Parliamentary trailblazers to be recognised with new sculptures at Old Parliament House

Dominic Giannini 30 August 2021
Enid Lyons, Dorothy Tangney and Neville Bonner

From left: Dame Enid Lyons, Dorothy Tangney and Neville Bonner will be honoured with sculptures across Canberra. Photo: NGA Trove.

Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Dorothy Tangney, the first two female women elected to Australia’s Federal Parliament, and Neville Bonner, Australia’s first Indigenous parliamentarian, will be immortalised by two new sculptures in Canberra.

The new sculptures of the three parliamentary trailblazers will be placed within Canberra’s National Triangle, near Old Parliament House.

Dame Enid was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to be chosen for Federal Cabinet after she was sworn in as vice-president of the executive council in December 1949.

Dame Enid was elected to parliament in 1943, after having 12 children – one of whom died at 10 months. She was also married to former Australian Prime Minister and Tasmanian Premier Joe Lyons.

At the same time, on the other side of Australia, Dame Dorothy Tangney similarly made history by becoming the first woman to be elected to the Senate.

The Perth-born Dame Dorothy went on to represent Western Australia in the Senate for the next quarter-century before being relegated on the Senate ticket in 1968 due to changes to the preselection system, and losing her seat.

She was the lone female voice in the Labor caucus between 1954 and 1968, and championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women.

Neville Bonner, an elder of the Jagera people from the Tweed River, in northern NSW, was appointed as a Senator for Queensland in 1971 after moving to Ipswich a decade prior, where he became involved with moderate Aboriginal rights organisation, One People of Australia League.

He became the first Indigenous person to sit in Commonwealth Parliament, and the first Indigenous person to be elected by popular vote after retaining his seat in the 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980 federal elections.

The new sculptures come amid debate in Canberra about the representation of female icons throughout the city, after a statue of Andrew Inglis Clark, co-author of the Australian Constitution, was erected along Commonwealth Avenue at the end of 2020.

The statue sparked debate in Canberra about the representation of women and resulted in the ACT Legislative Assembly launching an inquiry into memorialisation through public commemoration after a petition by Jasiri Australia called for the ACT Government to “smash the bronze ceiling”.

The Monumental Women petition called for more diversity and better recognition of female leaders throughout the capital, where only one in 10 statues are of women, said Jasiri Australia’s national program manager, Olivia Kourmadias.


READ MORE: How women shaped Australian history, step by step


They will also become likely additions to the She Shapes History tours, run by Canberra friends and fellow academics, Sita Sargeant and Ripley Stevens.

The duo uncovered many unknown stories about Australian women and started a walking tour around Canberra as an opportunity to share their knowledge and stories.

“Our tours celebrate the diverse and remarkable ways women have shaped Australia,” says Sita. “We aim to inspire you to reflect on how you can shape history, too.”

ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said more diversity in Canberra’s memorials is welcomed.

“Enid Lyons, Dorothy Tangney and Neville Bonner have been incredibly influential figures in Australian politics, and it is fitting they will be memorialised in the Parliamentary Triangle,” she said.

The Commonwealth Government has designated $1.25 million for the two sculptures, which are expected to be completed in 2022.

The National Capital Authority will work closely with the trio’s descendants and family members in developing each sculpture, said Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories Nola Marino.


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