Every year the Australian Women’s History Forum runs a themed “Women’s History Month” in March. This year’s theme is music to the ears of a pointy-headed food nerd:
Demeter’s daughters: women’s harvest history
The history of food farming in Australia is much more than the record of agricultural production. When the focus is on women, the story starts with Indigenous food harvesting and includes the pioneering cultivation of familiar crops in unfamiliar soil by colonial women.
It also involves meat producers, dairy and poultry farmers, and market gardeners of Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese and many other nationalities. Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture, also symbolises women growing food in the Depression and those of the wartime Women’s Land Army; women in wartime ‘victory gardens’ when food was still rationed, those who pioneered viticulture and those whose hand was on the plough of agricultural education and research.
The poster shows a portrait of Lu Moo (‘Granny Lum Loy’) by Sydney artist Karolina Venter. Chinese-born, she arrived in Darwin in 1894 and became a very successful market gardener, so beloved that her funeral in 1980 was “one of the biggest and longest in Darwin’s history” – which given the Territorian’s propensity to party on must have been something to see.
There’s a growing list of relevant resources, and a calendar of events searchable by area, and a blog, where they’re seeking community input. They’ve already attracted the interest of the Gooloogong Historical Society who are searching for Women’s Land Army members and their descendants, so if you know someone who dug for victory, they’d love to hear from you.
My only sadness is that they have kept the theme to food production, rather than to other forms of women’s economic activity around food – there’s some very interesting work to be done on the Australian female chefs of the late 1970s and 1980s. (And if anyone’s doing that work, I happen to have a really awesome collection of old food mags and forgotten volumes on the subject …)