Women’s History Month


I’ll be participating in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge this year with the aim of promoting Australian women from the past to the present who have led the charge in their own way : the scientists, the inventors, the creatives and the dreamers.

I will be borrowing from the Trailblazing Women of Australia blog which a friend and I started as a Lockdown project in the throes of the pandemic. Months in we have only scratched the surface…….

March is Women’s History Month so it is appropriate to share my favourite tale about women from the past who were courageous and yet great fun.

The Peaches of the Beaches.

Many of you would know of Terrigal on the Central Coast of New South Wales with its beautiful beaches making it popular with locals and tourists alike. Back in the 1940’s it was a sleepy fishing village with a population of less than 500.

During World War 2 the Surf Lifesaving Association of Australia (SLSA) was stretched to provide rescue services along the beaches anywhere along the Australian Coast. From the Surf Club at Terrigal only four men were available to patrol the beaches when 72 men went off to war.

This led the female members of the club – mostly wives, sweethearts and sisters – to ask permission to become lifesavers. Their application to the controlling body failed though this did not deter them.

They were trained in surf lifesaving skills by chief instructor Harry Vickery and were assessed by Central Coast Life Saving’s inaugural president Dr E.A. Martin. In two exams some 30 women qualified for the equivalent of the bronze medallion, receiving certificates on Terrigal beach and going on to volunteer to patrol the area over the summer seasons.

These young women undertook their duties with enthusiasm and passion. They even made their own swimming costumes and uniforms out of sheets, curtains and the odd parachute­ despite not having been awarded their bronze medallions.

At wars end 70 men returned and resumed lifesaving duties with the women being relegated to their previous tasks.

It wasn’t until 75 years later in 2017 that the women who patrolled the beaches of Terrigal during World War 2 were finally recognised. They were awarded their Bronze Medallions, most posthumously to the families, as well as a special Terrigal Parliamentary Award to acknowledge their contribution to the community.

The Surf Life Saving Association finally admitted women as full members in 1980 and now benefit from more than 80,000 dedicated female members of all ages across Australia contributing in activities from active patrolling, to surf sports, education and everything in between.    

For a look back at these Terrigal surf lifesaving trailblazers I recommend the archives at The National Film and Sound Archive. Try not to laugh at the commentary though…….Go here : https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/australias-first-female-lifesavers

You can also listen to 92 year old Muriel Jones talk about her days as a surf lifesaver at Terrigal here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/centralcoast/programs/breakfast/ww2-female-surf-lifesavers-finally-recognised/9178846

(Courtesy of M Green – Trailblazing Women of Australia)

15 thoughts on “Women’s History Month

  1. I always wonder if they were born in Australia or came to Australia from another place. Wasn’t there a famous story about the people coming from another land setting up colonies? Interesting.

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      1. Don’t know about Americans deported to Australia, only that 16,000 Aussie women married Americans during WW2 and relocated to the land of the brave. I only recently discovered that several generations back an Irish relative stole a pig in order to feed his family and was transported as a convict to NSW. I proudly tell people that would explain why the best meal I have eaten is pork belly watching the sun go down on Galway Bay 🙂

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  2. I have only recently discovered, when undertaking family research, a personal connection to Cecilia Annetta Carrington. Perhaps not courageous, but certainly, a trailblazer!

    I’m on a mission to find out more but, thus far, I do know that, as the wife of the newly-appointed Governor of NSW, Cecilia immediately established a reputation for working for oppressed women and children, through her management of the Jubilee Fund. She held an exhibition, the first of its kind, of the work of women, open to girls and women of all ages and backgrounds. Her contemporaries noted that she showed ‘a business capacity for which women are rarely credited’.

    I am determined to unearth the exact contents of a speech she gave in 1888 to a gathering of over 1,000 underprivileged children, in which she told of the Carrington family’s humble origins in England. That, I am hoping, may reveal more about Richard Glassey Smith, my great grandfather (the Governor’s second cousin), and his lowly side of the family, when all the Carringtons were known by the common name, Smith.

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    1. Fascinating family history and good luck with the research. I hope you have the opportunity to share the rest of Cecilia’s story soon 🙂
      In my last work role I sat next to a lovely lass in her teens who was bright, funny, and a computer whizz. She would often share tidbits about her “dear little nanna”. It was only later I learned that dear little nanna was one of the first female coding gurus in Australia! I kept telling my young friend to write a book about her elderly relative. It’s okay: the 85 year old wrote it herself!!!
      The message being that we each have a story to tell of some kind. Share it, don’t lose it.
      Keep researching young Diana 🙂

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