Unprotected: Aboriginal, Convict And Poor Women In Colonial Victoria: Or How Everything Bad Was Made Worse By Being Female

Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 05:30 PM


RHSV, Gallery Downstairs
239 A'Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
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Event contact

Royal Historical Society of Victoria

03 9326 9288

Protection of body and soul in colonial Victoria came in many forms. At the most fundamental level it meant an entitlement, usually by birth or marriage, to an income that sustained you and your children; to a moral status as a woman of virtue that made sexual assault or abuse an egregious version of a crime; to the presence in your household of a capable male to embody that protection. The law provided some protection, but in fact remarkably little against assault, battery and rape if those offences were perpetrated by your husband and did not protect your rights of access to your children after divorce or access to your own wealth after marriage. A woman without a reliable, effective and respectable male protector as breadwinner—a father, a husband or a blood relative—would die younger; lose more of her children; have smaller babies at birth; suffer more infertility; risk or suffer destitution; be afflicted by addiction; commit suicide or be murdered than women who enjoyed respectable male protection. There was a hierarchy of entitlement to safety, with convicted women on the second bottom rung along with non-British women such as Chinese, while at the bottom, utterly vulnerable were Aboriginal women and girls. These were the penalties of gender rather than the wages of sin.

We are honoured that Professor Janet McCalman has accepted our invitation to deliver the third RHSV Women’s History Month Lecture in 2022.

Emeritus Redmond Barry Professor Janet McCalman AC has made a significant contribution to Australian history, especially medical history, historical population health, social health and demography.

She commenced teaching at the University of Melbourne in 1998, in the cross-faculty Centre for the Study of Health & Society. She has taught in both the Arts Faculty and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, specialising since 2008 in the teaching of interdisciplinary breadth subjects.

Since that time she has also pioneered the building of historical life course datasets for demographic and health analysis. She is the author of three multi-award winning books: Struggletown (1984, 1998 and 2021), Journeying (1993), Sex and Suffering (1998). In 2020 she co-edited with Emma Dawson What Happens Next? Reconstructing Australia after COVID 19 and in 2021 Vandemonians: the repressed history of colonial Victoria. All her books have been published by Melbourne University Press. She retired at the end of 2020.

In 1993 McCalman was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2005. She is a former member of the Australian Historical Association Advisory Committee to the National Archives of Australia and the Editorial Board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

As at most RHSV events, drinks will be served from 5:30pm and the lecture will run from 6pm to 7pm including Q&A. The Zoom lecture will commence at 6pm.

The RHSV offers ticket buyers to this event a $10 discount on buying Janet McCalman’s Vandemonians or Struggletown both of which can be found in our bookshop. A voucher code will be sent to you on booking and you apply this voucher code when checking out of the bookshop on line.

Dr Judith Smart will chair this lecture.

This is a Women’s History Month Lecture

Ticket Prices:

Members @ RHSV: $10

Non Members @ RHSV: $20

Zoom for All: $10




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$20.00 AUD · Purchase tickets


The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

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The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342