10 May 2024

From firefighters to entrepreneurs: There’s More 2 HerStory reveals the untold tales of Wagga's women

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Wagga firefighter Sharon Spackman with Museum of the Riverina curator Michelle Maddison.

Wagga firefighter Sharon Spackman with Museum of the Riverina curator Michelle Maddison. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

There’s no question that women have made significant contributions to the Wagga community since the beginning, but their stories are often overlooked in history books.

There’s More 2 HerStory is setting the record straight, celebrating the exceptional achievements, perseverance, and resilience of our women.

The exhibition has opened at the Museum of the Riverina’s Historic Council Chambers and will be followed by a book profiling 45 local ladies, including Indigenous elders, artisans, sportswomen, performers, teachers and businesswomen.

Author and Museum of the Riverina curator, Michelle Maddison, began uncovering these long overlooked achievements ahead of the groundbreaking 2019 exhibition Herstory.

With more tales than she could include, Michelle decided to get to work on the sequel.

“This exhibition goes from a woman born in 1833 right through to contemporary women of today,” she said.

“I tried to draw women from all sorts of backgrounds, different ethnicities, who have done different things, and it’s not just the women who are the Dame Mary Gilmores or women who have been written about and formally documented in history.”

There’s More 2 HerStory explores the ordinary and extraordinary lives of 45 Wagga women from the past and present.

One of those is firefighter Sharon Spackman who joined the fire station in 1992.

“As a 21-year-old, my partner at the time was a firefighter at Turvey Park Fire Station,” Sharon said.

“While attending many calls in the car, and waiting for him to return from a call, one of the female firefighters came out and said, ‘You might as well join Sharon, you are always here.’

“I filled out the paperwork, attended drills, and the rest is history. ”

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With no maternity leave available, Sharon resigned from her position after eight years.

While her children were growing up, she completed a graduate certificate in fire investigation and returned to the job 17 years later.

“As a retained firefighter, I attend Station 480 in Esplanade and have been there for seven years,” Sharon said.

“I’ve received my 10-year medal and am about to receive my 15-year medal, which is just amazing.”

Born and raised in Lockhart, Sharon said that while she was growing up, men were the firefighters of the town.

“Michelle was interested in the story of being a firefighter years ago and then rejoining and noticing the differences in the job,” Sharon said.

“Back then it was male dominated, but now things have been put in place to include the females like the [separate] toilet and shower.

“The old fire stations don’t facilitate for females, but they are changing at the moment.”

Wagga firefighter Sharon Spackman

Sharon was 21 when she first joined as a firefighter in 1992. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

The mother of four said Michelle had done “an amazing job” with the exhibition and said it was important to document modern women’s stories.

“Everyone has a place in life and, depending on your choice, a place in the world as women.

“Women have pretty much taken a strong stand of not just being the housewife.”

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Michelle said her aim with There’s More 2 HerStory was to highlight the often overlooked contributions of women in our community.

“Given the current protests and political discourse surrounding women’s rights, I think it’s timely to remember the importance of women’s history to Wagga Wagga as a community,” Michelle said.

“Highlighting women’s stories in this exhibition contributes to the rightful recognition of women both generally and within Australia’s historical record.”

The book featuring all the stories from the exhibition will be available before Christmas.

There’s More 2 HerStory is on display at the Museum of the Riverina – Historic Council Chambers.

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