in the electorate office of Maggie Hickey, Member for Barkly in the NT Legislative Assembly
- an organisation had been established called The Women of the Barkly
- a fundraising program had been initiated with the intent of subsidising members of The Women of the Barkly who attended the Women's Forum to be held later that year in Beijing.
Maggie Hickey MLA (in sunglasses) with Penny Curtis
at the pre-Beijing display at Julalikari, Tennant Creek
Beginning in 1975, the first UN Women's Conference was held in Mexico City. The UN Decade for Women went from 1976-1985. The Mid-Decade Conference was held in Copenhagen in 1980 and the End of the Decade Conference was held in Nairobi in 1985. Governments nominate delegates to the official conference. They need not be members of Parliament. Australia's contingents have usually comprised a mix of female politicians and distinguished women supported by a number of bureaucrats. Side by side with the official Conferences have been Women's Forums. Anyone can go to these.
|Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
In 1985, the Commonwealth of Australia made a decision to fund 20 women to attend the End of the Decade Women's Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. I was at work - I managed the Mount Isa Public Library at that time - and received a phone call from Quentin Bryce - yes, the same Quentin Bryce who is now Governor-General of Australia. I had established - with the help of some great friends - the Union for Western Women to work for and give a voice to women living in remote north-west Queensland. When the Hawke Government came to power it had established outposts of the Office of Status of Women in Brisbane and Hobart. This had been done because the ultra conservative state governments in Queensland and Tasmania had dug their heels in and refused to establish entities to serve the specific needs of women. In fact, in Queensland where I lived under the Bjelke-Petersen police state, Joh Bjelke-Petersen use to claim that Women's Shelters were hives of Marxist activity! Quentin headed up the Queensland outpost ably assisted by Beryl Holmes. Quentin was the fairy godmother of the Union for Western Women. One of our great themes was that, because we were isolated, we needed to network with people to bring information in and we needed to network with people so that they could see how we lived and worked and take our information out. Ordinarily, this would be the work of a politician but our State and Federal representatives were conservative and not very good at doing these simple tasks. But Quentin came, Quentin saw, Quentin communicated as she still does to-day.
For the first time in my life, I was off overseas - to Nairobi. What an experience! Africa - 12,000 women from everywhere - radical, conservative, ordinary women. The clothes, the hair, the cultures, the discussions!
Korean women - Beijing 1995
Because I lived in Mount Isa, I searched for workshops which would speak about the topic of remoteness and underdevelopment in a first world country. There was nothing that quite hit the spot. There and then I decided that if I came to a conference like this again, I would do a workshop myself.
My 1985 Nairobi decision to do a workshop resulted in the 1995 decision by The Women of the Barkly decision to do a workshop at the Women's Forum in Beijing. Not only did we make a decision to do the workshop, we applied successfully to the Australia Council for funding to make a video and commission a photographic exhibition to depict the life and art of The Women of the Barkly.
The photographic exhibition was not a difficulty because we had two talented female photographers in town who could work together on the project. One was Pauline Buxton and I cannot recall the name of the other. Perhaps someone else can help me out in this regard. They depicted women in all sorts of occupations even that of a jockey!
The video - professional, broadcast quality video - would have, ordinarily, been a bit more difficult. But we had a good and talented Tennant Creek friend in Gerardine O'Sullivan who used to work with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). She promised and delivered a wonderful video called Strong Women : Strong Land..
When these two major commissions were fulfilled we had just enough money left to produce a brochure which explained everything. We whizzed through Alice Springs to catch our flight to Sydney picking up the brochures en route. On the flight from Sydney to Beijing we began our publicity blitz on the plane. See brochure images and flyer below.
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In Beijing, one of the most exciting things was that not only did we have so many women packed into our Workshop that we had to close the doors, Carmen Lawrence, who was then Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, had chosen Tuesday to be her day to visit the Forum - and she came to our workshop. When one is away from home in a foreign land doing a workshop at a women's forum, it fills one with pride to be visited by your very own Minister.
Carmen Lawrence (in the red dress)
with women from The Barkly region of the Northern Territory
UN Women's Forum - Beijing - 1995
The enthusiasm of little tiny Tennant Creek for Beijing Women's Forum 1995 - and our menfolk were right behind us too and we would be pulled up in the supermarket to describe our adventures when we got home - was catching. Local CWA and ATSIC women came too. Arguably, Tennant Creek and The Barkly sent more women (as a percentage of population) than Sydney did!
So please take this trip down Memory Lane seriously, and go back to the previous post and complete the petition for yet another Women's Conference and Forum. The only continent which has not yet been represented as a host for these Conferences is Australia. There is a section on the petition for making comment. Could you please use this to put in a plug for the next UN Women's Conference and Forum to be held in Oceania, in particular Australia. And then lobby relevant Minister's for Women's Affairs at Commonwealth, State and Territory level accordingly. You might even like to send them a copy of this post.
Brigid O'Carroll Walsh