First women elected to federal parliament immortalised in bronze

Regional Development Minister Kristy McBain said the pair’s achievements were made more significant by the fact that female candidates faced overwhelmingly negative coverage in the media at the time.


“They paved the way for hundreds of women with diverse voices and experience to pursue politics,” she said.

Members of the Lyons and Tangney families have travelled to Canberra for the unveiling ceremony on Wednesday, coinciding with International Women’s Day. The cast bronze statues, by Melbourne sculptor Lis Johnson, will be installed on the corner of King George Terrace, opposite Old Parliament House, with the design replicating the iconic photo of the pair entering the building together as elected MPs.

Maxine Muir, Dame Dorothy’s niece, said it was fitting that the women would be honoured together.

“They did work together while they were in parliament even though they weren’t in the same political party. They did actually find that they had very common things that they wanted to work for, which was progressing the cause of women,” Muir said. “It is a momentous occasion in so many ways.”

The sculpture was commissioned by the former Morrison government after The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age highlighted the absence of statues of women or Indigenous politicians within the ceremonial precinct. A commitment has also been made to commemorate Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous Australian elected to parliament.

The statues will be unveiled on Wednesday.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Several prime ministers have received the bronze treatment, including most recently Liberal leader Sir John Gorton with a statue featuring his loyal kelpie Suzie Q.

Johnson said she had done many statues of men but few of women.

“Hopefully, we will be able to balance that imbalance soon,” she said.


Lyons, born in 1897 in Smithton, Tasmania, was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in federal cabinet. She held the since-abolished Tasmanian seat of Darwin for eight years before retiring in 1951. Before her own political career, she was best known as the wife of Joseph Lyons, a former prime minister and Tasmanian premier.

Tangney was born in Perth in 1907 and was the first woman elected to the Senate. She served as a West Australian senator from 1943 to 1968 and was the longest-serving woman in the Senate until being overtaken by Liberal Marise Payne last year.

National Capital Authority chief executive Sally Barnes said it was appalling that women had been underrepresented in public art across Canberra, a phenomenon seen in many other cities.

“Until [Wednesday], there are more statues of dogs in the parliamentary zone,” Barnes said, adding the sculpture of the women beautifully captured the moment frozen in time by the photograph.

“It has this beautiful swirl of women entering parliament in both houses from both parties, and heading in together with handbags and hats on and off to work and looking determined.”

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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