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Grace Genford - Tasmanian History Challenge

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Tags: Women, Parliament

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise with great pride and admiration tonight to talk about our own home-grown public-school-nurtured National History Challenge champion, 10-year-old Grace Genford from Howrah Primary School. Grace and her family David, Amy and sister Ella are here in the Chamber today. Not only did Grace win the Tasmanian History Challenge but she went on to take out the national prize for grade 5 and 6. I had the great honour of sitting down to have a conversation with Grace to inform her project, the topic of which is suffragettes. What role did the suffragettes play in the history of democracy in Australia and how did they change many perspectives on women's role and voting rights?

Many members of the House have the honour of speaking to young people about politics, policy and history. I found this interview with Grace particularly meaningful. I have great hopes for Grace. The letter started with:

Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me this Wednesday. The reason I have asked to interview you is because I am taking part in the National History Challenge which has the theme 'Significance: history matters'. I have chosen to do my project on the Australian women's suffrage movement because I am passionate about women's rights. I wanted to interview a current female politician to explore the differences between then and now and how the suffragettes have influenced the politics of today.

I chose you to interview above anyone else because I also have a very strong passion for the environment and I am inspired by the work you have done. When I grow up I would like to be the leader of the Greens party.

Well, of course, that filled me with hope for the future. I want to read a bit from Grace's project. I believe the reason that it captured the judges was because there was a very novel approach to presenting the history of the suffragettes in Australia. It was through a series of postcards that moved through the time that women have been seeking equality and suffrage in this country. We go from the early life. The postcard is to the History Teachers Association, PO Box 219, Annandale, New South Wales 2038, sent in 1801 from Grace Genford.

The early life of women was, in history early 1800s to infinity BC, women have been born and raised with three simple purposes in life:

(1) To produce babies

(2) To cook, clean and sew

(3) To marry above them

Of course, these rules were made by men. No one bothered asking women what they thought. This led Earth to be a patriarchy led by men. Hear, hear, Mr Speaker.

To understand the suffrage movement, we need to see where and when women's rights began. We move on to Mary I, and a postcard to the History Teachers' Association from a protestant man, where he says -

'Tis the year of 1533 and Queen Mary I, the first ever English matriarch, has succeeded her brother King Edward VI. Even the old men who once laughed at her feeble, female mind, fear her, Bloody Mary. I am aware saying this is treason, but may her reign be a short one.

This is certainly a significant rule in women's history. This is the first female independent monarch in England who rose above the expected norm and ruled a country, and fought for her religion.

Then we went through changing times. There is a postcard from a future suffragette, sent in September 1884. Centuries pass, but by the mid-1800s, times were changing, and gender equality was a worldwide issue that some people wanted to fix.

Australians were proud of their innovations towards women's suffrage. In South Australia, women who were property owners could vote in local elections from 1861. Schools, university and workplaces were opening their doors to women, although they still faced sexism from their peers. More needed to be done, and the fight continued.

We went to the fight. Women thought that if they had the franchise, they would elect politicians who would fight to improve gender equality and other issues in society. Already created groups, such as the Christian Women's Temperance Union and the Social Purity Society, gave their all to the women's suffrage movement. The Women's Suffrage League in Australia was established by an Irish widow, Mary Lee, and another woman, Mary Colton - and this was sent in 1890 by suffragette Vida Goldstein.

We go on to the opposition to women's suffrage - a fellow called David Gornson, who said, 'Women's votes will undermine the Government, destroy the constitution and wreck the nation. We don't make this stuff up!' says the poster. David Gornson says -

Women come up to me and say 'Oh please, Mr Gornson, would you let us have the vote?'. Here is what I say to them: 'Go home, cook a steak and learn to dress your baby if you have one.'

And on it goes.

I am running out of time, which is such a shame, because I want to read all of this in, but I will end with a note by Grace Genford -

The suffragettes were a formidable group of influential and enduring women who are crucial to the way I live today, from the clothes I wear, to the books I read, to my hopes, dreams and ideas. Their impact has been nothing short of significant, but nevertheless, despite the superb work of these heroic challengers, the movement of women's rights carries on.

I want to fight for the development of our society, our country, our nation. It is important for young girls all over the world to speak up for what they believe in, step up and take advantage of opportunities that come their way. Start small and dream big. When you do that, anything is possible.

On behalf of the whole House, it is pretty safe to very warmly congratulate Grace Genford for her outstanding project and the acknowledgement that it received from the National History Teachers' Association. Thank you.

Members - Hear, hear.