Acknowledging women’s role in building Australian cities….(in other countries too!)

Profs Kerry Brown and Dorothy Wardale at Edith Cowan University have an interesting piece.

First I learnt of this new term -Mansplaining which means how men claim superior knowledge and control making the meaning of things! 🙂

In this spirit of mansplaining, they point how key roles of some women in building Australian cities has been excluded. They add that men care about fancy buildings but women care about building communities:

Women have contributed to shaping our cities by being commissioned to create statues and memorials and designing communities, but their roles have become obscured.

Sydney-born Daphne Mayo was a sculptor commissioned to work on the Brisbane City Hall. With the Queensland-born artist Vida Lahey, she established the Queensland Art Reference Library at the University of Queensland in 1936.

The pair set up an art acquisition fund, the Queensland Art Fund, sourcing important works of art – including William Dobell’s The Cypriot – for the Queensland Art Gallery. Public sculptures Mayo created included the Queensland Women’s War Memorial in Anzac Square and a statue of Sir William Glasgow.

Mayo was awarded an MBE in 1959. Yet the name of Daphne Mayo and the pioneering work of Queensland’s first female sculptor are not well known outside of architecture and academia.

Likewise, Western Australia’s first qualified town planner, Margaret Feilman, has largely disappeared from public knowledge. Among her many achievements, she led her town planning team in the government of Western Australia to establish Kwinana, a refinery dormitory town for 25,000 people 40 minutes south of Perth.

While politicians pressed to industrialise and boost the state’s economy, Feilman was adamant residents should be housed away from the refinery and the fumes blown by the prevailing wind.

In the 1950s, she established the state’s first formal environmental group, the Tree Society, and adopted a holistic approach to heritage, promoting a robust connection between the natural, built and indigenous environments.


Women have made significant contributions to cities from colonial times, when Lady Jane Franklin founded Ancanthe, a museum in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1842, to the modern era, with the work of Margaret Feilman in designing entire townships. If men build cities and claim a heroic narrative, women build communities and the stories of connection.


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