Next week, at the Mitchell Library, which is the beautiful historic documents wing of the State Library of NSW, there will be a two-day symposium on the topic of “Shakespeare, 1916 and Antipodal memory. It is to be co-hosted by King’s College London, the University of Western Australia, and the State Library of NSW
My contribution will be a paper given on the Tuesday afternoon:
“Shakespeare and the Drover’s Wife: the Work of Women in the Australian Cultural Landscape”
Upon the announcement of the formation of the Shakespeare Tercentenary Fund in 1912 an anonymous woman wrote to the newspaper to speak of the enthusiasm and support the organisation could expect from Australian women: “Whatever work there is to do by which we women may show our gratitude and love and devotion to our Shakespeare, we only ask, do not spare us, let us work side by side with men. Our power and ability to work for a fitting memorial of a beloved idol are as great, our devotion to the cause no less.” At a time when women had just recently attained the vote in Australia, and had yet to do so elsewhere in the world, the chance to create a material representation of local appreciation of Shakespeare appears to have been seen by women as an opportunity to demonstrate their capability, and their equal investment both in culture and in shaping their new environment. As the project progressed the same attitude was seen in the work of the ladies of the Ball Committee, who created the events that raised the money. After the outbreak of the war their unpaid but indispensable labour was, predictably, diverted down different avenues. What we see in the history of Australian women’s involvement in the Shakespeare Memorial, however, is an insight into their belief that the right to be seen as the equals of men would come through the means of hard work and demonstrated commitment to a cause.