Local author championing gender equality welcomes more statues of women
A local author who has been writing about a lack of women in Melbourne’s statuary for more than 20 years says she is glad the City of Melbourne “is finally listening”.
Maree Coote, the founder of the Melbournestyle Gallery in South Melbourne and writer and illustrator of the book Daughters of Melbourne: A Guide to the Invisible Statues of Melbourne, said recognising Melbourne’s “great women of history” was a must as “they are our family album, our storytelling, they define what matters to us”.
Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece (pictured right) successfully led a motion at a Future Melbourne Committee meeting last December to have three new statues installed that commemorate significant women in Melbourne’s history as the council looks to close the gap on gender inequality.
Only nine of the 580 statues within the municipality depict women while five of the 25 statues on council land depict women, both of which Cr Reece described as a “gross inequity” and a “moral hazard for Melbourne”.
“Through this effort, we hope to send a signal to the next generation that all genders and cultures have a place in our society and are capable of greatness,” he said.
Cr Reece said the council would work closely with stakeholders and the community to deliver at least three new statues depicting women, with public consultation set to begin in February.
Ms Coote said she welcomed the initiative and implored the council to invite appropriate advisors to sit on the panel.
“I’m very glad the council is finally listening. And it’s a pretty easy task for politicians now that the subject of women has become a vote-winner. So, I say let’s get on with it,” she said, while noting the total of nine female statues was inaccurate as she counted one-and-a-half statues of Melbourne women.
We must remember this is not a matter for political point-scoring. It is vital that we get on with acknowledging the women who created the culture, commerce and community of Melbourne.
While the council hasn’t formally announced which significant women would be celebrated as statues, some suggestions have included Boonwurrung woman Louisa Briggs, who advocated for Indigenous rights; politician Vida Goldstein, and entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein.
Ms Coote said she had made an exhaustive list of her books over the years and believed Ms Briggs and Goldstein were “obvious and worthy choices”.
“But remember this is an issue of equality of visibility, and council’s suggestion of Helena Rubenstein – who enjoyed immense wealth and visibility in her lifetime – seems a wrong-headed choice,” she said.
“Rubenstein arrived in Melbourne in her 20s, spent only 12 years in Melbourne, and her fame was actually established and consolidated in London, Paris and New York. She’s a wonderful candidate, but not the first cab off the rank, I don’t think.”
Ms Coote said “much better candidates” for statues would be “world-changing suffragettes Henrietta Dugdale and Bella Guerin, city-making entrepreneurs Lillian Wightman and Mietta O’Donnell, first woman premier Joan Kirner, legendary diva Judith Durham, or any number of other women celebrated in my books”.
“The list of candidates is extensive and extraordinary. Statues define what matters to us. Excluding women from the catalogue of things we value, and respect has real-life, often dire consequences.” •
Captions: Author Maree Coote and founder of the Melbournestyle Gallery in South Melbourne, and Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece.