An early memory of mine from the 1950s is making a petrol stop in a small town (or “dorp”) in the Transvaal in South Africa en route from Rhodesia to the beaches of Natal for a summer holiday with my parents. From my seat in the back of the car I could see across the road to where there was an open wagon drawn by horses. Sitting up at the front were a couple of women dressed in such a strange way that I asked my mother if they were nuns. She explained that they were Afrikaans women, that they probably lived on a farm and didn't like modern things and still lived and dressed as people had a hundred years ago. That image clearly resonated with me and was probably the beginning of my fascination with all women of the 19th Century, especially those who were pioneers of the land.
|The women were dressed similar to this|
Dingaansfeeste, c. 1917
In most dictionaries the primary meaning of the word “pioneer” is:
“a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others”.
and its secondary definition:
“one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry, enterprise or progress”.
The second definition is now more commonly used, and pioneers of the first definition, or “land pioneers” , have fallen somewhat out of favour as our world grows ever smaller and land occupation and development have acquired more controversial connotations in the wake of issues such as indigenous rights and concerns for the environment.
|A Pioneer Settler, c. 1900, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney|
Historic pioneering women of the land still deserve our respect, even if their aspirations and enterprises have little meaning for modern generations. They often travelled great distances, endured tragedies and hardship and were among the first people to settle a new country or district under tough and difficult circumstances.
Finding their stories is not always as easy as one might think. Unless they had time to keep diaries or journals that were passed on to subsequent generations who have reproduced them in some accessible format, most of these personal histories are lost.
The endurance, strength and ingenuity of women who struggled in hostile environments and forged nations in the process should never be forgotten. While there are many museums dedicated to settlers in general, or feminism and female achievements in wider fields, there are only a handful that put special focus on land or rural women pioneers.
Pioneer Womens Hut, Tumbarumba (Note: at time of posting the link is not working, but there is some information here)
| Pioneer Mother, 1925 (cast 1927).|
Bronze, Alexander Phimister Proctor (American, born Canada, 1860–1950)Santa Barbara Museum of Art