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Seven Changemaking women and their impact on Virginia Haussegger

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The more things change the more they stay the same.

And for former ACT Australian of the Year and Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra Virginia Haussegger, one of the most striking things about the Museum of Australian Democracy’s new Changemakers exhibition is that many of the issues the feminist movement was agitating to change 50 years ago are the same issues women still battle today.

“Yes, the numbers of women in leadership and public life have changed significantly and continue to show a healthy upward trajectory, as the outstanding success of women at the recent 2022 federal election demonstrated, but the fundamental issues central to the inequality between men and women that our older Changemakers were fighting decades ago are still pertinent in 2022,” according to Virginia.

Invited to become a guest curator of Changemakers, Virginia worked with curator Jennifer Forrest and preeminent Australian historian Professor Marilyn Lake to help bring the exhibition to life.

She also had the responsibility to choose her own shortlist of Changemakers, around which the exhibition centres, and admits it was a daunting task.

“Despite having a great team on hand, I don’t think a day went past in which I didn’t indulge in a little panic about my choice of Changemakers. I spent countless weeks, indeed months, agonising over who I should include and why.”

Virginia chose seven living Changemakers and compiled a list of 50 contemporary Australian women Changemakers whose stories she is working on compiling.

Foremost in her mind throughout the curating process was a need to “connect the dots between women’s activism since the rise of second-wave feminism to right now. I wanted to make sure the women whose lives and work I was highlighting helped illuminate how their changemaking actions and efforts have had ripple on effects for the next generation that followed and the next, and will continue to for generations to come.”

And she believed the timing of Changemakers was particularly pertinent at this time in Australian history. ”What we’ve seen during the 2021 March4Justice, and heard recently in the voices of young women demanding policy and political reform around sexual violence and harassment, echo a strong and proud Australian history of women speaking up.

“It is a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of many other women who have come before us. This exhibition focuses specifically on recent, modern-day battles in the latter half of last century, which clearly still have resounding resonance today. However, underpinning the activism represented in Changemakers, is a proud and very strong Australian tradition of female courage, determination and willingness to be outspoken in the face of inequity and outright misogyny. This tradition harks right back to those fabulous, law-breaking suffragettes, and the generations that preceded them.”

Guest Curator of Changemakers Virginia Haussegger at the exhibition opening at Old Parliament House. Photo: Pew Pew Studio.

She prefaces her choices by noting that she used her professional life as a journalist over more than three decades as her guiding framework.

“In essence, the women I have chosen to highlight and celebrate in this exhibition are women whose lives, or work, have in one way or another had an impact on me and the events that have focused and shaped my journalism. That impact has also played a part in my development as a feminist.

“My choices are the result of a very personal reflection…But I believe the seven key women highlighted at the centre of this exhibition each embody some little nugget of inspiration that will touch the heart of every visitor.”

Virginia Haussegger’s Top Seven Changemakers:

Quentin Bryce

Beloved as Australia’s first and only female governor-general, Quentin Bryce has enjoyed a rich and distinguished career of service in law, academia, community and human rights. She is a lifelong champion of Indigenous Australians and passionate about the healing value of sharing stories. Her landmark 2015 report to the Queensland Government, Not Now, Not Ever, led to significant law reform aiming to end violence against women.

Australia’s first female Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce. Image supplied by MoAD.

Quentin Bryce is a feminist giant, who dared to boldly strut the corridors of power in stilettos! But it’s her enduring passion for service, social justice, women’s rights and her unyielding faith in the courage and strength of Australian women that I find most awe-inspiring. She is an Australian treasure and the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met.

Anne Summers

Feminist scholar, writer, journalist and women’s rights activist, Anne Summers was a leading light in the women’s liberation movement and remains a pivotal player in the push for gender equity.

Her first book, Damned Whores and God’s Police, tore open the patriarchal structures of Australian society to reveal its deeply entrenched sexism. In her role with the Office for the Status of Women, Summers was a key ‘femocrat’, driving reform that expanded women’s lives and opportunities. She gained international fame as editor-in-chief and owner of Ms. magazine in the USA.

Feminist scholar Anne Summers. Image supplied by MoAD

I remain in awe of Anne Summers’ tireless dedication to improving public discourse around women, power and gender equity. Her brave and brilliant career, with all its bold and wild leaps, serves as a potent inspiration to all those who hope to follow in her wake. Summers is simply magnificent!

