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About the Zelda D'Aprano monument

This monument outside Trades Hall depicts Zelda D’Aprano, who chained herself to the doors of the Commonwealth building following the failure of the Arbitration Commission to award Equal Pay in 1969. The statue not only honours Zelda’s work as an equal pay activist, feminist and trade unionist, but is also a rallying point as union women continue to fight for pay equity across every workplace and industry. 

The work was commissioned by Victorian Trades Hall Council and A Monument of One’s Own. The project has been funded by union contributions and individual donations, with support from the Victorian Government through the Women's Public Art Program. The bronze statue sculpted by artist Jennifer Mann was unveiled Tuesday 30 May 2023 on the corner of Lygon & Victoria streets, outside Victorian Trades Hall Council. 

Jennifer Mann titled the work “Chain Reaction”. The work seeks to honour Zelda within the context of women's activist history more broadly. Zelda stands alone, but landscaping around the site invites visitors to literally stand with Zelda. The statue is a celebration of activism, and particularly the power of collective. The quote at the base of the statue is “Today it was me, tomorrow there will be two of us, the next day there will be three and it will go on and on and there won’t be any stopping it”. She was right – at the next chain up Zelda was joined by two striking teachers, and now she is joined by hundreds of thousands of union women everyday. 

It’s a hot day, and some bastard arbitrator is telling you, officially, that women don’t deserve to be paid as much as men. So you chain yourself to the exit of a Commonwealth building to demand the government get serious on equal pay. That was Zelda D’Aprano in 1969.  

Zelda was a polarising figure. She had many comrades, but also plenty of detractors. You’d expect nothing less of a woman who quit the Communist Party in objection to their patriarchal politics. But these days, women of the union movement hold her in high esteem. Her exploits – including the chain up, but also stunts like only paying 75% of the tram fare to highlight the injustice of unequal pay – are legendary. It is whispered around the corridors of Trades Hall that she was even the first woman unionist to start drinking with the boys at the John Curtin after work. We truly walk in the footsteps of giants.   

Zelda’s parents had suffered anti-Semitic persecution before migrating to Melbourne. Her mother Rachel Leah Orloff was appalled by the slum conditions of Carlton, and in Zelda’s words, soon swapped her religion for membership of the Communist Party, seeking to make the world a fairer place.   

As a working-class kid, Zelda left school at 14 to support her family, knocking around jobs as biscuit maker, usherette, seamstress, nurse and office worker, but always a committed trade unionist. She married Charlie D’Aprano at 16 and gave birth to her daughter Leonie a year later.   

When she came to work for the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, Zelda was invited to a meeting of women unionists in 1969, to discuss how they might advance the equal pay case. At that first meeting, only one other woman, Diana Sonenberg, Secretary of the Insurance Staff Federation, turned up – but she and Zelda spoke of their admiration for the tactics of suffragist women in the UK, and together they devised the plan for the chain-up.   

Zelda’s protest necessitated planning and resources; the women had cased the commission earlier to determine the length of chain to use. Jim Donnegan from the Painters and Dockers had donated the chain to Zelda on the condition of strict anonymity, which she honoured until after his death. The media had all been called and were in attendance. Placards, held aloft by other women activists, had been painted. Zelda had not eaten or drunk anything all day before the chain-up, worried that she would need to go to the bathroom. A journalist who snapped her picture sneered at her - “what do you possibly hope to achieve here? You’re just one woman”. Canonically, she replied “Today it was me, tomorrow there will be two of us, the next day there will be three and it will go on and on and there won’t be any stopping it”. 

The media coverage of Zelda’s chain-up attracted more women activists, despite the squeemishness of unions about the whole matter. After another chain-up - this time with two striking teachers - the “Women’s Action Committee” was formed. By the 1970s they were campaigning against workplace discrimination, sexist advertising, and for abortion law reform. It went on and on...there was no stopping it.  

In 2012 ASU members in the community sector won pay rises between 19-41% after arguing the sector was systematically underpaid because the work was predominantly performed by women. Activists campaigned in their thousands, in workplaces, in the streets, and in the media.  Zelda was a speaker at these rallies and when asked of the experience she stated - “When I was invited to speak at the union rally outside Trades Hall, I had no idea what form this was going to take. When I saw the crowds – several thousand and mainly women – I was astonished.”   

“I was so excited and thrilled to see this because for years I had gone to trade union meetings where we were lucky if there were five women there, and none of them saying anything. And here were these thousands of women – and so enthusiastic participating in this big demonstration”.   

“It’s something I always wanted to see, and here I was looking at it.” Her voice shook.   

“Oh sisters, you’ve done me proud”.  

In 2018 Zelda passed away, but not before seeing how her story was already becoming legend in the trade union movement that had spurned her many years earlier. Trades Hall was awarding an annual “Zelda award” for women activists, and she was celebrated at annual Women’s Rights at Work festivals.  

Now Zelda’s story is a permanent feature at Trades Hall.  


Quotes attributable, Wilhelmina Stracke, Assistant Secretary, Trades Hall 

“Zelda D’Aprano was a feminist activist and trade union legend. Moved to action by witnessing injustice, she and her trade union sisters took direct action for gender pay equality.” 

“Her exploits as an activist are legendary. She organised women to ride trams and pay only 75% of the fare, she joined pub crawls protesting women’s exclusion from hotel front bars, and contributed to the organising of Melbourne’s first pro-choice rally”.  

“But by far her most iconic action was chaining herself to the Commonwealth building to protest the Federal Arbitration Commission’s failure to deliver equal pay. On that day she told a journalist “Today it was me, tomorrow there will be two of us, the next day four and it will go on and on and there won’t be any stopping it”.   

“Zelda is an important link in the chain of trade union women who have taken action over decades to advance the cause of women’s rights at work. This is a place for Victorians to sit and reflect on the progress that has been made, and consider their own role in building a more just and equal world.” 

“We are proud that in the last years of Zelda’s life, Zelda began to get the recognition that she so clearly deserved from our movement. It was a privilege to stand next to her with thousands of ASU women in the campaign for the SACS Equal Pay test case”.  

Quotes attributable Professor Clare Wright OAM, Professor of History, La Trobe University and co-convenor of A Monument of One’s Own

“The creation of this statue of Zelda D’Aprano is a critical act of commemorative justice in Australia, where less than 4% of statues depict women.”  

“Zelda’s famous action in 1969 saw her occupying public space in a way that was counter to the prevailing norm of women as silent, demure and inconspicuous.  It is fitting that she will now occupy a permanent space in our civic landscape, a reminder that women have always had to fight for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.” 

“By honouring Zelda’s work in this way, we honour all women who collectively have struggled for equal pay, wage justice and economic security.”