“Have you seen the grotesque of her in the Great Court at the University? How delightful is the sculpture of her behind a steering wheel in homage to the way she practically and politically moved men around!”
Anna Frederika (Freda) Bage (1883-1970)
She was an Oxford High School girl who became a university lecturer in charge of biology.
She was told she was unladylike because she drove AND serviced a car AND competed in hill-climbs and reliability trials.
She was in love with flora and fauna, so much so, she fearlessly founded the Barrier Reef Committee and lead the Field Naturalists club.
She played hockey at the lowest and highest levels.
She played on the theatre and the stage.
She played her role in women’s work groups when the world was at war.
She decided that a woman’s place was in the University senate and took it.
She decided she would live and die by the principle that all women had a right to a place at University and became the first Principal of The Women’s College.
She decided that the place of women was in the University and made it her business to place herself in the centre of women’s organisations and activities.
She was Honorary Secretary of the National Council of Women in Queensland.
She was President of the Women’s Club.
She was the President of the Australian Federation of University Women.
I wander slowly past the Women’s fountain softly singing her sounds of sisterhood.
I wander slowly past the foundation other’s call the Weis fountain, but I choose to ignore them.
I wander slowly past the gift the Australian Federation of University Women gifted to The University of Queensland to remember.
I remember Freda Bage.
I remember a scholarship she gifted to me in 1992 at a time when I most needed it.
I remember that her generosity opened a car door and without hesitation I climbed in, buckled up and roared into the academy.
I wonder about women in the academy today and the engines we motor, and what she would think of the dented and dusty body I drive.
I wonder whether Freda Bage looks in the rear view mirror and shakes her head in confusion, questioning whether we are the passengers or drivers in this race around and around the Great Court.
I wonder whether she would call out and say, “What are you waiting for girl? Grab hold of that steering wheel, put your pedal to the metal and let’s rumble sister!”
I promise her then to make a fuss, giving a willful finger to the staid wooden bench opposite the flowing Women’s fountain staking Fred’s claim as I pass it by.
I promise her that the dirt and grime on her brain, body and soul would never be forgotten, and I willingly paint the grease on my face.
I promise her that even though we may no longer need a hammer – there are other ways to smash the patriachy – and as long as a I live and breathe, I will keep her engine running.
Strong women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
International Women’s Day, 2022.