The Women's Museum

Molly Clark, founder of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame.

Image courtesy of Barry Skipsey.

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame is one of two women’s museums in Australia, formed as “a public museum for the purpose of recognising and honouring pioneering women who contributed to the development of Australia”, holding within its collection women’s objects donated from across the country and commemorating in a permanent exhibition the achievements of women from across the nation who have been” first in their field”.

The Hall of Fame defines a pioneer woman as any woman who is a pioneer in her chosen field from settlement to present day and commemorates the achievements of all Australian women.

Incorporated as a non-profit organisation, the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame acknowledges the considerable and ongoing support received from the Northern Territory Government, the Federal Government, Tourism NT and many thousands of hours of work by dedicated volunteers.

Advertisement in the local newspaper, the Centralian Advocate, for a public meeting to discuss the founding of a national women’s museum in Alice Springs, January 1993

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame was founded by Molly Clark of Old Andado Station, which lies approximately 330 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs. On 2 February 1993, a public meeting was called by Molly Clark and supporters in Alice Springs, at which Molly outlined the aims and objectives of the proposed women’s museum:

“That a future Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame be located in Alice Springs to commemorate and acknowledge the contribution made by women in outback Australia…
The need for such a facility in Alice Springs to satisfy the interests of tourists to Central Australia who wish to learn more about “pioneer life” in outback regions”.
These objectives were further articulated in the first meeting under the newly established committee, held in Alice Springs on 17 February 1993:
“In the first instance, my whole object was to establish a venture to commemorate and preserve the stories, history, of the women who pioneered paths with or without men. Therefore a “Hall” was envisaged so that this memorabilia could be housed and displayed, that later generations may know and understand some of the “blood, sweat and tears” that went into putting down the paths they now tread…”.
The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame became an incorporated association in April 1993 and in March 1994 the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory leased the Old Courthouse to the organisation for five years. The fledgling National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame first opened permanently to the public in September 1994.

In 1935 Nancy Bird was employed to operate her aircraft as an Aerial Ambulance & Baby Clinic becoming the first woman engaged in commercial aviation in Australia. Image courtesy of Nancy Bird Walton, photographer unknown.

By 2001, the Old Courthouse had become too small for the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame and, not being purpose built, posed both exhibition and storage problems. The former HM Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs, which had been decommissioned in 1996 and saved from demolition by the local community, was offered as a lease to the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, an offer which was accepted in 2004. Clare Martin, the first woman Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, announced the handover of the Gaol for use by the Hall of Fame. On 8 March 2007, Minister for Women’s Policy Marion Scrymgour, herself the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the Northern Territory Parliament, officially opened the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame in its new location.

Patrons of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame

Dame Quentin Bryce, Patron of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, at the Museum’s 2015 International Women’s Day Open Day, March 8.

Dame Quentin Bryce is the Patron of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. Dame Quentin is a pioneer in contemporary Australian society. She studied law and arts and was one of the first women to be admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1965. She was a lecturer and tutor in law at the University of Queensland (1968-1983), becoming the first woman to be appointed to the faculty; Convenor of the National Women’s Advisory Council (1982-1984); the first Director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service (1984-1987); the Queensland Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1987-1988); the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner (1988-1993); the founding Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (1993-1996); the Principal and Chief Executive of The Women’s College, University of Sydney (1997-2003); and Governor of Queensland (2003-2008), before being sworn in as Governor-General of Australia. She is also the mother of five children. Dame Quentin Bryce features on our Signature Quilt and in our permanent exhibition Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives: First in their Field.

Dame Quentin Bryce was our honoured guest for our 2015 International Women’s Day Open Day. Information on our weekend of events celebrating International Women’s Day 2015 can be found below.

Further information on Dame Quentin Bryce can be found at the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia webpage.

NPWHF Co-Patron Gaby Kennard at our International Women’s Day Open Day, 2014.

Our Co-Patron is Gaby Kennard. In 1989, Gaby became the first Australian woman to fly solo around the world, a journey which took 99 days. The story of this journey is told in her book Solo Woman: Gaby Kennard’s World Flight and in the documentary Gaby Kennard Solo Woman. Gaby features in our permanent exhibition Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives: First in their Field. She was our honoured guest for our 2014 International Women’s Day Open Day.

Further information on Gaby Kennard can be found on her webpage.

International Women's Day

Each year, the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame celebrates International Women’s Day and our anniversary on the 8 March. 

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Pledge for Parity’.  Our Gala Dinner included a Q & A titled ‘What Women Bring to the Table’.  The Q & A panel was made up of the following women:

Andrea Johnston-Facilitator

Trish Crossin, Robyn Lambley, Clare Martin and Jacinta Price

Patricia Margaret “Trish” Crossin - Trish Crossin was first elected to represent the Northern Territory in the Senate in 1998. She was the first woman elected to Federal Parliament in the Northern Territory where she served from June 1998 to September 2013.

Clare Majella Martin - In 2001 Clare Martin led the Labor Party to its first ever victory in the Northern Territory. Clare was Chief Minister for over six years, and during that time held a number of ministries.

Robyn Jane Lambley MLA-Robyn was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly representing the division of Araluen for the Country Liberal Party in a 2010 by-election following the resignation of Jodeen Carney. Since leaving the Country Liberal Party in 2015, Robyn sits as an Independent Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Jacinta Price - Jacinta Price is a Warlpiri/Celtic woman who has grown up in Alice Springs and currently holds a place on our local Alice Springs Town Council.

