She Shapes History: Telling diverse stories of the past to empower the present | HerCanberra

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She Shapes History: Telling diverse stories of the past to empower the present

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She Shapes History is enacting change and empowering women through entertaining historical walking tours.

We’re reclaiming the history of Australia’s capital by sharing the stories of the incredible women who have been forgotten, ignored, and marginalised.

I joined She Shapes History at the start of the year, bringing six years of conservation and curatorial experience from working at different cultural institutions in Canberra. As I moved between institutions, I often found myself asking—where are the women? So when I found out about She Shapes History, I was thrilled to discover that I wasn’t the only one asking this question.

Although I grew up hearing only one version of Australian history, as I got older I discovered our country actually has a rich and diverse past—one where the first woman to vote in Australia was a woman of colour, where our country’s best spy during the Cold War was a suburban housewife, and where a woman designed our nation’s capital.

Australian history is often dismissed as boring and unrelatable. The dominating narratives falsely suggest that the only people who have shaped our nation are men. In doing so a lot of women, especially women of colour and those from the LGBTQIA+ and disability communities, cannot see themselves reflected in our shared past. The stories they’ve heard do not match their perception of national identity, fostering a disconnect that we want to connect back.

By hosting historical walking tours, creating educational social media content, and partnering with community organisations, we’re trying to preserve and celebrate Canberra’s diverse heritage, bring business to women and LGBTQIA+-owned businesses, and share the stories of our community. We want our content to reflect Australia’s full diversity by highlighting the incredible strength and resilience of women while also acknowledging the structural inequalities and challenges they face.

Lucy Dingwall takes a walking tour discussing the contribution of women to the city.

I feel so privileged that I can spend weekends sharing our city’s stories through storytelling. Women are often teased for being chatterboxes and gossips, and I am here to say I am incredibly proud to be exactly that. Sharing stories with other women is what I have been doing my whole life, where I have felt safest and where I have learned the most. Women are traditionally the storytellers to warn and teach, and I like to think we are doing this in a contemporary way. Whilst I know the stories we share are important to changing the perceptions of Australian history being ‘pale, male and stale’, I also know how we tell them is just as important in making history more accessible.

Every time I do my weekend tour and talk about Marion Mahoney Griffin, the woman who was married to Walter Burley Griffin and co-designed Canberra but got no credit, there are increasingly people who nod in recognition of the name. It’s moments like this that I know that what She Shapes History does has the ability to shape history itself.

I no longer find myself asking – where are the women? Because I know, they are everywhere.

Feature image: She Shapes History leaders Lucy Dingwall and Sita Sargent. 

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