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Search for South Coast Women

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Local Contributor

25 May 2024, 2:00 AM

Search for South Coast WomenCharmian Clift, one of the 12 South Coast women featured in the June issue of ‘Recollections’.

Who have been the South Coast’s most significant women?

That’s the question South Coast History Society is asking as it attempts to identify them. 

The Society’s search began at a local market when a lady asked its President, Peter Lacey, to identify the parts of their book, ‘Extraordinary Histories: Amazing Stories from the NSW South Coast’, that related to women from the NSW South Coast. This led to the inclusion of biographies of 10 interesting South Coast women in an expanded second edition of the book to be released later this year.

‘It's a very easy task to nominate the historically significant men from the South Coast. They are well known,’ Peter suggests. ‘But coming up with a list of the area’s important women and recording their stories has been a real challenge because, surprisingly, not a lot has been written about them. And, whilst a little has been recorded about some pioneer women, the contributions of outstanding local women in the 20th and 21st centuries have largely been ignored.’

A little digging has so far identified 22 significant women – the 10 being included in the second edition of ‘Extraordinary Histories’ plus another 12 whose stories are included in the June issue of ‘Recollections’ magazine.

‘But,’ Peter added. ‘We have a very uneasy feeling that there are probably as many significant South Coast women again whose great stories we have missed. So, we’re now asking the community to help us identify other women who rightly deserve to be recognised.’ 

So, who are the South Coast women being featured in the second edition of ‘Extraordinary Histories’?

They are author Charmian Clift, nurse Pearl Corkhill, pioneering woman Elizabeth ‘Granny’ Sproats, contralto Eva Mylott, carrier Emily Wintle, Aboriginal activist Jane Duren, ‘The Three Ladies of Tathra’ who were conservationists, shopkeeper Mrs Mac, newspaper editor Olive Constable, and world-renowned economist Persia Campbell.

‘And I wonder how many of these illustrious women the average South Coast person knows of?’ Peter asks. ‘I suspect, for most people, it would be just one or two.’

And who features in the June issue of ‘Recollections’?

Four additional authors or journalists – Olga Masters, Mare Carter, Kate O’Connor and Jackie French; the soprano Marie Narelle; pioneer woman Rose Hunt; hoteliers Ann White and Sabina Pike; nurses ‘Kitty’ Porter and Bernice Smith; doctor Dagmar Berne and, because her death had a significant impact on the Eden area, Flora MacKillop who was the mother of Saint Mary MacKillop.

Peter was then asked to nominate the most interesting South Coast women he had identified to date. 

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘An extraordinary schoolteacher by the name of Bridget Johnston. And I bet you’ve never heard of her!’

‘She was the teacher at a one-teacher school in Eurobodalla village (which has since disappeared) from 1882 to 1927. Her boast was that no pupil, however reluctant a student, would ever leave her school without being able, at the very least, to write, read and be arithmetically competent.’

‘Her abilities became widely known. Students were sent to board in tiny Eurobodalla, and one family even erected two tents near Bridget’s school so their child could receive his education there. One tent housed their young son, the other a female carer.’ 

‘Bridget, being the only teacher in a one-teacher school, was required to teach all levels from kindergarten to matriculation. And every year, one of her students would receive one of four scholarships available from the local inspectorate, enabling them to stay at school past the Intermediate Certificate to study for the Leaving Certificate.’

‘One year, her students won all four scholarships! So, the Education Department sent an Inspector to investigate. He examined the successful four scholarship winners, while Bridget took the remaining pupils out to the playground and conducted classes there.  Two hours later, the Inspector emerged, thanked and congratulated Bridget – the scholarships had been correctly awarded! Three of those boys subsequently became doctors, the other successfully completed an Arts degree.’

‘Bridget married while teaching at the school. No woman when married could then be employed as a teacher unless ‘there are special circumstances which make her employment desirable in the public interest’; retaining Bridget as Eurobodalla School’s teacher clearly was ‘in the public interest’!’

‘And when Bridget reached the normal retiring age of 65, she was asked to continue teaching…which she did for a further three years.’

‘Eurobodalla village also benefited in other ways from having Bridget in town. She was a driving force behind the construction of the village hall, the village cricket pitch and the village tennis courts,’ Peter added. 

Copies of the free South Coast Women ‘Recollections’ magazine will be available from this week at all South Coast libraries. An email copy will be provided to anyone sending ‘Send Recollections’ to [email protected]

More information or to make a Nomination?  

Contact Peter Lacey at the South Coast History Society on 0448 160 852 

Or Email: [email protected] 

Charmian Clift, one of the 12 South Coast women featured in the June issue of ‘Recollections’.