“The Dawn”, Louisa Lawson & Australian Female Suffrage.

“There has hitherto been no trumpet through which the concentrated voices of womankind could publish their grievances and their opinions.”

… wrote Louisa (Albury) Lawson in the early days of Australia’s first feminist journal, The Dawn (1888-1905).  She was the proprietress, printer and publisher, employing exclusively women in all aspects of the business.

The Dawn gave Australian women a voice for the first time and is now freely available through the National Library of Australia’s “Trove” website, thanks to a 2011 fundraising campaign by Melbourne businesswoman, Donna Benjamin, to digitise the publication. 


Louisa (Albury) Lawson was an independent and resourceful woman who fought for women’s rights during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Australia.

Born 17 Feb 1848 on Edwin Rouse’s station, Guntawang, near Mudgee, New South Wales she was the second of twelve children of Henry Albury, station-hand, and his wife Harriet (Winn), needlewoman.  Baptised an Anglican, Louisa was educated at Mudgee National School where J.W. Allpass proposed making her a pupil-teacher.  Instead she was kept home to help care for her younger siblings, which she resented.

At eighteen, 7 Jul 1866, at the Wesleyan parsonage, Mudgee, Louisa married Norwegian-born sailor Niels Hertzberg Larsen who called himself

Weddin Mountain, New South Wales.

Peter.  A handyman and gold digger, he was fluent in several European languages and teetotal.  They joined the Weddin Mountain gold rush and later selected forty acres (16ha) at Eurunderee.  By the time of the birth of her first child, Henry, they had anglicised the spelling to Larsen

Peter was often away gold mining or working with his father-in-law, leaving Louisa on her own to care for the property and raise four children – Henry 1867, Charles 1869, Peter 1873 and Gertrude 1877, the twin of Tegan who died at eight months.  Louisa grieved over the loss of Tegan for many years and left the care of her other children to the oldest child, Henry.  This led to ill feelings, on Henry’s part towards his mother, and the two often fought.  Henry became one of Australia’s most famous writers.

After her marriage ended, Louisa kept up the pretence of being separated from her husband, by misfortune.  Peter sent money irregularly to help support the children and she considered taking legal action.  Instead, in 1883, Louisa moved to Sydney and supported her family by doing washing, sewing and taking in boarders. 

In 1887, using the money she’d saved, Louisa purchased shares in the radical pro-federation newspaper, The Republican, which she and Henry edited and printed on an old press in her cottage.  The Republican called for an Australian republic uniting under “the flag of a Federated Australia, the Great Republic of the Southern Seas”.  The Republican was replaced by the Nationalist, but it lasted two issues.

The Dawn - 1st Edition

With her earnings, and experience working on The Republican, Louisa was able to edit and publish The Dawn the following year. With a strong feminist perspective, it fequently addressed issues such as women’s right to vote and assume public office, women’s education, women’s economic and legal rights domestic violence and temperance.  It was published monthly for 17 years and, at its height, employed 10 female staff.  Louisa’s son, Henry Lawson, also contributed poems and stories and, in 1894, The Dawn press printed Henry’s first book, Short Stories in Prose and Verse.

Louisa (Albury) Lawson launched the campaign for female suffrage in 1889 when announcing the formation of the Dawn Club where women met to discuss “every question of life, work and reform” and to gain experience in public speaking.  Louisa Lawson could claim success when, in 1902, women in New South Wales gained the suffrage. She was  described as “the Mother of New South Wales Suffrage”.

Retiring in 1905, but continuing to write for Sydney magazines, Louisa (Albury) Lawson died in Gladesville Mental Hospital on Thursday, 12 Aug 1920 aged 72, after a long and painful illness. On Saturday 14 Aug 1920 she was buried with her parents in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery.

The small obituary in The Bulletin gave as much space to the fact that she was Henry Lawson’s mother as it did to her role in the achievement of votes for women.

Louisa (Albury) Lawson wrote:

“I have always loved my countrywomen, always admired them, and believed in them, and believed them to be the most patient, long suffering, generous and capable Women in the whole World.  I still think so.  It does not seem so odd now as it did years ago, when Australians male and female were not considered as they are now.  I had in my mind’s eye a big capable, strong, virtuous Woman as a Representative of Australia.  I saw her in my dreams when a little child, and when I grew up I wanted to fight every obstacle out of her way, and I fought, God knows I did with a persistence almost amounting to mania as long as health and means lasted.” 

