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Telling Louisa's story in the Free State

South Australia.

It's history is very different to that of New South Wales.


South Australia is the Free State: it was never a penal colony. People did not go there in chains. They were not thrashed in the streets or forced into servitude.

South Australia was first and foremost home to free settlers - and although much smaller than the other States it has long been a beacon of democracy.

The South Australian parliament is one of the world's oldest. South Australian women were the first in the world to be able to stand for office. South Australia has long been a haven for religious freedom - German Lutherans, persecuted in Europe, came in droves in the 19th century - and it was one of the first States to allow for a one-man, one-vote Constitution as well as the secret ballot.

It's our jewel in the democratic crown.

Telling Louisa's story there was challenging. Her life was very different. Her father was a convict. She was born on an estate built in part by convict labour. Her first position was as a domestic. She lived most of her life in poverty. When time came to put her on trial, she found herself in an invidious position: unable to afford legal representation, she was given a corrupt and hopeless barrister, who would later be struck from the roll.

I've long believed that Louisa's story - the struggle, by women, to save her life - marks an important turning point in the history of New South Wales.

Adelaide Long Room.jpg

Louisa was tried in 1888 - the cententary year. Free settlers had been coming to Australia for years, and some - not all, but some - of the people in power were actually Australian-born. They were desperate to create a new identity for Australia.

They didn't want the country they had grown to love to be known around the world as a penal colony.

They did not want it said that they lived in a prison, where some had more rights than others; where the landed gentry ruled over the rest.

When the suffragettes stood up for Louisa, what were they really saying?

That it was barbarous to hang a woman with seven living children - that much is obvious.

But also: what kind of country is this?

What kind of people are we?

Do we wish to continue along this path: known around the world as a a place where hangings and floggings and thrashings are commonplace? Where only half the population - men - have seats in parliament and on juries, and only they have a say in how things are done?

Or do we wish to be the home of freedom, of liberty, of democracy, and justice for all, with no citizens having more rights than others.

So that was the story I told: our story. Louisa's story. Our shared story.

Thank you, South Australia, for such a wonderful welcome.

Thank you in particular to the Queen Adelaide Club for hosting me in your beautiful rooms with the memorabilia from the turn-of-the-century women's movement all around; to Mike and Becky Lucas from Shakespeare's Bookstore (which is expanding and now has two locations, a credit to their hard work); to the staff at the Blackwood Library and the Woodcroft Library for hosting such wonderful events with great questions from audience; to Will Gooding and Angie McBride from 5AA for the radio interview (does absolutely everyone in Adelaide listen to 5AA??? It seems like it!); to Julie Bailey of the Barossa Library; the staff at Chateau Tanunda for use of the famous Long Room (very long and beautiful, and built at around the same time that Louisa was on trial); to the Novotel Barossa Valley for putting us up; to the Raven's Parlour Bookstore for making books available. And to Jamie Oliver for perfect food and a wonderful, gaol-cell style bathroom experience (it's actually the old bank vault, converted into powder rooms) and to the many gifts of Haigh's chocolates, because ... well, should be obvious!


Adelaide winery.jpg

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