Did you know that there are more public sculptures of famous animals in Victoria than there are of famous women? Did you know that of 580 public statues in Melbourne, only 4.3% are women? And that only 1.4% are non-fictional and non-royal? (i.e. not the Queen or Greek/Roman goddesses.)
On Friday March 5th, however, the ratio was improved marginally with the unveiling of a monument dedicated to one of the great women of union history: Helen Robertson.
Helen, a staunch leader and activist during the Tailoresses' Strike, probably never thought about being immortalised in bronze. What she wanted, and what she finally saw built, was something useful: a place where women could organise and build their collective power. As was mentioned in the story above, the Female Operatives Hall was built in 1884 following the Tailoresses' Strike. It was, admittedly, a way for the THC to support women unionists but keep them at arm's length, but in practical terms the space was massively valuable.
It no longer stands, as visitors to the Hall today will know. It was torn down in 1960 to make space for the "New Building" that looms over the back of Trades Hall now. This is a sin that the Victorian union movement must live with. However, some small justice was done for Helen this past week with the unveiling of her monument, which will stand at the Lygon Street entrance for as long as the building does. We hope you will come by and pay your respects to Helen and the great many women whose names we unfortunately do not know.
We spoke with Jennifer Mann (@jennifermannsculptor on Instagram) who was the artist behind the monument unveiled on Friday. Here is what she had to say about the face and the woman she spent so many hours bringing to life:
Speaking about the process of making the sculpture itself, she said:
And regarding the rewriting of history, she says: