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New South Wales - Publications Details

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Judy Rapley
Creating a Space: The Life of Bessie Guthrie
ABC Radio National Hindsight, 28 October 2007

In 1970, a determined, grey haired woman walked into the political home of Women's Liberation in Sydney's inner city suburb of Glebe. She was carrying a bundle of papers under her arm. Bessie Guthrie had arrived. So began a concerted campaign to close down Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institution for Girls.

This is the story of a woman who was brought up by her two feminist maiden aunts during the early 1900s. She went on to become an interior designer, book publisher, aircraft draftswoman, YWCA publicity officer and clerk with the GIO.

Bessie Guthrie (nee Mitchell) married painter Clive Guthrie in 1950. Clive died after a long illness in 1971.

During the 1950s her house in the working class part of Glebe became the backdrop for the many relationships she and Clive developed with girls who were victims of homelessness, domestic violence, abuse, drunkenness and the NSW child welfare system.

Bessie Guthrie was one of a small group of women who established 'Elsie' in 1974, the first refuge in Australia for women and children who were the victims of domestic violence. The shelter was not far from her home.

When the Whitlam government eventually bought the Glebe Estate from the Church of England in the early 1970s, Bessie Guthrie was president of the Glebe Tenants' Association.

Bessie Guthrie continued her 20 year involvement with girls and women and she saw the closure of both the Parramatta and Hay institutions.

Two years after her death in 1977, Women's Emergency Shelter and Training was established as a half-way house for women who had become part of the criminal justice system. It was re-named Guthrie House in 1995.

A 'Women and Labour' conference poster was commissioned by Suzanne Bellamy in 1978. It was produced by Toni Robertson from the Earthworks Poster Collective Workshop. The poster is now part of the National Gallery Collection (reference number 82.693).


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