Anzac Day has always been a very blokey event. We honour the fallen in battle and in those early campaigns they were all men.
But women did play a role in the story of ANZAC and we at College are glad to acknowledge the role of women in war that has often been unrecognised. As has the part played by our indigenous troops.
The Women’s College opened its doors at Kangaroo Point in March 1914, just five months before Australia entered World War 1. There were 19 students and most of them had fought hard to get there, against the community, against their families, against prejudice. They were clever young women...seven were on Open Scholarships, the 20 scholarships the Government gave each year to the top students in the State.
By early 1915, they were heavily involved in the war. Many had brothers and fathers at the Front. The Council’s Treasurer Arthur Oakes and the maths tutor Mr Croker enlisted early, as did Bob Bage the younger brother of College principal Freda Page.
The College women helped stitch the flag of the Ninth Battalion, part of the Third Infantry Brigade, the first ashore in the Anzac landing on April 25.
On May 7, 1915, Captain Bob Bage aged 27 died at Lone Pine. A few months later Arthur Oakes was killed. And these were just the first deaths, with many more to come.
Freda Bage led her young women through the years of the war. Aged just 30 when she became principal, she was the only female member of the University’s War Committee. Despite the Queensland Labor Government’s opposition to conscription, she actively campaigned for it. She joined the National Council of Women and became Treasurer of its Patriotic Fund Committee and secretary of its Womens Registration Bureau which was set up to register women for all the work that needed to be done while the men were away.
Many of the girls came from country properties which their mothers and sisters were working while their menfolk were away, for country boys were among the first to enlist. From Winton in Western Queensland, where I spend time nowadays, for example, 500 young men set off on the Great Adventure leaving their women to look after things. On the great ride by the Light Horse into Beersheba, 85 of the horsemen came from Winton.
At Kangaroo Point, the girls were busy doing their own bit for the war effort. They rolled bandages, they sewed, they knitted socks, they packed parcels for the Front. There were no more dances.
But the Council did make a special dispensation and the students were allowed to have servicemen on leave for Sunday tea. Bob Bage, when he went away, had left his sister his car and throughout the war the little yellow car became famous as it ferried servicemen to the two Military Hospitals and young women to visit them there.
So Anzac Day, first celebrated in 1916, had great meaning for the students of Women’s College.
The war had taken its toll in another way. By 1917 there were 25 women in College, but in that year only nine of them passed their exams.
Freda Bage put this down to the fact of their very active participation.
Pictured: In 2016 Dr Sallyanne Atkinson AO with Women's College residents who attended St Hilda's School