INSIGHT: Beechworth Secondary College former English teacher Jean Memery reads ‘Enlightened age’, a poem by Ada Cambridge published five years after she came to Australia in 1870.
BEECHWORTH Arts Council next year is looking to establish a permanent honour in recognition of writer Ada Cambridge and her contribution to Australian literature and colonial life in Beechworth and Yackandandah.
The words of the poet and gender equality advocate and descriptions of her times were recounted in the town’s historic Christ Church on Friday (July 6).
The English-born writer between 1885 and 1893 lived in Beechworth where her husband, George Cross, was Christ Church priest and rector.
Reverend Cross had earlier held ‘livings’, as church pastoral appointments were known at the time, in Wangaratta, Yackandandah and Coleraine.
The 44 people attending the readings – hosted by Beechworth Arts Council and Christ Church priest Thomas Leslie and parish council – heard that a deal of Ms Cambridge’s well-regarded literary work was written during her husband’s Beechworth posting.
The appointment coincided with the approach of Australian federation when women, in a changing political climate, were agitating for the right to vote.
Arts Council president Jamie Kronborg read an extract from a July 1887 Ovens and Murray Advertiser editorial in which then-editor Richard Warren wrote that “such a revolution should not be attempted without much more general consideration…”.
“Women are, undoubtedly, well-fitted to succeed in all the ordinary walks of life, but we very much question whether the arena of politics is suitable to their nature, their habits of thought, or their idiosyncrasies,” Warren said.
Ms Cambridge in 1891 was one of almost 30,000 Victorian women who signed ‘The Great Petition’, by which the colonial parliament in Melbourne was asked to give women the right to vote “on equal terms with men”.
Artist, printmaker and former Indigo Shire arts officer Chris Dormer described Ms Cambridge’s life and work to the audience before she introduced readers who included Wangaratta High School English domain leader Lesley Milne, artist and teacher Valerie Crosse, former Beechworth Secondary College teachers Helen McIntyre and Jean Memery, college current principal Patricia Broom, historian Jacqui Durrant, and Indigo mayor Jenny O’Connor.
Fr. Leslie said Friday’s readings were the start of what he hoped would be an ongoing collaboration between the Arts Council and Christ Church to develop the 1858 building as a centre for cultural activities and events.