Natasha Stott-Despoja

At 26, Natasha Stott-Despoja became the youngest woman elected to the Australian Parliament and then, as leader of the Australian Democrats, the youngest woman to lead a political party. A lifetime warrior for women’s rights and gender equality, Stott-Despoja was propelled onto the global stage as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls. In 2020 she was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Former Australian Democrats Leader Natasha Stott Despoja. Photo by Regis Martin/Getty Images.

Stott-Despoja is a feminist trailblazer at every turn. Despite the brutality and inherent sexism of Australian politics, her dedication to fighting the good fight has never paused. Her advocacy to end violence against women, which she described in a national address as ‘one of the most heinous manifestations of gender inequality’, has been relentless. She is a treasured beacon of feminist values and compassion.

Nyadol Nyuon

Community advocate, lawyer, writer and chair of Harmony Alliance, Nyadol Nyuon has emerged as a powerful voice for migrant and refugee women. Born in a Kenyan refugee camp to Sudanese freedom fighter parents and arriving in Australia at the age of 18, she has fought against all odds to rise to a position of leadership. Her dedication to supporting refugee communities and promoting the safety and security of migrant women has won national acclaim.

Lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon. Image supplied by MoAD.

I was blown away by Nyadol’s address to the National Press Club in 2021 when she called for a bold ‘reimagining’ of Australia. Despite her first-hand experience of poverty, racism and gender discrimination, she spoke with the soaring spirit and optimism of a truly remarkable leader. She is commanding and visionary—a deeply inspiring woman for our times.

Grace Tame

Grace Tame is a powerful activist and advocate for survivors of child sexual assault. With journalist and fellow assault survivor Nina Funnell, Tame led #LetHerSpeak, a public campaign in their home state of Tasmania to overturn state laws that prevented survivors from speaking publicly about their ordeal. Tame was named 2021 Australian of the Year. She used her profile to call out systemic misogyny and government inaction on sexual violence and gender abuse. Her actions have drawn both wrath and acclaim.

Former Australian of the Year and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse Grace Tame. Image supplied by MoAD.

Grace shot to feminist fame the moment she raised her Australian of the Year award and bellowed, ‘Well, hear me now!’ I was there on the night and utterly awe struck by the ferocity of both her passion and courage. Tame’s intelligence, integrity and deep conviction have fast-tracked her rightful role as an emerging feminist icon.

Lowitja O’Donoghue

A formidable survivor of the Stolen Generations, Lowitja O’Donoghue has dedicated her life to ending discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She built a remarkable career in health and public administration, responsible for major policy reforms to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. She is the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly, and was a member of the Aboriginal Negotiating Team for Native Title Legislation arising out of the Mabo High Court decision.

Indigenous leader Lowitja O’Donoghue. Image supplied by MoAD.

The incredible life journey of Lowitja O’Donoghue is a story of unyielding resilience and self-determination. It’s a story that must be shared through generations, as she is a true Australian legend and one of our nation’s most remarkable women. Thankfully, the many racist roadblocks she encountered throughout her extraordinary life failed to hold her back. From my first encounter with her, Lowitja always embodied a fierce feminist combination of steely conviction, yet deep and enduring compassion.

Megan Davis

Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman from the Barrungam nation, Megan Davis is a constitutional and human rights lawyer and leading First Nations activist. She is the first Aboriginal Australian to sit on a United Nations body and is an expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, with multiple portfolios including gender and women. Davis was instrumental in delivering the Uluru Statement from the Heart, calling for a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

First Nations activist and lawyer Megan Davis. Image supplied by MoAD.

Megan Davis is a rare mix of piercing brilliance and beautiful, uncomplicated compassion. She is such a giant among Australia’s Indigenous community and the nation’s public intellectuals. She has forged a stunning and multifaceted pathway through both academia and Indigenous activism, always navigating progress with the big picture in focus.

To hear a diverse selection of Australian Women Changemakers in conversation with Virginia Haussegger, download the Broadtalk podcast at or find it on any pod platform. First episode, out now, features a raw and intimate discussion with Chanel Contos, founder of ‘Teach Us Consent’. 


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What: Changemakers
Where: Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
When: When: 9am – 5pm daily.

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