Western Australian women have been, and continue to be, a driving force behind the state’s key political movements and industry sectors.
The month of March has become synonymous with a focus on women. It is host to Women’s History month but is also when we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. The theme is fitting for many WA women, both now and throughout history, who have been a driving force behind the state’s key political movements and industry developments. In addition, 2021 is particularly special for West Australians as it marks one hundred years since Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to a Parliament in Australia.
Here’s a compilation of just some of the remarkable women of Western Australia. Keep an eye on our Twitter page (@wagoeurope) throughout the month as we will highlight even more in the coming weeks!
Edith Cowan, MBE
Edith Dircksey Cowan is a familiar face for many Australians. Her image is found on the Australian $50 note and she is also the namesake of one of Western Australia’s five universities – Edith Cowan University, located in Perth.
Cowan was the first woman to be elected to Parliament in Australia (and the first to be elected to a Parliament in the southern hemisphere) and 2021 marks 100 years since the event. She campaigned for women’s rights throughout her career, co-founded the Karrakatta Club, which lobbied for the right for women to vote and even co-founded WA’s National Council of Women.
She was a key driver in the building of the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Perth and was a strong supporter of children’s rights and welfare. Cowan was also chairperson of the Red Cross Appeal Committee during World War I and was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to society.
Janet Holmes a Court, AC
Janet Holmes a Court is known as a prominent businesswoman, who after the death of her husband, took over management of the indebted Heytesbury Pty Ltd, rescuing and expanding it. She was an advocate for the Australian Republican Movement at the 1998 Constitutional Convention.
Janet Holmes a Court is chairwoman of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and the WA Symphony Orchestra, and has also served on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia. She was made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1995 and promoted to a Companion of the Order in 2007. The National Trust of Australia has included her on its list of 100 Australian Living Treasures.
Gina Rinehart is a leading figure in the mining and agricultural industries in Australia and in Western Australia, the name is synonymous with the state’s successful resource sector. In December 2020, Rinehart was inducted into the Australian Prospectors & Miners Hall of Fame in recognition of her contribution to the State’s resources sector and was installed under the category of Entrepreneurs and Promoters, for her achievements in leading the development of Hancock Prospecting’s Hope Downs and Roy Hill iron ore mines. Gina has won the top three of the coveted Diggers and Dealers awards, making her the first woman to achieve the trifecta and second ever person. She was also amongst the first women to be inducted in the West Australian Hall of Fame for Women in 2011.
Hon Alannah MacTiernan, MLC
Alannah MacTiernan came to Perth at the age of 18 and has been active in community and politics ever since. She has a long history of political achievements and has served in Local, State and Federal Governments. Most recently, she has been known as the Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Minister assisting the Minister for State Development, Jobs and Trade and therefore the Minister responsible for Renewable Hydrogen development in the state. Previously, as Minister for Planning and Infrastructure from 2001 to 2008, Ms MacTiernan was responsible for major projects across WA including the Mandurah rail line, the Forrest Highway, the Geraldton port and rail expansion and the Armadale town centre and Champion Lakes developments.
You can hear more about Alannah MacTiernan and how she has shaped the Perth landscape in the interview below:
Kerry Sanderson, AC, CVO
Kerry Sanderson was the first female Governor of WA, which saw her appointed the Commander of the Royal Victorian Order for her services in the post in the 2020 New Year Honours. Sanderson was previously awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the people of WA through the promotion of international investment, scientific research and export opportunities, and through roles with maritime, mining, emergency management and not-for profit organisations. Notably, her experience includes 17 years as Fremantle Port’s Chief Executive Officer.
Kerry Sanderson was also a former Agent-General for Western Australia in London (the first female in Australia to hold the title), a role in which she not only promoted WA goods and services, but also joined in Western Australia’s successful bid site of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.
She is now the Chancellor of Edith Cowan University and the first woman to hold this position at ECU.
Professor Fiona Wood, AM
Fiona Wood was born in Yorkshire and studied medicine in London before relocating to Perth in 1987. She completed training in plastic surgery and is now Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia (BSWA).
Wood caught media attention in 2002 when 28 victims of the Bali Bombings were flown to Perth to receive burns treatment. She had earlier pioneered the innovative ‘spray-on skin’ technique, which greatly reduced permanent scarring in burns victims. Wood patented her method in 1993 and later co-founded a private company to promote it worldwide. Royalties are used to fund further research into burns treatment through the Fiona Wood Foundation (previously the McComb Foundation), which pursues Wood’s goal of scarless wound healing.
Fiona was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2003. In 2004 she was awarded the Western Australia Citizen of the Year award for her contribution to Medicine in the field of burns research. Fiona was then named Australian of the Year for 2005. She is an Australian Living Treasure. Fiona is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science.
Dr Nicola Forrest, AO and Grace Forrest
The Forrest family are ardent philanthropists in WA, with their Minderoo Foundation, making record breaking donations in recent years ($400 million in 2017 and $655 million in 2019) and both Nicola and daughter, Grace, have impressive achievements.
Nicola Forrest is co-founder and co-chair of the Minderoo Foundation and was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) for her distinguished service to the community through her philanthropic support for education and the arts, to business, and to the community in 2019.
Grace is a founding director of Walk Free, an international human rights group focused on the eradication of modern slavery. Formed in 2011 it is now one of the leading anti-slavery organisations in the world. She is also a director of the Minderoo Foundation and in 2018 was appointed The United Nations Association of Australia’s youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for Anti-Slavery. That same year Grace was awarded Nomi Network’s Abolitionist award for her work to end modern slavery and won the GQ Australia’s award for Humanitarian of the year.
WA Women’s Hall of Fame
The WA Women’s Hall of Fame was first established in 2011 in recognition of the Centenary of International Women’s Day. Its purpose is to recognise and celebrate the achievements of Western Australian women who have made a significant contribution to the state’s history, culture and community. One hundred women were inducted at the centenary, across a range of sectors and celebrating a diverse set of achievements. Each year, the list of outstanding women grows as more women are inducted. You can view the entire list here, updated from 8 March to include inductees from 2021.