Twenty-three years ago there were — officially — no women farmers.
Back in 1994 Australian farm women were still classified in the Australian census as ‘‘domestics’’, ‘‘helpmates’’, or ‘‘farmers’ wives’’.
However, women have played a key role on the land for decades, and a new exhibition at the Melbourne Museum is attempting to share the history of farming women.
Women of the Land is an initiative of Museums Victoria, the first Australian institution to record rural women’s voices, in collaboration with Her Place Women’s Museum Australia and the Invisible Farmer Project.
The exhibition includes the stories of Heather Mitchell, the first female president of the VFF, poultry farmer and CFA volunteer Pat Bingham, as well as Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung senior elder Aunty Fay Carter and farmer and agricultural mentor Val Lang.
‘‘Each of these women has lived their commitment to the land and the communities who rely upon it. Too often, the contribution of women to the land has been ignored or disregarded,’’ said Mary Stuart, who chairs Her Place Women’s Museum Australia.
A 1986 review of the Victorian Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs exposed a shocking statistic — that, out of a budget of $50million, only $100 had been spent on women.
‘‘In Australia, there are more statues to animals than to real women. Women of the land shouldn’t have to sit on a tucker box to get noticed,’’ Ms Stuart said.
Launched in March, the Invisible Farmer Project is the largest ever study of Australian women in agriculture.
Curators Liza Dale-Hallett and Catherine Forge have been working towards uncovering and documenting the stories of Australian farm women through interviews, photographs and social media campaigns inviting women to partake in the history-making process.
‘‘The stories of Australian farm women have always existed but they haven’t always been recorded in official documentation or celebrated in the public eye.
‘‘Through this project we are asking women to step forward into the spotlight, to have their stories recorded for posterity, and to share their reflections on what it means to be a female farmer in the 21st century,’’ Ms Forge said.
The Women of the Land exhibition was launched on Friday in the lead up to the UN International Day of Rural Women which was celebrated on Sunday, October 15.
The day recognises the critical role and contribution of rural women, including Indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.
■The exhibition is now open at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton and will be on display until November 26.