My story was inspired by women such as Miller and she is one of the best remembered suffragists of the early twentieth century. Her influence contributed to the right for Australian women to vote in national elections – the same voting rights as men – under the Federal Electoral Act 1902. In the UK however, it was not until twenty-six years later, on the passing of the Equal Franchise Act 1928, that British women finally achieved these same rights.
In 1917, the year Miller died, one of Australia’s most significant industrial actions took place. More than a hundred thousand workers protested, with hundreds of women marching in from Sydney suburbs to confront parliament. It had started with a simple protest against the implementation of timecards for public transport employees (which meant easy dismissal for so-called ‘inefficient’ workers). It soon became a cross-industry national event with daily mass protests over a period of six weeks.
Specifically employed ‘strike-breakers’ were employed to address the Great Strike. It was often a brutal event. After a striker was shot and killed, films of strike events were censored. The importance of industrial action during this time may have been diluted by the fact it occurred during the major upheaval caused by the First World War. But as some historians have noted, key events were subsequently written out of the history books.
The war also impacted the suffragist movement, which became quieter during that time. If Emma Miller were alive today, she might appreciate how much has been gained as a result of her brave struggle for equal rights, but over one hundred years later, would she say there is even more to be done?
In A Hospital in the Clouds, you step into the post World War 1 period, and meet Anna, a suffragette and nurse; a woman with a dark secret, but whose experiences are reflected even today.
© Mhairead Macleod 2023