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4 - SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT - THE CANBERRA TIMES - MARCH 8, 2011
A CELEBRATION OF INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN
1921 Edith Cowan becomes
the first woman elected to an
1927 Child Endowment
Allowance payable to mothers is
1932 Married Women (Lecturers
and Teachers) Act (NSW)
introduced. Women had to
resign from permanent teaching
positions upon marriage.
1943 Dame Enid Lyons
becomes a member of the
House of Representatives for
the United Australia Party.
1947 Married Women (Lecturer's
and Teachers) Act repealed.
1950 Female basic wage set at
75 per cent of male wage.
1961 Australian women get
access to the Pill.
1966 The ban on the
employment of married women
in the Commonwealth Public
Service is lifted
1966 Annabelle Rankin
becomes first woman Federal
minister, appointed Minister of
1972 The Commonwealth
Conciliation and Arbitration
Commission rules that women
doing the same job as men
have the right to be paid the
1975 Family Law Act brings in
"no fault" divorce.
1979 Australian women win the
right to maternity leave
1984 Sex Discrimination Act
passed by Federal Parliament.
1986 Joan Childs becomes first
female speaker of the Federal
1986 Janine Haines becomes
first woman to lead an Australian
1987 Justice Mary Gaudron first
woman appointed to the High
1989 First female head of state
Rosemary Follett in ACT.
1990 Joan Kirner (Vic) and
Carmen Lawrence (WA)
become first women state
2010 Julia Gillard becomes the
first female Prime Minister.
2011 Australia's first national
Paid Parental Leave scheme
a century of change
Ellen Taylor has never done a day's paid work in her life, but has
probably worked harder than most today, writes Karen Hardy
Ellen Taylor will be 101 on April 23.
She's lived through the century that
International Women's Day is
celebrating today. Lived through
the fight for equality, through significant
changes in society, through major
developments and breakthroughs in women's
She was just shy of her first birthday when
more than one million women and men
attended International Women's Day rallies
in countries such as Austria, Denmark,
Germany and Switzerland, campaigning for
women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to
hold public office and end discrimination.
But all of this couldn't be further from Mrs
Taylor's mind, nor that of her mother
Elizabeth Mahar, who was not far from
having her next child, her 10th and last when
IWD itself was being born.
Elizabeth herself was one of 12 children,
with eight sisters and four brothers, her
family firmly settled in the dairy region of
Reidsdale, just out of Braidwood.
In Mrs Taylor's homely room at Mirinjani
Village there's a faded photograph of her
mother and her sisters, proud and straight in
their Sunday best, dresses of stiff lace and
cotton, their hair curled and in place.
It's hard to imagine what these eight
women lived through, born in the 1800s
when a woman's lot, to us now, seemed little.
What stories would these women be able to
tell about their standing in society, their
treatment, their opportunities? Did they feel
hard done by? Were they glad they were born
women? Did they live a full life?
For Mrs Taylor, there's not a hint of regret.
And her memories are full of the details of
everyday life. Looking back at her life she
doesn't mention too many political moments,
there's no talk of suffrage or the vote or pay
equality. No, the things she best remembers
are tennis matches after church on a Sunday,
of taking the horse and sulky into Braidwood
for New Year's Eve dances.
The happiest day of her life was her
wedding day, to Jack, on February 18, 1943.
Two days later The Braidwood Dispatch ran
a story of the event, talking about her all-
white French crepe ensemble with matching
coat, the handsome handbag that was a gift
from her new husband and their honeymoon
in Bowral and Sydney.
''Jack was standing so straight that day,''
Mrs Taylor remembers, ''Look in that
photograph how much I'm holding on to
The couple had known each other for many
years, Jack, too, had family in the Reidsdale
''We always had eyes for each other,'' she
says. ''He was a very good husband, he was
a lovely dancer too, that was always
something we did together.''
The pair spent the best part of 50 years
together before Jack died in 1992, of cancer.
One of the worst days of her life, Mrs Taylor
says. She still keeps a photograph of them
together near her bed.
Mrs Taylor was 30 before she got married.
She admits that was ''quite an age back
then'' but as the youngest girl it was expected
that she'd stay at home and help look after her
parents and the dairy farm.
She went to school in Araluen, walking
four kilometres there and back each day, until
she was just 10, but then her days were spent
working on the farm and helping around the
''There was the milking and making butter
and churning, all of those sort of things,'' she
says. ''My brother and I would get the cows
and bring them in and milk them . We didn't
have milking machines in those days, it was
all done by hand.''
Mrs Taylor jokes that's why families in the
dairy areas were so large back then.
''There were a lot of cows to be milked by
Mrs Taylor's father William was a
member of the The Reidsdale Rural
Cooperative Society, a group of dairy farmers
who financed the construction of a new state-
of-the-art cheese factory in 1927. It cost
around £1200, a considerable investment for
the day, and supplied high-quality cheese for
the next 30 years. At its peak the Society was
supplying more than 900 gallons of milk a
day, supplying not only the local region but
Sydney and the growing town of Canberra.
Mrs Taylor talks about growing up in
Reidsdale, sharing a double bed with six of
her sisters, living without power, without
lights, without even an icebox.
''I don't think we had electricity until I
was close to 20,'' she says.
''But that's just how we lived. We knew no
different. We just did the best with what we
had and got on with things. That's what
people did back then. There was no point
thinking any differently.''
When Mrs Taylor and Jack got married
they moved into Canberra, living at the
Stromlo Forestry Settlement where Jack was
a forestry worker. The house they lived in
was the one where, 60 years later, the body of
Dorothy McGrath would be found after the
Memories of the bushfires resonated with
Mrs Taylor. She was at home in 1951 when
bushfires ravaged Stromlo. Denis, her eldest
son, was at school, but she had younger sons
Brian and John at home. They evacuated the
house to return later to glowing expanses of
''Looking out from our house that evening,
it looked just like a city, down all over the
place, there were little lights everywhere, it
was the stumps burning in the dark.''
She remembers the Prime Minister's
Lodge being the last building they'd see on
their way home from a Saturday of shopping
''If you weren't in Kingston on a Saturday
you were either out of town or sick,'' she
says. ''Everyone was there.''
And she remembers the construction of
Lake Burley Griffin in the 1960s.
''My husband thought that was just
dreadful, covering all that beautiful land with
water,'' she says. ''He was quite hostile
about it I remember. Jack did not like the
grassland being covered, not at all.''
Mrs Taylor's not one to dwell on whether
women have it easier today than she and her
contemporaries did. She's a firm believer that
women, whatever their circumstance, do the
best they can to raise happy families, keep
happy homes. She's never done a day's paid
work in her life, but has probably worked
harder than many women who now bring
home a wage.
''I've spent my life just poking along,
getting things done and not worrying too
much about things,'' she says.
''Family has always been the most
important thing in life, it still is.''
Ellen now has 14 grandchildren and 16
great-grandchildren. The youngest, Lucy,
will turn one a week or so before her great-
grandmother turns 101. A century between
them. Can Ellen imagine what Lucy might
see if she lives to be the same age?
''Oh goodness gracious, imagine,'' Ellen
says. ''Lucy is the brightest thing there ever
was, you can't keep up with her. Imagine
what the next 100 years might bring.''
'' I don't think we had electricity until I was close to 20. But
that's just how we lived. We knew no different. We just did
the best with what we had and got on with things. That's
what people did back then
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