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"Too often our history is 'his story'. The tale of man-kind is often only a tale of man. If we owe a duty to rewrite this tale, there must first bestow upon us a duty to write a herstory"

 Cowie, 2009

Miss M. M. Westacott becomes the first female involved in the Council of the Borough of Geelong West. She was the Clerk and Typiste.

Dr Mary Clementina De Garis arrives in Geelong in May 1919. After serving in World War One as a doctor "operating on wounded soldiers while bombs were dropping".


She was the city’s first female medical practitioner. She was an obstetrician and was passionate about women’s health.

She lobbied for Geelong’s first maternity ward when the Geelong Hospital was being rebuilt. After 7 years of lobbying it was built in the 1930s. She delivered 1000 babies in the first seven years of the ward without losing a single mother during childbirth. She continued to work until she was 79 years old.

Marie Thomasina Vivian was a Nurse and Midwife in Colac. She opened a cottage hospital in Beeac. The hospital soon became too small. Marie opened ‘Lochaber’ in the main street of Beeac a larger hospital for the community. 

Fanny Brownbill becomes the first female Labor member of the Victorian parliament. Being born into a poor farming family gave Fanny a lifelong concern for the poor. The then Federal conservative member for Corio, R.G. Casey (later Lord Casey), said that women were ‘not suited to the rough and tumble of parliamentary life’. Fanny replied to this saying

"it is so audacious and conceited that it almost takes my breath away. What a high opinion Mr. Casey has of men, and what a low one of women!"

Elected for Geelong in 1938, Fanny went on to win the seat in the next four state elections. She was so popular that in 1943 and 1945 she was unopposed. She held the seat for a decade until her death in 1948.

Dr. Mary Bishop served for 23 years as a committee member of the Ladies’ Benevolent Association (president for 16 years) raising funds to build 68 units for elderly ladies. For 24 years she was a member of the Soroptimist International of Geelong, working to improve the lives of girls and women in the region. She was also the first chairwoman of the Women’s Branch of the National Trust in Geelong.  

An increasing number of women joined the workforce in this post-war era. Images show women working at sites which were very male-dominated industries at the time.


The Marriage Bar was also lifted in 1956. This law meant that women working in education were not allowed to work after getting married. This was often because women were thought to be more likely “to follow a career path in the home rather than the education department.” 

Gail Couper becomes the first female surfer to win an event at Bells Beach in 1964. She became an almost unbeatable force on the Australian surfing circuit during the 60s and 70s. 


Gail went on to win at Bells nine more times between 1964 and 1976. A record that until this day has never been broken — by a man or woman.

Deakin University was founded in Geelong and Elspeth Hallowes became the first female Deputy Chancellor in 1977. She was a member of the council until 1990.

Vicki Couzens is a member of the Keerray Wooroong language group of the Gunditjmara. She became the Chairperson & Director of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative in 1981. Vicki has worked in the Aboriginal community for more than 35 years in various roles. 

Lyn McInnes began work as the Aboriginal Health Liaison Officer in the Department of Aboriginal Health, Geelong Hospital in 1984. Lyn has provided over 27 years of service in Aboriginal health in Geelong.

Jan Mitchell settled in Geelong in 1990. She started doing book illustration, painting and printmaking.

Jan She took the concept of the Baywalk Bollards to Geelong city commissioners in 1994, and by 1999 there were over 100 brightly painted bollards, made out of recovered wharf pylons, scattered along the foreshore, depicting notable characters relating to Geelong's history and culture.

Kelly Cartwright represented Australia at the 2012 Paralympics. She won a gold and silver medal for the Women's Long Jump and 100 m events. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2014.

Geelong Rainbow Inc. was founded in 2018. Organiser Lyndal Coon says “The idea was to become an umbrella organisation for the Queer community and support those groups and organisations that are already in existence and look for areas that need filling.”

You write the rest of HERstory...

We recognise this HERstory timeline does not and could never represent all of the women who have helped shape our region. 

Images and information from:

State Library Victoria

State Library of Queensland

Djillong, a Timeline

Geelong West - Proclaimed a Town

One Man's Eye


The Barwon Month of Action group acknowledges the Traditional Owners of country throughout the Barwon region. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.

© 2019 Barwon Month of Action

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