12 Mar, 2024

Portraits Honour Female Trailblazers

New portraits of two famous South Australian women have been unveiled as part of a commitment to hang paintings of female leaders in the Adelaide Town Hall.

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith hosted a ceremony on International Women’s Day (8 March) to showcase the portraits of reformist Catherine Helen Spence and suffragette Mary Lee.

The paintings by South Australian artists Deidre But Husaim and Jess Mara will be hung in the council chamber along with Aboriginal leader Shirley Peisley AM and South Australia’s first female Governor and Chief Justice, Dame Roma Mitchell AC, DBE, CVO, QC.

The Lord Mayor said the previous Council discussed the lack of portraits of female leaders on display in the Adelaide Town Hall and Council Chamber in 2020.

“Among the more than 40 portraits represented in the Council Chamber, only one depicted a woman, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Council agreed to commission a ‘Honouring Women in Leadership’ portrait series by female South Australian artists and identified six women who contributed significantly to shaping our city and state as subjects.”

“Five of these portraits have now been completed and put on display within Adelaide Town Hall, with the sixth of Kaurna elder, educator and weaver Iparrityi expected to be commissioned this year.”

The Lord Mayor said the project was inspired by a 2019 project to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in South Australia - the Suffrage 125 City of Adelaide Honour Roll.

“The honour roll showcases some of Adelaide’s founding females and trailblazers, Lord Mayors, Councillors and Council employees, cultural icons and significant Kaurna women,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Council decided to re-curate the Chamber, acknowledging women who played a vital role in shaping our state and the City of Adelaide.

“It is fitting that in this year, the 130th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage in South Australia, portraits of Catherine Helen Spence and Mary Lee have been hung in the Council Chamber.”

A portrait of Adelaide’s first female lord mayor, Wendy Chapman AM, has been hung in the Lord Mayors’ Walk in the main hallway of Adelaide Town Hall.

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), a Scottish-born writer and reformer, migrated to South Australia in 1839. Known for the first Australian novel by a woman, Clara Morison (1854), she contributed to the South Australian Register and authored The Laws We Live Under (1880), the inaugural social studies textbook in Australian schools.

Co-founding the Boarding-Out Society in 1872, she later became a Vice-President of the Women’s Suffrage League of South Australia in 1891 and played a pivotal role in obtaining women’s voting rights

IMAGE: South Australia Governor Frances Adamson AC with Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith (centre left) and former Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor (centre right) at the portraits unveiling with artists Deidre But Husaim (left) and Jess Lee Mara (right), who respectively painted Catherine Spence and Mary Lee. Picture: Festival City Photography

For more information

Colin James