Did 'ordinary women' of the State of Victoria want the right to vote? Or was it just the outspoken 'trouble-makers' at the time that were making all the noise? In 1891, Premier James Munro said he would introduce a bill into parliament for women's suffrage (the right to vote gained through the democratic process), if it could be demonstrated that ordinary women wanted this right.
The Premier received a clear demonstration of what the women of Victoria wanted. After six weeks of door knocking across the state, many determined women from both the Victorian Woman's Temperance Union and the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society had a petition.
The Monster Petition - Parliament Victoria
This was no ordinary petition however. Known as the 'monster petition', signed pages were glued to the sewn strips of calico the length of which was 260 metres, the signatures of women around Victoria totalled over 30, 000.
Following the delivery of the petition to Victoria's Parliament House, the Women's Franchise Bill was put forward. This was unfortunately not the end of the story however, while the Lower House passed the Bill, the Upper House rejected it. This was the first of 19 Bills regarding women's right to vote to be put forward and rejected. It wasn't until 1908, seventeen years later, that the Adult Suffrage Act was passed in Victoria.
The original 'Monster Petition' is housed at the Public Records Office Victoria in a purpose-built perspex case and takes three people three hours to unroll. The record has now also been digitised, so the general public can look up names of signatories. You can search the database to see if your ancestors signed the scroll.
The sculpture that represents this achievement (the 'Great Petition) provides a chance for the public to appreciate this extraordinary effort and important milestone in the history of women's rights in Australia. In December 2008, a large-scale sculpture was unveiled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in Victoria. Located in Burston Reserve, between Macarthur Street and Parliament Place, it is close to Parliament house where the original petition was delivered.
The sculpture is a white scroll-like structure, which is twenty metres long and imposing on the small reserve, walking along the footpath you are briefly part of the artwork as it emerges from either side. As such a significant and little acknowledged event in our history, the sculpture is an important reminder of a moment in time when women across Victoria, from all walks of life, joined forces to bring about the change they wanted to see, and the rights we now enjoy.