Sr Jo Brady next to a statue of her grandmother Dame Enid Lyons.

On International Women’s Day (8 March), I was fortunate to be invited to the unveiling of the statues of the first two women to enter federal parliament 80 years ago in 1943. The two women were Dame Dorothy Tangney from Western Australia who entered the Senate, and my grandmother Dame Enid Lyons from Tasmania who entered the House of Representatives. Dame Enid Lyons became the first woman in cabinet.

At the time of entering parliament, my grandmother had 11 children, five of whom were still in boarding school. As the wife of Joe Lyons, Tasmanian Premier and tenth Prime Minister (1932-1939), my grandmother was familiar with politics, having stood for the Tasmanian Parliament with her mother in the 1920s and having been involved in campaigning with her husband. In her maiden speech she had observed that a woman in the public sphere must “justify herself not as a woman, but as a citizen”. [1]

Ill health forced her to retire in 1951, but she remained in public life until her death in 1981. Having already received the British Order (GBE) in 1937, on Australia Day 1980 she was appointed as a Dame of the Order of Australia (AD), the second female to be awarded. She died on 2 September 1981 at Ulverstone, Tasmania, and after a state funeral, was buried at the Mersey Vale Lawn Cemetery, Devonport, beside her husband.

Dame Dorothy Tangney and Dame Enid Lyons statues.

The celebration in Canberra brought together many of her 49 grandchildren and several great children from all parts of Australia. It was an honour to be present for the unveiling of the statues of the two dames, the first statues of females unveiled in the Australian Capital Territory. The sculptor Lis Johnson had consulted family members regarding the figures, which were based on a photo taken of them on their first day entering Old Parliament House. Both families admired the resulting sculptures.

At the conclusion of the unveiling ceremony, it was very moving to observe the female parliamentarians having their photo taken with the statues. They were two great Australian trail blazers. For the Lyons descendants it was privilege to be present and to share memories of a much-loved grandmother.

Jo Brady rsj


[1] Australian Dictionary of Biography retrieved 20 March 2023.