Please enjoy reading a brief history of the organisation and a summary of the opening address by President ‘Tricia Blombery from the recent Centenary Event:
“Your Excellency, Mr Wilson, members, friends, and supporters I am ‘Tricia Blombery the current President of Graduate Women-NSW. To begin I would remind you we are meeting on the belonging place of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I acknowledge and thank them for their custodianship of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. And to the elders of the land from which you all have come today.
Why are we here? We are meeting to celebrate the Centenary of when, what is now known as, Graduate Women-NSW Inc became part of an international women’s movement working for the education of women and girls, women’s rights, and peace. This may seem strange when several years ago we celebrated 125 years! All members have copies of the booklet which maps the beginning of a group of women graduates at the University of Sydney. It was in 1920 that Mildred Muscio, who is represented here today by her family member David, met in London with our founding mother, Louisa MacDonald, and graduate women from around the world, to form the International Federation of University Women. Mildred returned to Sydney and with other members of the group from the university set to contacting similar groups in the other Australian states and framing a constitution of federated Australian groups to formally join the international group. This aim was achieved in 1921.
I am delighted to welcome such a diverse group to celebrate with us. Unfortunately many were not able to attend but sent wishes of congratulations and apologies which are listed on a page near the door. Those of you who are with us are a reflection of the many aspects of our association. We have the guests from NSW universities where we have established prizes over many years and who help promote our awards to their students. We welcome the Vice Chancellors of Newcastle and Wollongong and the Sydney University Women’s Group.
We have the other associations with whom we have worked over many years. We welcome National Council of Women NSW, who our graduate women helped establish almost 125 years ago, and their affiliate groups – the Country Women’s Association, Soroptimists International, The Women’s Club, the Catholic Women’s League, and the Mother’s Union. We welcome other Women’s groups – the Older Women’s Network, the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Sydney Women’s Fund, and the Lyceum Club. We welcome other groups who share our aims – the Australian Council of Human Rights Education and The Equanimity Project. There are also the professionals who have shared their time and talents. We welcome our solicitors, our photographer, the people who have shared our office, and a very special woman who can for once relax and enjoy the day, our generous, patient, and dedicated Office Manager, Tamra.
Then there are our members past and present who are just a small part of the thousands of women who have worked tirelessly and cheerfully over the past hundred years offering their skills and time in our branches, state, national, and international bodies. I would single out our NSW Member Emerita, Gaynor Reeves, and our National Member Emerita, Jenny Strauss. We have a statement of Congratulations and best wishes were also received from Australian Graduate Women.
Last but certainly not least are our family and friends who encourage and support us and our activities. But that’s enough from me. Later in the programme you will hear from Dr Jane Baker, the Chairman of the Education Trust, and one of our past awardees, and be introduced to the winner of our Centenary Scholarship, Alana Munro.
Now it is my delight and privilege to invite Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, the 39th Governor of New South Wales, to address us. Her Excellency commenced her five year tenure on 2 May 2019. Prior to that she enjoyed a long and distinguished law career spanning 43 years, during which time she served as a role model for women in law at both the State and national level.
Appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1989, in 1993 she was made a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, the first woman to sit exclusively in that Court. In 1996, she achieved the distinction of being the first woman appointed to the New South Wales Court of Appeal and, subsequently, as the first woman to be appointed as its President. She served, on a number of occasions, as Administrator of the Government of the State of New South Wales. She was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours List on 26 January 2020 for “eminent service to the people of New South Wales, particularly through leadership roles in the judiciary, and as a mentor of young women lawyers”.
The fore-runners of GW-NSW began at the University of Sydney in 1892 with Louisa Macdonald when she became the first Principal of The Women’s College. In 1919, Dr Virginia Glidersleeve from Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, Prof Caroline Spurgeon of Bedford College, University of London, and Prof Winifred Cullis of the London School of Medicine for Women, met to plan an international association. In 1920 the newly formed International Federation of University Women had its first meeting in London. Louisa and Mrs Mildred Muscio of Sydney went as Australian observers and were determined to organise an Australian organisation that could apply to join IFUW. The Sydney group contacted other graduate women’s groups around Australia, drafted and submitted a constitution for a national body, and presented it for membership to IFUW. In May 1921 the Sydney group received the news that their application had been successful.
We have achieved a lot in the past hundred years. Throughout this time we have attracted over four thousand members and formed over twenty-five branches across suburban and greater Sydney and in country NSW and ACT. Our conferences, lectures, research projects and newsletters have provided members with opportunities for life-long learning, development of leadership skills, and social support often leading to lasting friendships.
Through our advocacy work and our collegial relationships with other women’s groups we have promoted our aims of improving access to education for women and girls and through that equality of opportunity in employment and all aspects of society. Our Projects for Action have enabled us to give practical support to Indigenous groups in Australia and women and girls worldwide.
A great deal of our efforts has been devoted to raising funds to provide prizes and awards to encourage women and girls in their education. Our first prize was in 1918 for English essays at the University of Sydney. Since then we have raised and shared thousands of dollars with women students and established an Education Trust with Deductable Gift Status. In 2021 we created the GW-NSW Centenary Award for a Post-graduate Masters or Doctoral student who could demonstrate ways in which her study and career plans support our purposes:
- Promote equitable educational opportunities and lifelong learning.
- Improve the status and wellbeing of women and girls.
- Encourage women and girls to be active leaders and decision-makers in all spheres of public and private life.
- Inspire and support women graduates to put their education and professional training to the service of the local, national and international community.
- Work in harmony with other women’s groups who share our aims.
- Promote the Vision of GW-NSW amongst all people, irrespective of their gender, age, race, nationality, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation or other status.
Many high quality applications were received and we were delighted to present the award to Alana Munro and wish her all the best with her research and future presentations.