3 June 2022

June's just the month to tell Canberra's little-known stories, loudly and proudly

| Sally Hopman
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Woman kneeling in City Walk

Sita Sargeant, the founder of She Shapes History, presents a view of Canberra that wasn’t, for most people, taught in schools. Photo: Instagram.

Sita Sargeant remembers well the day she walked down the main street of Newtown in Sydney, holding her partner’s hand, when she heard someone yell out “dyke”.

She was shocked and sad.

“It made me think that it still takes a lot to be out and proud these days. If that can happen in a place like Newtown … it made me feel very nervous,” she said.

Today Sita lives in Canberra, a city, she says, that makes her feel about as safe as it gets: “It’s not called the capital of equality for nothing.”

Since last year she has run a business called She Shapes History. It takes locals and visitors to Canberra on walking tours covering the steps of women who shaped Australia, telling the sort of stories that “weren’t taught at school”.

It’s become a thriving operation, a hit with tourists and visitors alike booking the tours which take them behind the scenes of the nation’s history through women’s eyes. The walking tours through the Parliamentary Triangle tell stories of the women who designed cities, changed Australia’s Constitution and dismissed governments.

Sita said one of the tales she loved to tell was about a secret bunker next to West Block at Old Parliament House – now a bike shed.

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“During World War II, a group of young women were secretly employed to encrypt all messages coming out of Australia,” she said. “It really was the first line of defence against any foreign interference. It was funny no one in the building knew it was there yet these women were such heroes.”

With the success of She Shapes History, Sita said her team wanted to do something special to mark this Pride month, so they will donate money from every tour sold during June to four Canberra organisations that support the LGBTQIA+ community.

Sita said being proud of who she was and who her team was meant everything to them.

“In some parts of Australia, it is still not safe to be out and proud. That’s why we want to do something for these other groups.”

She said the idea grew from seeing how successful the not-for-profit group Motherless Daughters was in helping young women who had lost a parent by holding a similar fund-raiser.

“Pride means a lot to our team because She Shapes History is a queer woman of colour-owned business and all our guides are queer.

“There’s often a lot of doom and gloom surrounding queer organisations, so during Pride [month], we want to make sure we celebrate all that is good. It’s also a time to reflect on how many of us can be out and proud.

“I have to say that Canberra really is one of the safest places for us to be. It’s also a city that tries hard to do the right thing so we wanted to do something for groups here.”

The groups to benefit from the She Shapes History donations include A Gender Agenda, which supports Canberra’s intersex, transgender and gender diverse communities; YWCA Youth; Canberra Qwire – members come from across all LGBTQIA+ communities who share a love of music and singing; and DEiFY which represents people who are queer, intersex and of colour.

More information about She Shapes History is available on its website.

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