Here’s to the ladies of South Australia


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By Cat Lever

South Australia has a long history of gender equality milestones, and it’s no surprise that the state has produced some of the world’s most inspiring women.

Here’s just a few of the female-first endeavours and internationally renowned women we’ve celebrated over the decades.

In 1881 The University of Adelaide became the first university in Australia to admit women to degrees.

South Australia was the first state in Australia to allow women to vote in 1894. A year later, we were the first state in the world to pass legislation allowing women to stand in parliament.

In 1915, South Aussie police officers Miss Kate Cocks and Miss Annie Ross became the first women in Australia (and the first in the British Empire) to be appointed as police constables, on equal terms with male officers.

Kate Cocks, one of Australia’s first female police officers. Image: State Library of South Australia

Members of the S.A. Women’s Police Force in 1934: front: L-R: Melva Harris, Daisy Rose Curtis, Kate Cocks, Maud Mary Wilcher, Mary J. Poole, Margaret Ottoway. Back: Ethel Frances Gleeson, Mary A. McCarthy, Isobel Eunson, Jean Campbell, Adeline Williams, Constance McGrath, Maude Priest. Image: State Library of South Australia

Gifted musician Ruby Davy of Salisbury, in 1918, became the first woman in Australia to receive a Doctorate of Music, a feat that no other woman would replicate for another 58 years.

In 1919 Mrs Susan Benny of the Brighton Council (now Holdfast Bay Council) became the first woman elected to local government in Australia.

Dame Roma Mitchell was the first female judge in Australia, becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia in 1965.

Dame Roma Mitchell, Australia’s first female judge

Ruby Hammond, who hails from South Australia’s South East, was a foundation member of the Council of Aboriginal Women of SA, and in 1988 she was the first indigenous South Australian to run for Federal Parliament.

Adelaide’s own Natasha Stott Despoja AM (who features in the header photo along with Julie Bishop at the Welcome Reception for the Ambassador for Women and Girls, 2014) was Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, and was the leader of the Australian Democrats and senator for South Australia for over a decade. Natasha was the youngest woman to sit in the Parliament of South Australia, appointed to the Senate at the age of 26 in 1995.

Political star Natasha Stott Despoja was in 1995 the youngest woman to sit in the Parliament of Australia, at age 26

In 2007 Kate Ellis, who grew up in Mannum, and went on to attend Daws Road High School in Adelaide, became the Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport, making her the youngest federal minister in Australia.

Writer and film director Taryn Brumfitt is an internationally recognised keynote speaker and global inspiration as the force behind Body Image Movement, a crusade to end body dissatisfaction. She has been recognised by the United Nations Women, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and the Geena Davis Institute.

Taryn Brumfitt’s documentary film Embrace has generated gross revenue in excess of 3 million dollars

Hailing from the Adelaide Hills, Julie Bishop was the first female deputy leader of the Liberal Party, a title she held for over a decade, and she was Australia’s first female foreign affairs minister.

Julie Bishop was the first female deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and Australia’s first female Minister for Foreign Affairs

Julia Gillard, who grew up in Adelaide attending Unley High School, is the first and to-date only woman to hold positions of deputy prime minister, prime minister, and leader of a major party (Australian Labor Party) in Australia.

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Adelaide-born musician Sia released her album 1000 Forms of Fear, which debuted at number one in the US Billboard 200 in 2014.

Former Adelaide High School student Sia Furler has received nine Grammy Award nominations.

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