Rediscovering feminist history in Sydney

Markela Panegyres recalls how young women were treated at the Female Immigration Depot, now the Hyde Park Barracks. Photo: Pip Hinman

The inaugural COVID-19 safe Green Left Feminist Walking Tour took place on a sunny wintery day on August 23. It was a big hit, stopping at seven sites of feminist struggle in Sydney’s CBD to hear younger and older activists elaborate on little-known feminist and class-struggle history.

The tour began at a site of Aboriginal resistance, The Australian Hall, where the Day of Mourning was organised on January 26, 1938. It then moved to Alberta Street where Frances Hamilton described the period when Women’s Liberation House was open.

After stopping at the Captain Cook statue in Hyde Park to give him and all colonialists the finger, the tour moved on to the old Sydney Girls High School site, now David Jones, and heard from Coral Wynter about the battle to educate girls in a male-dominated education system.

It then visited Jessie Street’s former office at Challice House in Martin Place and heard from Sherri Hilario, a volunteer at the Jessie Street Women’s Library.  After that it went to the Sydney Hospital to hear from Paula Castro about Lucy Osburn, a founder of modern nursing who was prepared to challenge the system.

Next stop was the Hyde Park Barracks, formerly Sydney’s Female Immigration Depot. Markela Panegyres explained that from 1848, for almost 40 years, 40,000 young women were “housed” there to be sold to the rising middle class.

The tour ended at Hyde Park’s Fountain to commemorate the marriage equality win in November 2017 where Isabella Phillips-Bohane, a drag king and activist, described the rich history of centuries of LGBTIQ resistance. 

[Another tour is being planned. Get in touch with if you would like to join it.]