A 'National Disgrace': the (long) history of violence against women in Australia.

Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 05:00 PM



Event contact

Alicia Cerreto


In October 2022 the new Federal Labor Government launched a ten-year plan to end the ‘national disgrace’ of violence against women and children in Australia. In this seminar Dr Zora Simic, Professor Lisa Featherstone and Dr Alana Jayne Piper will discuss their current research projects charting the history of violence against women in this country.


Zora Simic

A Public Private Problem: Historicising domestic violence in Australia

Along with Ann Curthoys and Catherine Kevin, I am part of a team of feminist historians currently undertaking a history of domestic violence in Australia from 1850 to the present. While domestic violence is more visible as a social problem than it has ever been, its extent can never be fully ascertained when it also continues as a largely behind closed doors phenomenon.  Through a focus on the period which I am historicising, 1970 to the present, I will consider how the notion of domestic violence as a private matter endures in public discourses and responses. Yet more complex and nuanced understandings about the forms intimate partner violence can take have also emerged. The challenge for the historian is to chart both change and resistance to it.


Dr Zora Simic is a Senior Lecturer in History and Gender Studies in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales. With Ann Curthoys and Catherine Kevin, she is working on a book on the history of domestic violence in Australia. Publications from the project include chapters in Gender Violence in Australia: Historical Perspectives, edited by Alana Piper and Ana Stevenson (Monash UP: 2019) and Lessons From History edited by C. Holbrook et al (MUP, 2022) and a special section of Australian Historical Studies  (51:2, 2020).


Lisa Featherstone

Sexual Assault at Trial: The law and lived experiences

The 1970s and 1980s saw significant law reform around sexual assault, including the decriminalization of consenting homosexual offences; the redefinition of sexual crimes; protections for the complainant, and the criminalizing of marital rape. Yet this vast legal change – driven by feminists and backed by the state – was often slow to impact in the everyday workings of the court. Drawing on trial transcripts before and just after law reform, I will explore concepts of victimisation, consent, and trauma. This paper will highlight that, even in the midst of a revolution in attitudes towards violence, hopes for change within the Australian court system were never quite fulfilled.


Professor Lisa Featherstone is Head of School in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland. Featherstone’s research interrogates the ways historical attitudes inform attitudes towards sexual assault in both the past and the present. She has published widely on sexual crimes, including sexual assaults on women, child sexual abuse, and rape in marriage. She is the author of three monographs, including her most recent Sexual Violence in Australia, 1970s-1980s: Rape and Child Sexual Abuse (2021). She is currently the lead investigator on a UQ Strategic Investment grant “Sexual Violence and the Limits of Consent”, and she was recently awarded an ARC DP, “Responding to Sexual Harm: An Australian Historical Criminology Approach”, with Andy Kaladelfos, Yorick Smaal and Bianca Fileborn.


Dr Alana Jayne Piper 

Gender-based violence and the Australian military, 1914-1945 

Part of the ongoing ARC Discovery research project ‘A Century of Sex and the Australian Military, 1914-2020’, this presentation will examine how courts and the nation reacted to sexual and gender-based violence by active and returned servicemen during and between the two world wars. Drawing primarily on cases from Victoria, it will reflect on how discourses of Australian masculinity prevalent during this period influenced the many different but related forms of gender-based violence enacted by men exposed to two of history’s most bloody conflicts. 

Dr Alana Piper is Lecturer at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. A historian of crime and criminal justice in Australia, she is currently an investigator on the ARC Discovery project 'A Century of Sex and the Australian Military, 1914-2020' (2021-2023). Her other ongoing research project, Criminal Characters, uses digital history and citizen science to chart the lives and criminal careers of Australian offenders across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She was previously a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Griffith University on the Prosecution Project. 


Director of the Old Treasury Building Margaret Anderson will host the evening and HCV Executive Officer Alicia Cerreto will facilitate the Q&A.


The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

We thank the series sponsors, Monash University Publishingthe Monash University History Program and the Old Treasury Building.


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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
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  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
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