More than just fashionistas

August 08, 2017

A glimpse of Vida Goldstein's outfit, complete with anti-conscription badge.

When Women of Empire 1914-19 exhibition curator Keith Baverstock told me there had been no other exhibitions of its kind, I was shocked.

When he and his wife Fiona decided to create the exhibition more than two years ago, he said they decided to focus on the roles of women in Australia and New Zealand during World War I.

He and Fiona soon realised that the women of these countries could only be highlighted via a costume collection exhibition.

The pair is set to bring the exhibition to Mooroopna later this month and I am delighted at the thought of delving into the tales of the 30-odd women and their remarkable feats during World War I.

A love for vintage gowns and costumes, coupled with a passion for social history, motivated Keith and Fiona to create the exhibition where they have spent about $60000 to $70000 collecting outfits and items of interest.

Keith proudly walked one of ‘‘their ladies’’ — a mannequin adorned in the clothing of the early 1900s — into The News office during our interview.

Aside from the jolt of excitement I got from looking at the clothes alone, it was a little red badge pinned to the mannequin’s chest that caught my eye.

‘‘VOTE NO. Fight as free men, not as conscripts,’’ it read.

My eyes widened as Keith told me the outfit belonged to early-wave feminist Vida Goldstein, who lived in Victoria and pushed for men’s freedom from conscription.

I thought about the fact Ms Goldstein was someone who I would have very much liked to have met.

I thought about the impact she has had on not only women, but men as well.

I thought about the groundbreaking work she was doing during that time and how difficult it must have been to continue to push against the norms of the time.

This is one exhibition I will look forward to with great excitement because Ms Goldstein is just one woman among more than 30 who will be on show at the Mooroopna Hall.

From nurses through to the mothers of heroes who fought, the exhibition focuses solely on women and what they did during the war.

As someone who identifies as a feminist myself, I was surprised I did not know who Ms Goldstein was, nor the several other women Keith mentioned.

I do, however, know several names of the many brave men who fought in the war.

Keith was 100 per cent correct.

We do not learn about these women in schools. We do not hear their names mentioned regularly. We do not see hills, monuments and roads named after them.

There is not enough light shone on these women and what they did for, not only Australia, but the world’s history and prosperity.

I am so eager to learn more later this month at the exhibition, where guests can not only read about the tales of these incredible women, but also stand in awe of the beautiful outfits they wore.

Tara Whitsed is a journalist at The News.

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