The WEL history project team in 2003. L to R: Sarah
Gardiner, Erica Fisher, PJ Aguilar, Marian Sawer, Gail
Radford. Photo Ian Marsh.
Research work commenced in 2001/02. The project team was fortunate in being able to draw on the fine array of university theses about WEL, local histories of WEL groups, memoirs published by WEL members as well as the plethora of WEL newsletters and other publications.
Additional information was sought in libraries and archives. Also, WEL members donated documents and photographs that they had accumulated over the years. Particularly important were the many boxes of material donated by the WEL members who were responsible for closing the WEL–Australia office in Canberra, prior to its move to Sydney.
The results of the project team’s photographic research, the survey of WEL members, work on WEL in the media and WEL submissions are on this website.
Also on the website are a number of short reports by the project team and information about how to access material which has been placed in archives.
WEL–ACT members Victoria Green and Margot Snyder
(Collette) screen-printing posters, Canberra, September
1972. (Photo ABC Four Corners Program The Hand that
Rocks the Ballot Box)
The WEL history project has collected photographs from WEL groups, newspapers, libraries and private collections to provide a photographic record of WEL members, their campaigns and other activities, and their memorabilia. Selected items from the WEL history project's collection are displayed in five Photo galleries on this website.
WEL history survey
The WEL history survey was conducted in the summer of 2002-2003; there were 550 responses from past and present members of WEL. The findings were presented in the form of a cohort analysis, analysing the characteristics and priorities of four cohorts, according to the date that the member joined WEL: the Founder cohort (1972-75), the Fraser cohort (1976-82), the Hawke Keating cohort (1983-95) and the Howard cohort (1996-2002/03).
The analysis showed that in the early 1970s the typical WEL member was university educated, married with young children and underemployed relative to her qualifications. Her policy concerns revolved around family planning and abortion, discrimination against women, equal pay and childcare.
In later cohorts the members were less likely to be married or have children but even more likely to have university degrees and be in the paid workforce. Their issues changed along with the policy environment. They were more concerned about violence against women in the Fraser period and about the need for women in politics in the Hawke/Keating era. The concern for equal pay re-emerged with the introduction of enterprise bargaining in the Keating era. Childcare was an important concern in the Howard era, although this was the cohort with the fewest children.
You can download the full Report on the WEL History Survey (including Appendix 1 ‘Statistical Tables’) and as Appendix 2 ‘The WEL history questionnaire’ used in the survey.
Respondents were also asked to contribute stories from their time in WEL. Extracts from many of these are in Making women count: a history of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia, while there are Snippets on the website.
Childcare demonstration, Canberra, 1974.
Photo Chris Ronalds.
WEL in the Media
As the WEL history project team located items that were about WEL or mentioned WEL they were entered into the WEL History Consolidated Media Database. According to the issues covered each item was allocated to one of 10 categories: electoral politics; equality; feminism; social (including childcare); employment (including education); health (including family planning and abortion); women in politics (including women in government positions); law; tax (including budget); and criticism of WEL.
The report WEL in the Media: 1972-2002, which analyses this database, is available on the website. As with the WEL history survey, results are presented for the Founder years, Fraser years, the Hawke/Keating period and the Howard era. This is a detailed report with many interesting observations. It formed the basis for Chapter 4 ‘On Working the Media’ in Making Women Count: A history of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia.
WEL History Submission Database
As the project team located submissions prepared by WEL, the details of the submissions were entered into a database. The database was divided into a number of tables according to the WEL group that had prepared the submission and the date of preparation.
The short paper The WEL History Submission Database—2006 states that by the end of 2005 there were 892 submissions in the database. A graph compares the number of submissions prepared by WEL–Australia with the total number in the database in the years 1972-2005.
However, submissions continued to be added to the database until mid-2010 and by then there were 937 submissions in the database. Tables in the WEL History Submission Database contains information on submissions prepared by WEL–Australia and WEL groups in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
Submissions Prepared by WEL–Western Australia
The report, Submissions Prepared by WEL–Western Australia, analyses the submissions in the WEL history database that were prepared by WEL–WA in the years 1973–2004. It does not claim to be a report on all their activities and successes. The submissions, however, do provide an insight into the important work of this WEL group, their energy and diversity of interests.
The report points out that, “When asking which submissions were successful, it is important to realise that submission writing is just part of the lobbying process. Of equal importance can be visits to politicians and bureaucrats, media coverage and letter writing, or, in the earlier days, demonstrations. Finally, having the right person in the right place at the right time may be what makes the difference between a successful or unsuccessful campaign.”
Three submissions and accompanying campaigns stand out as having achieved notable successes for women in Western Australia. These were the introduction of State equal opportunity legislation and government machinery for women and reform of the State abortion laws. They also highlight the success of the WEL strategy of encouraging WEL members to enter politics and the bureaucracy, as it was WEL members in the WA Parliament and the public service who played an integral role in these changes.
Short research reports
Also on the website are three short research reports by the project team on what might loosely be called facts about WEL. These give information on the location of WEL groups, national conferences and national co-ordinators.
WEL–Darwin members modelling T-shirts, 1974. Photo Lenore Coltheart.
By the end of 1972 there were WEL groups in each capital city, except Perth, where the first meeting did not take place until March 1973. As membership grew separate groups were formed in the suburbs and also in regional and rural centres. This research report includes maps that show the distribution of WEL groups (excluding suburban groups) in 1974, together with some later regional groups. For further information about ‘WEL in the countryside’ see Chapter 2 of Making women count: a history of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia, pp. 61-68.
This research report, prepared in 2004, mentions a number of groups that were still active in that year. However, by 2014 the situation had changed. Only WEL–NSW still had a large and active group and still published a newsletter. Contacts for only two regional groups were listed in the April 2014 issue of WEL–Informed. The Newsletter of Women’s Electoral Lobby NSW - Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga.
This report was prepared for the April 2004 issue of Inkwel - The National Newsletter of the Women’s Electoral Lobby Australia Inc. It was one of a number of articles written to keep WEL members abreast of the research activities of the WEL history project team. The report discusses WEL national conferences and lists them: from the exciting first conference held in Canberra in January 1973 to the 17th conference held in Sydney in June 2004. The 17th conference was the last of the big WEL conferences but not the last of the big gatherings of WEL members. 2012 was the 40th anniversary of the formation of WEL and reunions of WEL members were held across the country.
A research report on WEL national co-ordinators was written in 2004. In May 2014 it was updated and expanded to include more recent information on the national office and office holders.
For a more detailed discussion see Chapter 3 on ‘Organisational dilemmas’ in Making women count: a history of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia.
Anthology of articles by WEL
Archiving of research material
Research papers and reports from the WEL history project were given to the National Library of Australia (NLA) on 25 June 2010. The paper Archiving WEL’s History by Gail Radford explains how to locate the material in the NLA.
In 2013 data from the WEL history survey, together with explanatory documentation, was placed in the Australian Data Archives at the ANU so researchers can access it in future.
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