Ladies of St Kilda

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by Robert Scholten

It’s about time we celebrate some of the impactful ladies of St Kilda. The area has always been known for being ahead of the curve, and slightly left of centre. Let’s shine the spotlight on some of those powerful women that have had a real positive impact on this patch of earth we call St Kilda.

1. The Lady of St Kilda

If you ever walk down Balaclava – or run late for a train – no doubt you’ve seen this dame adorning the train bridge. Crafted by local artist and sculptor Ruv Nemiro with this son, Alex, this landmark artwork was inspired by how St Kilda was named. Turns out it was named after a schooner (basically a yacht for those who don’t know) called the “Lady of St Kilda”. Digging a bit deeper, it turns out the schooner herself was named after Lady Grange, who, in 1734, was imprisoned on the St Kilda archipelago in Scotland for 17 years for the ‘crime’ of being a headstrong woman with an abusive husband.  As a romantic literary protagonist, way ahead of her time, she spoke out against domestic violence and instigated a change in public opinion.

2. Mirka Mora

Throughout 50 years of flamboyant, creative energy, the irascible Mirka Mora has stamped her artistic personality all over St Kilda. This includes a prolific output across an oeuvre that includes drawing, painting, embroidery, soft sculpture, mosaics doll-making. Walk down Fitzroy St, Tolarno Hotel was her residence that was a famous artists’ bastion in the 60s. Browse Acland St Readings and you can see her mural on the inside circular pillar. St Kilda Library also has a mural in the back. There’s even a Mirka Lane, with, fittingly, an art studio next to it.

3. Joy Hester

Joy was a significant Australian modernist artist in her own right, and the only woman in the famous Angry Penguins artist crew. During the 1940s, she lived on Robe St with Albert Tucker, and that’s also where their son, Sweeney, was born. She is well known for her highly expressionistic personal drawing – but we think Michael Fitzgerald (for Time magazine) says it better: ‘Forty-one years after her death, Hester’s drawings still suck the oxygen from the air, providing some of the clearest-eyed images in Australian art.’.

4. Magda Szubanski

Actor, writer, activist and comedian, Magda is known by nearly everyone. We can spend hours rattling off her achievements, accolades and appearances, but this article has a word limit. So let’s just close our eyes and remember our fave Kath and Kim moment. Done? OK, now let’s also recognise her courage. Not only is she pivotal in entertaining Australia, she is a leading voice in the LGBTQ community, especially the YES campaign for marriage equality, definitely qualifying for our Ladies of St Kilda list.

5. The Gatwick sisters (Yvette Kelly & Rose Banks)

For decades, the infamous Gatwick served as a breeding ground for lowlifes, drug addicts, prostitutes and Nick Cave, all who would descend onto the pavements of Fitzroy St and annoy the shit out of us. That’s one way to look at it. Another perspective is to see it as a haven for people struggling through life, run by two sisters who dedicated a large portion of their lives to helping those who need. We prefer the latter.

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