Thanks to Donna Benjamin, and her supporters, we can now read the words of Louisa (Albury) Lawson, and others, thereby gaining a better understanding of the conditions of women’s lives at that time, their discontents and aspirations and the influences on the lives of our own Ancestors.  Just log onto:  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-title252  


SOURCES:  Australian Dictionary of Biography:

© Copyright 2012. Catherine Crout-Habel. Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family  

A Child on the Goldfields

One and a half hours drive, 132  kms north of Kalgoorlie and 729kms east north east of Perth, is Menzies, a mining and pastoral town in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia.  The Shire of Menzies covers an approximate total area of 125,000 square kilometres. The first gold discovery in the area, later named Menzies, has been credited to a prospecting party led by James Speakman in 1891. His find was reported and it’s unknown why Speakman failed to return to the area.

The following year discovery of the rich Coolgardie field tempted prospectors further inland and the track to Ninetymile (Goongarrie), north of Coolgardie, became well known as people trying to make their fortune ventured forth.

L R Menzie and J E McDonald, accompanied by Jimmy an Aboriginal tracker and Cumbra an Afghan camel driver, were prospecting for a Perth syndicate headed by Sir George Shenton.  Whilst inspecting a shaft at the Ninetymile, which they were considering buying, Menzies stumbled upon a rick alluvial deposit east. Following the line of the reef to the tip of a rise they found many very rich nuggets and quartz specimens studded with gold. Leaving Jimmy and Cumbra to guard the find they packed as much as they could in their saddlebags and hurried back to the nearest Register’s Office at the mining centre of Coolgardie. It was a rich gold find and the Mining Warden for the area recommended a township be declared, naming the place Menzies after the prospector. The townsite was gazetted in August 1895 and proclaimed a Municipality on the 20 December 1895

The news of a strike this big spread rapidly and soon the area was crowded with prospectors hoping for similar good luck. According to the writings of Warden Owen, it was estimated that in 1896 the population was 10,000, half of whom resided in the town and the other half in the surrounding land.

Three months after the gazetting of Menzies, my children’s paternal great grandmother was born at home, in North Adelaide, South Australia, the first child of William Henry Hembury and Emma (Amy) Kowalick.  Named Mary Eveline Hembury she was generally known as Ev but to us she was Nana Andie.

It was to Menzies in Western Australia that William Hembury took his wife and young daughter, about eight years after the first find. The Electoral Roll has them first enrolled for voting in Menzies in 1903 with William’s occupation labourer and Emma’s home duties.                                          Mary Eveline Anderson (nee Hembury)

Nana spoke of living in a tent on the Goldfields and carting water. In common with many of the towns in the North Coolgardie Goldfields, these early residents had to endure heat, flies, lack of water, poor diets and limited transportation, often for little or no reward. Sickness and disease plagued the early inhabitants, claiming many lives, especially among the young. The materials used to build the early buildings were an extreme fire hazard, and fires took a heavy toll.

Despite all these hardships, the people strived to make Menzies a vibrant profitable town. Water was carted to the town from surrounding lakes and underground supplies. The Government built a dam in 1897 and in 1901 this supplied water to the residences. The railway line between Kalgoorlie and Menzies was officially opened on 22 March 1898. The local Fire Brigade was formed to help control the damages caused by fire, and a Council by-law making it compulsory for at least one wall of business premises to be made of brick helped prevent the spread of many fires. Improved sanitation and a 50 bed hospital helped control the spread of disease.

However, this prosperity was not to last. From around 1905 the gold mining industry experienced a downturn. The gold which had made Menzies a town of major importance at the turn of the century was becoming more elusive a decade later. Figures show that production fell from 35,000 ounces in 1905 to 2,787 ounces in 1909. The population by 1910 had fallen from 10,000 below 1,000 and the decline of Menzies had begun.

The Hembury’s stay on the goldfields was brief.  The electoral roll has them still enrolled in 1906, however the SA Railways Records show that William was back in their employ on 14 February 1906 working at Islington as a glut labourer earning 6/- per day, later increased to 7/6.  Furthermore, their next child Vera Adeline was born on the Chicago Blocks, Islington on 11 May 1905. 

There is a family story that Grandpa Hembury did “quite well on the Goldfields”.  His daughter, Mary Eveline, lived to the age of 90 and left many journals full of her memories of a long life, well lived, which includes those childhood years on the Goldfields at Menzies.  What a joy it would be to read those stories.


SOURCES:  A Brief History of Menzies. http://www.menzies.wa.gov.au
                   Menzies, Western Australia.                                                             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menzies,_Western_Australia

 Copyright (c) 2012 Catherine Crout-Habel