Another real life character from Chapter 18 of Remembering Babylon was Diamantina Bowen. She would travel with her husband to the new colony, to become the original First Lady of Queensland. Through her eyes we will look at the role of women in the novel, as it was in Victorian times. From the humble miner’s daughter Ellen McIvor all the way up to Government House, all women were expected to become wives and mothers. The only exception is Janet, who becomes a nun. Diamantina’s conversation in Chapter 18 bears this out. She talks about trivial things like gardening, water-ices and entertaining her children. Her role is also to entertain her husband’s guests, such as Frazer, plus provide music on the piano and sing.
To that generation, it would be preposterous that a woman could be a Governor or Premier in her own right. It would have been as much of a fantasy as Frazer’s orchards full of native fruit (except the macadamia). It would be nearly a century after Diamantina’s death, that another Roma became State Governor. Roma Mitchell (1913-2000) was a barrister who broke a lot of glass ceilings in her life. She was the first woman Queen’s Council, the first Supreme Court judge and finally Governor of South Australia in 1991.
In 1992, a Canadian named Leneen Forde took over Bowen’s role, becoming the first woman Governor of Queensland. She is currently the chancellor of Griffith University.
Quentin Bryce studied law, one of the first women accepted to the Queensland bar. In 2003, she became Governor. In 2008, she was appointed the first woman Governor-General in Australia. Since then, she has been replaced as Governor of Queensland by Penelope Wensley.
In 2007, Anna Bligh became the first woman to fill Premier Herbert’s shoes. Although she was not the first woman premier in Australia, she was the first to win an election. She was best known for her leadership during the flood crisis of 2011.
When Diamantina was born in 1833, it was a very different world. She grew up in Zakinthos, Greece; in the Ionian Islands. Her father was the Conte Georgio Candiano di Roma, who was President of the Senate. Her family originated in 13th Century Italy; they played a big part in the Venetian invasion of Corfu, then later the Greek struggle for independence.
Later, the Greek Club of Brisbane would erect a statue of Diamantina.
As a contessa, Diamantina had a priviledged upbringing. She would meet George Ferguson Bowen (1821-99), a scholar and British government secretary. On 28 April 1856, Diamantina’s wedding to Bowen took place at the Palace of St Michael and St George.
She would have a fascinating life, travelling all over the Victorian world. She would give her name to places, which the young Greek woman could not have imagined. We will look at her role as inaugural First Lady of Queensland next week.
SOURCES http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bowen-diamantina-12812 http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bowen-sir-george-ferguson-3032 http://en.wikipedia.org http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3569737 http://www.abc.net.au/gnt/history/Transcripts/s1166923.htm http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/3585187.htm http://www.fordefoundation.org.au/leneen_forde.html http://www.health.qld.gov.au/pahospital/about/docs/contessa-diamantina.pdf http://www.kythera-family.net/index.php?nav=3-10&did=2409-1 http://www.ladybowentrust.org.au/ladybowentrust/about-the-trust/the-legacy-of-lady-diamantina-roma-bowen http://www.macadamiahouse.com/docs/fact-sheet.pdf http://www.qld.gov.au/about/about-queensland/history/governors/ http://www.sclqld.org.au/schp/exhibitions/witl/biographies/forde.htm http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/mitchell.htm http://www.thepremier.qld.gov.au/