Flowers at Swanston Hall
Around 250 people turned out at Melbourne Town Hall on 27 April to remember feisty feminist champion and former Press Club member Mary Owen OAM, who passed away in March aged 96.
A line-up of family, friends and members of organisations Mary was instrumental in celebrated her life and achievements, describing a woman who was “challenging”, “effective”, “funny”, “persistent” and “generous of heart and spirit”.
Mary’s “greatest impact”, according to Kerry Lovering, from the Women’s Electoral Lobby, was her involvement in the struggle for equal pay - which she fought at the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, through the establishment of the Working Women’s Centre and in tireless representations such as the confrontations she was famous for at Press Club lunches, where she represented the Women’s Electoral Commission.
Wages were just one of a broad range of issues Mary campaigned for over decades, including abortion law reform and services for older women and women with disabilities.
An annual dinner held in her name ran for 20 years from 1986, attracting hundreds of attendees every year and serving to bring together the different branches of the feminist movement.
Mary Owen's friends and admirers at Swanston Hall
“She was supportive of many women in so many ways,” Anne Sgro from the Union of Australian Women told Mary’s assembled friends and admirers.
Mary’s daughter, journalist Wendy Owen Antonini, described a woman who became increasingly frail and eccentric in the last years of her life but remained active and engaged with an overwhelming range of interests and organisations and "never lost her marbles or her sense of humour".
Pensioners, superannuation, women’s issues, politics and subsidies to private schools were among her mother's favourite topics, Wendy said, and she was managing a busy schedule and writing letters to politicians until the end.
“To the last Mary believed that the world could and would be better – for working women, for the aged and for downtrodden workers,” Jan Harper from the Mary Owen Dinner Committee told the crowd.
In keeping with the spirit of the event, after the speeches there was plenty of lively conversation between people who probably largely shared that aspiration, as well as sharing parts of Mary Owen's remarkable life and work.
Wendy Owen Antonini's obituary
The Australian Women's Register
More from the Press Club about Mary Owen