A few great women: reflections on women of influence

This International Women’s Day, Revive asked three Uniting Church leaders to share their stories of the women who have influenced their lives. Rosemary Hudson Miller, associate general secretary (justice and mission), writes: 

International Women’s Day always gives me a chance to reflect on the women who have influenced me. My maternal grandmother Kathleen Annie so wisely spread the message of ecumenical tolerance in a time of great sectarian divide in country Australia of the 1950’s when my parents came from different denominations. She took up this stance well before Vatican 2 and continued to support her grandchildren as we engaged in a range of ‘Protestant’ activities.

 My paternal grandmother Enid gave up a concert pianist career to train as a nurse in the upheaval of World War One. Gran went on to become one of the early occupational health nurses in the footrest factory in Melbourne, part of a generation of women required to make pragmatic choices in a world unimagined in their childhood. After her retirement she lived with my parents and my three sisters instilling us with great feminist values from very young ages. She lived with my parents until she died at 103.

 Joan my mother, taught me the gift of hospitality, where tables were always able to be extended at the drop of a hat and guests welcomed because of need not status. Doors were always opened no matter the time of day or the time of year. I learned how to make something out of nothing and how, mostly, to make it delicious! She continues to live a life of generosity and abundance shared.

 Gwen, my partner’s mother, inspires me by her thoughtfulness, by her meticulous attention to detail and by her kindness to each individual. She taught me the way of quiet generosity. She continues to inspire me by her thirst for knowledge and her patience with little people.

 Mangua Sagiba, a Maung woman from Warruwi, who graciously welcomed me into her family as sister and gently, patiently steered me to a beginning place for a journey of reconciliation and understanding. She introduced me to thousands of years of Aboriginal wisdom in a matriarchal community, and encourage the younger women to teach me to dance. Mangua was one of the first Indigenous women to become a principal in the Northern Territory, and had a significant career in a time when it was less common for women to rise to leadership in many areas of Australian society.

 Another woman who inspires me cannot be named. She spent nearly 4 years in a detention centre. She fled her country with two children, a daughter and a son, and became pregnant and gave birth while in detention. She is a brave person who stood up to the authorities in her country, braved the very difficult boat journey to Australia, and found no hospitality on our shores. Finally she was released into the community and came to live with my family. She continues to deal with the trauma of detention and has learnt that, despite our flawed policies, many Australians are kind. She has such resilience and tenacity and is a gift to Australia as are her children.

 It is wonderful to reflect on the women who have and continue to inspire me. Who inspires you this International Women’s Day?

 Rosemary Hudson Miller

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