Local reporter Andrea Johnston facilitated the Q & A discussion.

We held our Open Day on Sunday 6 March, with two guest speakers, Clare Martin and Jacinta Price.  8CCC community radio station broadcast live and took the opportunity to interview guests for their thoughts on International Women’s Day. We launched four audio profiles from the radio series of our Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives project. 

8CCC annoucer Joy Taylor and her assistant broadcasting live from our open day

 Click here to view our 2015 International Women’s Day celebrations.

International Association of Women's Museums

In 2000-2001, Pauline Cockrill, who was then curator of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, was that year’s recipient of the Northern Territory Government’s Women’s Fellowship. She spent three months overseas studying the history, management and organisation of real and virtual women’s museums, identifying around 40 women’s museums around the world, dedicated to women’s cultural history or art. Pauline Cockrill described women’s museums as growing out of the international women’s movement of the late 1960s and developing in order to bring women’s history out of the shadows.

At the time of Pauline Cockrill’s research, there was only sporadic and isolated contact between women’s museums across the world. In 2000, the Women’s Museum in Merano, Italy learned of the Woman’s Museum “Henriette Bathily” in Gorée, Senegal, and so began an important collaboration. One of the outcomes of this collaboration was a congress of international women’s museums.

The International Association of Women’s Museums, and its forerunner the Network of Women’s Museums, was established by and grew out of a number of international congresses of women’s museums. The first of these was hosted by the Women’s Museum of Merano and the Women’s Museum “Henriette Bathily” in Gorée. The “godmother” of this first international congress was the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2003) and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.

The collaboration “womeninmuseum”/Network of Women’s Museums was created at this first Congress, a loose union of women’s museums and initiatives dedicated to women which defined their common objectives as: increasing the visibility and acceptance of women’s museums; actively supporting each other; and making use of an internet platform in order to push ahead the work of the network.

A Resolution of the 1st International Congress of Women’s Museums was proclaimed which included a common definition of a women’s museum: “Women’s Museums are diverse; they reflect political, cultural, artistic, economic and social roles and situations of women in the past and present. They preserve and generate women’s cultures, remove prejudices and contribute to the respect of women and human rights. They are the mirror of society and also of the changing of the world”.

A year later followed the second international congress of women’s museums, held in Bonn, Germany, which had as its goal: “to make the network a strong instrument for women’s culture and women’s museums, to strengthen the exchange of knowledge and projects and to lead the way to mutual support. The enthusiasm shall spread from this conference to other countries and further the rise of new fascinating projects”.

The issues discussed at this congress included the ongoing coordination of the network and the importance,development and possibilities of an internet platform. A working group was established, consisting of at least one representative per continent. The working group’s tasks included researching the advantages and disadvantages of membership with the International Council of Museums and deciding on the criteria for admission of other museums to the network.

As part of the second congress, the first common exhibition of women’s museums worldwide opened, Women’s Museums Worldwide which included Idols – Role Models – Heroines, in which 28 museums participated.

The Third International Congress of Women’s Museums was held in 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Five important topics were discussed at this congress. Firstly, it was decided that it would be advantageous to become members of the International Council of Museums and agreement reached on working towards an affiliated membership of the Council. This required the founding of an international association and for half of all the network’s members to join the International Council of Museums. Secondly, a new Council Committee was elected, with a single co-ordinator as well as representatives from each continent. Thirdly, in deciding on criteria for membership to the Network of Women’s Museums, it was agreed to accept any museum which would like to become a member. It was also decided to make two changes to the 2008 Resolution, so that museums which followed and signed that resolution would be invited into the network and that the network be opened to single persons as “friends of women’s museums”. Finally, it was agreed that the fourth international congress of women’s museums would be held in Alice Springs, Australia, in 2012.

Between 2010 and 2012 (the third and fourth international congresses respectively), a two-day “protocol meeting” was held in Berlin, attended by European members of the “International Network of Women’s Museums”. Funding was no longer available for the co-ordinator role (held by Astrid Schönweger) and so representatives at this meeting decided that all member museums would pay a set monthly fee to cover the part-time co-ordinator’s position while permanent funding was sourced and secured. It was also agreed that preparations were needed in the lead-up to the Australian congress for the creation of the international association, the formation of
which had been agreed upon at the third international congress the previous year.

The fourth international congress of women’s museums was held in Alice Springs, hosted by the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. At this fourth congress, representatives decided on a name for the international association, the International Association of Women’s Museums, as well as membership, voting provisions for the General Assembly and the structure of the Executive Board for the new association. The objectives of the newly formed International Association of Women’s Museums were determined in the organisation’s Statutes and described in detail in a Resolution, also formulated at the 2012 Congress.

The International Association of Women’s Museums has been established as a non-profit association, with its registered seat in Bonn, Germany. Its purpose is to promote “culture, arts, education and training from a female perspective” and it undertakes to realise these objectives “by research and development of projects, exhibitions, new initiatives, community activities, seminars and conferences”.

The ethos of the International Association of Women’s Museums includes actively supporting a global network of women’s museums; encouraging female solidarity; promoting gender-democratic societies; and strengthening the acceptance of women’s museums worldwide.

For more information, visit the International Association of Women’s Museums webpage at

Delegates of the fourth international congress of women’s museums, held in Alice Springs in 2012.