Sunday, July 15, 2012

Australian Women's Signature Quilt

We have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Central Australia and I am pleased to say that I have returned with a quilt story.

Whilst in Alice Springs, in the very centre of Australia, we visited the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.  On display there is the Signature Quilt made in 2003 to celebrate International Women's Day.  The quilt is made up of calico squares, all signed by Australian women who have recorded firsts or those who have made significant achievements within their field, with alternate patches of patterned fabric, appropriate to the signatory's field. The quilt is representative of both a traditional women's craft of the 19th century as well as making visible women's achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries - a "Patchwork of Empowerment".

The completed quilt on display measures around 3m x 2.5m (10‘ x 8‘). It contains the signatures of 343 Australian women who have been first in a variety of fields (ranging from sport, law, medicine, politics, public service, adventure etc) within Australia, their State or Territory or their community.

The quilt has been signed by a range of exceptional women - a complete list of signatures is on the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame website.  The signatories include:

Evonne Goolagong Cawley - First Aboriginal woman to win the prestigious Wimbledon tennis singles title (1971)

Zali Steggall - First Australian woman to win a World Cup alpine event (1997: slalom, Park City, Utah, USA); first Australian to win an individual medal at a Winter Olympic Games (1998: slalom, Nagano); first alpine World Champion in Southern Hemisphere (1999: women’s slalom, World Skiing Championships).
Margaret Fulton - First and greatest of the Australian celebrity cookery writers, with 4 million cookbook sales over the past 40 years; credited with being one of first to bring international cuisine to the Australian table after WWII.

Joan Kirner - First woman to head VIC government (State Premier: 1992).

Lowitja O'Donoghue - First Aboriginal woman to receive Order of Australia (1976); founding Chairperson of ATSIC (1990); one of SA’s first trained Aboriginal nurses (1956).

Dawn Fraser - First and only swimmer in history of Olympic Games to have won an Olympic event (100m freestyle) 3 times in succession (achieved Tokyo: 1964).
On a personal note, I am very proud to say that the quilt also includes the signature of my sister, Jo Van Son.  Jo is the adventurer in our family and her signature was included in the quilt as she was one of a team of four women (with Robyn Fox, Georgia Le Plastrier - also a signatory to the quilt - and Jenny McKenzie) who made the first Australian all female descent of Canada’s Yukon River by canoe (1997), a journey across Alaska of 2000 miles (3200 kms).  It was fabulous to see her patch amongst such illustrious women.

I will leave you with this inspirational message by Josephine Tobias - First woman to own and operate cruise ship in Australia (weekly cruises, Cairns to Cape York: 1990); founder of Women at Work Australia, Brisbane (1994).



  1. I also enjoyed the museum and spent ages checking out this wonderful quilt, the last time I was in Alice. But I had no idea that your sister was one of the signatories! It was also interesting seeing how the fabric was chosen to match the signatory's achievement - some more successfully than others!

  2. What a fantastic quilt when you see who was involved in signing! Love that the fabrics reflect the signatures. Thanks for sharing

  3. We also went to see this quilt when we were in Alice Springs last year and found it inspiring to see so many women recognised from such diverse backgrounds.


I really appreciate your comments - they will appear shortly.