Zelda D’Aprano (nee Orloff) grew up in a two-bedroom house in Carlton, Victoria, in an Orthodox Jewish household, with two siblings and working class, migrant parents.
She left school before she was 14 to work in various factories to support her family. Married at 16 to Charlie D’Aprano, who left her 21 years later, Zelda had a daughter at 17. In 1961 she fully qualified as a dental nurse and completed her Leaving Certificate in 1965, at the same time as her daughter. She attended night school for two years graduating in 1967 as a qualified chiropodist.
It was whilst employed in factory jobs that Zelda first started to notice the inequalities that female workers faced, especially related to the pay gap.
Whilst working at a Psychiatric Hospital as a dental nurse Zelda joined the Hospital Employees’ Federation No.2 Branch, where she was made shop steward in charge of all female dental nurses, though she had little support due to her gender. In 1969 she went to join the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU), to work in a clerical position where she was appalled by the conditions in the office, and even more so after discovering that there was nowhere to air her grievances.
During that year the AMIEU was being used as a test case for the Equal Pay Case and Zelda and several other women waited as the case was being decided in the Arbitration Court. In October 1969, after the case failed, she chained herself to the doors of the Commonwealth Building alongside women who worked in the building supporting her, eventually being cut free by police. Ten days later, she was joined by Alva Geikie and Thelma Solomon, and they chained themselves to the doors of the Arbitration Court, the one which had dismissed the Equal Pay Case. For this activism Zelda was dismissed from the AMIEU.
The next year, these three women founded the Women’s Action Committee to jump start the Women’s Liberation Movement in Melbourne, encouraging women to become more involved in activism.
Zelda said “we had passed the stage of caring about a “lady-like” image because women had for too long been polite and ladylike and were still being ignored”.
This led the women to take more militant action on their path to equal pay. The Women’s Action Committee continued to grow and Zelda travelled around Melbourne paying only 75% of the fares, because women were only given 75% of the wage of men at the time. Because women weren’t allowed to drink in bars, only in lounges, they did pub crawls across Melbourne.
In 1972 the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission finally extended the equal pay concept to ‘equal pay for work of equal value’, and subsequent revisions have made sure that women in Victoria retain this hard-won right.
Zelda was awarded a degree in Law honoris causa by Macquarie University in 2000, and was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001. She was awarded the Order of Australia in 2004.
……………….We owe much to women such as Zelda, Alva and Thelma for their courage and perseverance.
That concludes the #A-Z Challenge. Thank you so much for your patience and for sticking with me during this time. I hope you have enjoyed meeting some of Australia’s amazing and courageous women past and present.