The Hobart

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women

by Amanda Double
Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women

The Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women was established in 2005 by the Tasmanian Government “to honour Tasmanian women who have made an outstanding contribution to the State”, and enhance community awareness of their achievements and lasting impact. Nominations for consideration for the 2025 Honour Roll are currently being sought from organisations and individuals, and will close at midnight on Monday 30 September 2024. 

Originally held annually, the induction ceremony was later changed to every two years. Tasmanian women and women’s organisations from all walks of life that have made a significant contribution in their field, either locally, nationally or internationally, can be nominated for induction onto the Honour Roll. They must be nominated by an individual or organisation other than themselves, and the nominator must be familiar with and able to elaborate upon the nominee’s achievements, providing supporting documents. There are no age restrictions for nominees – indeed, posthumous nominations are accepted as well. All will be assessed for inclusion by a Community Panel appointed through an Expressions of Interest process.

Novelist Marie Caroline Bjelke Petersen was added to the Honour Roll in 2009, “awarded for service to the Arts”, some 40 years after her 1969 death at the age of 94. Born in Jagtvejen near Copenhagen in 1874, Marie migrated to Tasmania with her family, arriving in Hobart in October 1891. (Fascinating fact – she was the aunt of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, notorious Premier of Queensland from 1968-1987, who visited her here!). Initially Marie assisted her brother Christian in teaching physical education at Friends’ School and at Christian’s private Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture, before ill health forced her to stop. She began writing, firstly religious tracts, and then really came into her own when she began penning romance novels. She loved the natural beauty of Tasmania, and her vivid settings and descriptions delighted readers, with 250,000 copies of her books sold world-wide. Her most famous novel, Jewelled Nights (published in 1923) was turned into a silent film not long after, starring and directed by Australian actress Louise Lovely. It told the story of a bride who ran away to seek her fortune in the osmiridium mining fields of Savage River in Western Tasmania, dressed as a man. Only reconstructed fragments of the film remain, usually screened daily at the Gaiety Theatre in Zeehan (although not currently as a television series is using the theatre for filming). In 1935 Marie was awarded the King’s Jubilee medal for services to literature.

Her Honour Roll biography notes that “Marie Bjelke Petersen lived an independent and successful life full of achievements that were rare for a woman of her era. She remained a proud Tasmanian until her death on 11 October 1969.”

A much more recent inductee, added to the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women last year, is Ros Escott, “for service to volunteering and health”. Born in Melbourne, Ros jokes that “after having lived here for 40 years, being on the Honour Roll means I can now finally claim I’m officially Tasmanian!” She is particularly appreciative of this honour, as it seems to her to recognise the volunteers, the “quiet achievers”. 

Ros has made outstanding contributions in several different fields. She has been a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor, educator and advocate with the Australian Breastfeeding Association since 1987, and with Breastfeeding Coalition Tasmania since its inception in 1996. She has volunteered with the WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Health Initiative since 1995, and co-wrote the Australian Baby Friendly Health Initiative Standards to assess breastfeeding practices in maternity and community facilities. What’s more, as a historian with a special interest in convict women, she has also volunteered in various roles with the Female Convicts Research Centre (which was itself inducted onto the Honour Roll as an organisation in 2017) and Convict Women’s Press; and as a family history researcher she has a particular interest in using DNA analysis to help people identify previously unknown family members, establishing the Tasmanian Family History Society’s DNA Interest Group in 2015 to help facilitate this.

In 2023, Ros was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to women’s health and to the community, and she was also a nominee and finalist for 2024 Senior Australian of the Year for Tasmania (for which Founder of Colony 47, Reverend Jim Colville, was the eventual successful Tasmanian awardee).

In speaking of the Honour Roll inductees as a whole, Minister for Women The Hon Jo Palmer MLC commented in the introduction to the 2023 commemorative booklet that “whilst each inductee is unique, a shared thread through all of these stories is a deep sense of generosity and service to others, and courage. Courage to be the helper who doesn’t stand by, courage to try something new, courage to stand up for what is right.”

The official website reiterates the importance of continuing to celebrate these important contributions: “The Honour Roll stimulates community involvement in the processes of research and discovery about women’s historical and contemporary contributions to Tasmania, ensuring these achievements are given full recognition and not forgotten in the passage of time.”

 

Full details are available on the website at https://www.women.tas.gov.au/tasmanian_honour_roll_of_women/nominating 

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