FOR years, the contributions of women have been missing from accounts of life on the land during the 1930s – 1950s.
But La Trobe University gender historian Dr Ruth Ford and her colleague, Dr Val Lovejoy, have been seeking to help remedy that with their research.
For the past four years, they have been collating historical information and interviewing women about their experiences of living and working on farms.
Yesterday, the researchers shared some of their findings – and some of the women’s stories – with attendees at a ‘Discovering history’ seminar at the Bendigo Library.
Dr Ford said most of the women who agreed to be interviewed still described their work on the farm as ‘helping’: ‘I helped my husband,’ or ‘I helped my father’. Even though the roles women performed on the farm were valuable and involved a great deal of hard work.
She said there was some acknowledgement from the interviewees about the inequalities that existed for women on the land at the time – from the limitations of ‘acceptable’ women’s duties to a lack of entitlement to inherit the family farm.
But their stories were not of resentment. Dr Ford said the women had spoken of their pride in their contributions to life on the land, and their enjoyment of living in regional Victoria.
Collectively, the interviewees represented the experiences of women on a range of farms.
Yesterday’s speech highlighted the experiences of women from central Victoria, northern Victoria, and the Wimmera.
The researchers sought the input of women born before 1935.
For Dr Ford, the interest in the period was partly inspired by her own family history.
Her late grandmother would have been typical of the women she and her colleague were seeking to interview.
Dr Ford believed part of the reason women’s contributions to life on the farm had not been acknowledged historically was because of the way their work was recorded in census data from the era.
Often, she said women’s efforts were classed under ‘home duties’ or the like.
Acceptable work for women on the farm during the era included milking, raising calves, and caring for poultry.
Dr Ford said the war saw women taking on roles traditionally reserved for males, in their absence.
Much has changed since the events the interviewees recalled were playing out in reality.
Dr Ford said the project sought to challenge the historical invisibility of farm women’s labour.
The seminar was presented by Bendigo Library, Bendigo Regional Archives Centre and La Trobe University.
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