women in remote Australia – stories in the Broome Museum

On the windows of one of the buildings at the Broome Museum, these Country Women’s Association tea towels on display also act as curtains to keep out the heat of the day.

CWA tea towels - Broome Museum

The museum, run by the local Historical Association, contains informative displays on the pearling industry, the impacts of World War II, and the provision of critical infrastructure such as the local telephone exchange, cinemas and pubs. The social history of this multicultural town is well documented with objects, ephemera, short film and documentary screenings.

There are many stories of the influence of women in Broome, including some who continued the family business of pearling on the death of their spouse.

Dorothea May Nelson - Pearler

It’s not just scones and jam and social networks that the CWA provides to its members. This excerpt comes via Trove Australia and The West Australian of 22 October 1932, demonstrating the financial support given to the work of the Flying Doctor Service in its early days of operation across the outback.

An interesting feature of these plants is that no technical knowledge of wireless or the Morse code is required by the operators, many of whom are women residing at the stations. The plant comprises a portable pedal generator, worked by the operator’s feet — similarly to the pedals of a bicycle – ear-phones, and a transmitting keyboard resembling that of a typewriter. If the operator desires to summon the flying doctor or to ask his advice on a medical problem she merely taps out her message on to the lettered toy board, and it is automatically translated into morse by a cam device on the instrument. The transmitters are designed to work on medium or short waves, so that if the message fails to get through on one wave, it can be transmitted on another. The doctors reply to the message is sent out by radio phone from Cloncurry by means of an engine-driven transmitter, and picked up on the earphones by the operator at the station. The amateur operators of the outposts keep in practice by sending everyday messages as well as calls for medical aid, and last year over 3,000 radiograms were handled in this way. Each outpost is communicated with daily, but in addition emergency calls can be put through to the watchers at the Cloncurry base at certain specified hours. The installation land maintenance costs of the wireless plants are contributed to by the station owners, although special concessions have been made in deserving cases. A number of plants have been provided by the CountryWomen’s Association where backblock dwellers were in financial difficulties. 

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