Walk with Western Australian women and discover history

Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB)’s CEO, Kathleen Oliver

Pioneering women who helped shape colonial Western Australia have largely been overshadowed in our history and our culture. Until now.

Karrakatta Cemetery’s new dedicated historical trail honours women who have impacted the social, economic, and political fabric of our society.

The WA Women’s Hall of Fame organisation – with nearly 300 inspiring inductees – collaborated on the project with the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB).

“Most people might recognise perhaps only 10 per cent of the names on the trail so this is a great opportunity to acknowledge all these women and the important roles they played in our history,” said MCB’s CEO, Kathleen Oliver. 

The trail, with 22 noted women including 16 WA Women’s Hall of Fame inductees, will gradually grow.

“These women are part of our history and it is our role to keep their stories alive and share them with future generations in a style that engages with our contemporaries,” said WA Women’s Hall of Fame spokesperson, Gina Church.

“The recognition of women through this event encourages and empowers women to be more progressive and helps shape public policy, to improve women’s position and status in society,” she said.

At Karrakatta, Perth’s largest cemetery, Ms Oliver led Have a Go News on the trail through tree-lined, shady and manicured grounds along with café and public facilities. The trail comes in three easily-accessible loops.

Ms Oliver said visitors can walk just part of the trail or spend up to three hours examining historic headstones and amazingly-diverse monuments.

We pass prominent names including Dame Dorothy Tangney (1907-1985), Edith Cowan (1861-1932), Lady Margaret Forrest (1844-1929) and Grace Drake-Brockman (1860-1935).

Using a smart phone or tablet device, visitors can take the self-guided trail, scanning a QR code for a map and biographical information. Printed maps are available from the administration building. The free trail is accessible to the public every day.

The “Walking with Western Australian Women” trail links with International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of Inspire Inclusion.

WA pioneering women’s achievements were amazingly diverse as these four chosen examples demonstrate.

Susan Adelaide Casson (1871 – 1952).
Susan dedicated much of her life to helping people affected by mental illness when many sufferers were institutionalised for long periods. She sought to have psychiatric patients rehabilitated in the community. Residential facilities in Perth bear her name, including Casson House. Susan founded the Mental Hospital After Care and Comforts Fund, now called Casson Homes, one of Australia’s first mental health charities. The first female ALP Perth organiser she was the second woman to be appointed a Justice of the Peace.  

Mary Ann Millstead (1887 – 1949).
Mary was a pioneer in the Wongan Hills district in the 1900s. Raising eight children and working  on a farm, Mary was also the district surrogate midwife. With no medical services in the area and having no formal training, she took out the sulky at all hours, bringing new life into the world. With a wheat and sheep farm with her husband, Mary helped establish Wongan Hills Progress Association, campaigning for local amenities, schools, regular mail and a railway.

Mary Ann Millstead (1887-1949) Millsteed Family Collection

Dr Roberta Jull (1872-1961).
WA’s first woman to practice medicine, Dr Jull worked with her brother, a Guildford GP. Her daughter was leading writer Henrietta Drake-Brockman. In 1917, Dr Jull became a medical officer for schools with the Department of Public Health and spent much of her life fighting for women’s and children’s equality. 

Dr Roberta Jull (1872- 1961) © State Library of Western Australia 007372D

Ada Bromham (1880 – 1965).
Ada led the Australian delegation to the International Suffrage Alliance Congress in Paris, conducting the Tasmanian and South Australian campaign for temperance and six o’clock closing (of pubs).

She also joined a peace delegation to Peking. Ada, who had worked for the welfare of Indigenous families in South Australia and Victoria, spent the last phase of her life in Perth devoted to this cause.

A mechanic and competitor in hill-climbs, Ada crossed the Nullarbor from 1916 several times and took a growing interest in social issues. 

She became Australian representative for the world WCTU council for the advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and later WA divisional superintendent. She fought against State MPs and the Commonwealth Minister for Territories for better conditions for Indigenous people.