‘Nameless, faceless, [women’s] stories become communal, not concerned with individuals, dates and deeds but with growth, community and connection.’

– Raylene Brown, Women at the Edge

WHGNE collaborated with The Wheeler Centre to plan and stage the first of a five-event series, Women at the Edge, in March 2020. 

Victoria’s north-eastern regions are rich with dramatic scenery – from the majestic Alpine ranges to the storied banks of the Murray River. Indigenous people have lived in the area for tens of thousands of years.

The land is home, first and foremost, to their stories and lore. Since colonisation, this region has been the backdrop, too, to many myths and legends that are imprinted on the Australian national psyche – mostly goldrush stories of bushrangers and manhunts in the high country. Where are the women in all these stories?

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ll hear from local leaders, historians and experts as they delve into the history of the region and share often unacknowledged stories of the women who have shaped the recent and distant past. Join us at George Kerferd Hotel as we salute our foremothers in style.

Five remarkable women – Liz Conor, Robynne Nelson, Raylene Brown, Dr Jacqui Durrant and Alana Johnson – took to the stage at Women at the Edge: History and Beyond in Beechworth, sharing their insights, experience and knowledge of history with a 120strong audience.

Each speaker brought a unique perspective to the discussion, but all emphasised the way mainstream history has been used as a tool of patriarchal culture. Women’s stories and experiences – though perhaps unwritten – have been strong threads that stitch together families, communities and cultures.

Listen to a podcast of the discussion here.

Associate Professor Liz Conor in an ARC Future Fellow in History at La Trobe University on the ‘Graphic Encounters : Prints of Indigenous Australians’ project. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women (UWAP, 2016) and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s (Indiana UP, 2004).

Liz is a community campaigner, founding and convening the Coalition Against Sexual Violence Propaganda(1990) on media portrayal of sexual violence, the Stick with Wik (1997) campaign on native title, the Mother’s of Intervention(2000) campaign on maternity leave, and the guerilla theatre troupe The John Howard Ladies’ Auxiliary Fanclub (with Zelda Da, 1996) and most recently the Climate Guardian Angels (with Deborah Hart, 2012). She is working on a new troupe of Cigarette Girls, The Coalettes.

Liz’s freelance essays have appeared in the Guardian, The Saturday Paper, the Age, The Conversation, The Drum, Crikey and Arena, and her blog has been archived by the National Library of Australia. She is former editor of the Aboriginal History Journal, Metro Magazine and Australian Screen Education and has published extensively on feminism, colonial and modern visual and print histor

Robynne Nelson is a proud Aboriginal woman of Yorta Yorta, Waveroo and Dja Dja Wurrung heritage. She has undertaken a broad range of consultancy projects across Victoria and NSW over the past 21 years including regional health plans, strategic planning, family services reviews, developing and reviewing service models, conference facilitation, developing policies and procedures and interagency partnership agreements, and writing Aboriginal Aged Care and Disability Policies for all Victorian Aboriginal Community Health Organisations. Robynne also completed a cross-border regional health plan for Albury Wodonga Aboriginal communities (2001) which resulted in the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service being established.

She has delivered Aboriginal cultural competency training to over 70,000 people from a wide range of agencies and services such as Victoria Police, Child Protection/DHHS, the Department of Justice, Victorian hospitals including boards and staff (including the Royal Children’s Hospital and Women’s Albury Wodonga Health), local government, community health services, aged care, child and family, and youth justice and family violence services, and universities including students and staff in Victoria and NSW. She and her husband run Culcha Camps for Victoria Police, Department of Justice, MCCC GP Training and other corporate groups.

She also has a long background working around Australia in Aboriginal Affairs, Nursing and recruitment including a role as Telstra’s QLD State Manager responsible for Indigenous recruitment across Queensland and Torres Strait.

Robynne has completed extensive research in Australia, Mauritius and India resulting in her writing and compiling the book Dharmalan Dana for and with her father, which was published by Australian National University Publishing (2014) and launched in both Australia and Mauritius by the Australian Embassy.

Robynne has been the Chair of the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative board since June 2019, post administration, working with the board and CEO to restore the organisation to its greatness, for the embetterment of her community.

Raylene is a beekeeper’s daughter who has worked in agricultural research and extension across three states and a variety of agricultural industries. More recently she has been employed in Landcare. She now owns and manages a remnant woodland property in southern NSW under a conservation agreement. She has degrees in soil science and environmental management and is completing a Graduate Certificate of Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage.

Raylene is also a writer who has had short stories published in anthologies in both Australia and overseas. She is currently writing a social history exploring the lives of three sisters who were involved with the Lachlan bushrangers of the 1860s.

Dr Jacqui Durrant is a historian and blogger specialising in early gold rush history, Aboriginal/white contact history and environmental history. Her first book, Fire on the Plateau — A History of Fire and its Management in Stanley, which concluded that climate change has dramatically increased the threat of bushfires in the local community, was published by the Stanley Athenaeum in Spring 2019. She lives in Beechworth, North East Victoria.

Alana is widely recognised for her work in rural development and gender equality. In January 2020 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to women.

A pioneer of the rural women’s movement in Australia, Alana is a founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture Inc. and former President of the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women.

Alana is the Chair of The Victorian Women’s Trust, the state’s peak women’s advocacy body. In 2018 Alana was appointed to the inaugural Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality in Victoria and was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

Alana Johnson was the Rural Women’s Award Victorian winner and Australian runner up for 2010.  Alana was named in the inaugural 100 Women of Influence in Australia by the Australian Financial Review and the inaugural 100 Women in Australian Agribusiness by Rural Press.

Alana is a founding member and past President of Voices for Indi, the acclaimed democracy project that has seen Indi be the first electorate in Australia to elect an Independent Member to follow an Independent Member of Parliament.

Currently Alana is Dep. Chair of the Victorian Catchment Management Council and a Director of Goulburn Murray Water.

Recognized for her rural activism, Alana has been a panel member on ABC Q+A and featured in the book Women’s Word of Wisdom, launched by the Governor General to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

In 2019 Alana received a Distinguished Alumni Award from La Trobe University. She has been awarded an Australian Post Graduate Scholarship to undertake her PhD research at Monash University. Alana is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Alana is fifth generation family farming engaged in cattle production, farm forestry and an award-winning habitat restoration near Benalla in NE Victoria.