Commemorative sculpture of Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Dorothy Tangney

On 8 March 2023, a commemorative sculpture of Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Dorothy Tangney will be unveiled in the National Triangle (Parliamentary Triangle) near the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. It will be the first statue of Australian women in the Triangle; the only woman previously honoured was Queen Elizabeth II, whose statue is located on the Queen’s Terrace at Parliament House.

In 1943 Enid Lyons (of the United Australia Party and later the Liberal Party) became the first woman elected to the Australian House of Representatives, and Dorothy Tangney (of the Australian Labor Party) became the first woman elected to the Senate. The statue, by Melbourne sculptor Lis Johnson, is intended to bring to mind the iconic photo of Lyons and Tangney walking together through the doors of (Old) Parliament House on their first day in parliament, 24 September 1943.

The commissioning of the Lyons and Tangney sculpture was announced by the then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on 24 August 2021. At the same time, Mr Morrison announced that a sculpture of Australia’s first Aboriginal parliamentarian, Neville Bonner would also be commissioned. The Neville Bonner statue has not yet been completed.

The announcement of the sculptures of Lyons, Tangney and Bonner followed media coverage of the absence of (non-royal) women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people among the statues of the National Triangle. Some articles noted that there were more statues of animals than of women or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Triangle, a reference to the former Prime Minister Sir John Gorton’s sculpture being accompanied by a sculpture of his dog. The other former Prime Ministers who are represented in statues in the National Triangle are Sir Edmund Barton, John Curtin and Ben Chifley, Sir John McEwen and Sir Robert Menzies. (Outside the Triangle, there is a bust of Alfred Deakin in the Canberra suburb that bears his name.) Other figures represented in statue form in the Triangle include King George V and General Sir John Monash.

The organisation A Monument of One’s Own (AMOO) has been advocating for ’gender equality in the memorialisation of women’s actions, achievements and contributions to civic culture’ in Australia. AMOO co-convenor Professor Clare Wright has called for more monuments ’to the women who not only won monumental democratic rights for our citizens, but also fought for these liberties on the world stage’. Organisations such as Womanchester in the United Kingdom, and Monumental Women and Breaking the Bronze Ceiling in the United States of America, have advocated for greater recognition of women, including suffragettes, in their respective countries’ monuments.

Australian (white) women gained the right to vote and to stand as candidates in federal elections in 1902. The relevant legislation explicitly excluded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men, and those of Asian, African or Pacific Islander origin, from the same rights. The first woman elected to an Australian parliament was Edith Cowan, who won a seat in Western Australia’s Legislative Assembly in 1921. The Edith Cowan Clock in Kings Park in Perth, unveiled in 1934, is thought to be the first civic monument to honour an Australian woman. Ten more women had served in Australian state parliaments by the time Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney were elected to the federal parliament in 1943.

A newspaper report of the two women’s first day in parliament noted that:

The only ornament Miss Tangney wore today was her gold senator's pass. She has had it made into a fob, which hangs from below her shoulder on a gold lovers' knot, indicating, she laughingly said, "I'm in love with my work."

The article also quoted Enid Lyons as saying: ‘…Senator Tangney and myself share a great burden of responsibility, because as we acquit ourselves so we make a little harder or easier the job of those women who will follow us.’

Tags: women, parliament


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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