6 spots dedicated to women who changed Sydney forever

Our tribute to 6 women who helped make our city what it is today.

Barangaroo. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

1. Barangaroo

Leader in the local Aboriginal community

Barangaroo, a proud Cameragal woman, refused to bow to the expectations of the white men who landed in her Sydney home in 1788. While her husband, Bennelong, worked with the British to establish relations between the 2 races, Barangaroo took a tougher line. At times she forbade him from joining trips with the white men and wearing clothes when meeting with them.

She’s now honoured with a beautiful headland park in her name, including 6 hectares of public space alongside Sydney Harbour.

Significant site: Barangaroo

Learn more: Dictionary of Sydney

Juanita Nielsen Community Centre. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

2. Juanita Nielsen

Publisher, activist and urban conservationist

Juanita Nielsen is a figure of mystery, but also hope for many Sydneysiders. The publisher and heiress was a vocal supporter of affordable housing in the city centre. She protested against the sell-off and development of Potts Point and Woolloomooloo through community action groups and her publication NOW. It’s a cause that may have led to her disappearance in 1975.

In 1983, Sydney Council named the community centre at Woolloomooloo after Juanita Nielsen.

Significant site: Juanita Nielsen Community Centre and 202 Victoria Street, Potts Point (Nielsen’s terrace, now state heritage-listed)

Learn more: City of Sydney News

Jessie Street Gardens. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

3. Jessie Street

Early feminist, pacifist, human rights activist

Jessie Street believed in equal rights. She fought for equal pay for men and women, the right to vote and perhaps most importantly, recognition for Aboriginal peoples. In 1967, she drafted an amendment to the Australian Constitution which was carried in the referendum of the same year.

Her memory lives on in the Jessie Street Gardens at Circular Quay, a popular spot for city workers to spend their lunch break.

Significant site: Jessie Street Gardens, Loftus Street Circular Quay

Learn more: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Kirsova 1 Playground. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

4. Hélène Kirsova

Ballet dancer, choreographer, dance teacher

Danish-born prima ballerina, choreographer and Kirsova Ballet School Director Hélène Kirsova came to Australia in 1936. She was touring with Col de Basil’s Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, but stayed on to marry the Danish vice-consul Dr Erik Fisher in 1938.

In the 1940s she devoted her time to improving the lives of children by securing small sites in the congested Sydney suburbs of Erskineville and Glebe for children’s playgrounds. She self-funded them with profits from her Russian ballet school at Circular Quay.

The playgrounds are dedicated to Hélène Kirsova’s memory and are literally named Kirsova 1, Kirsova 2 and Kirsova 3.

Significant site: Kirsova 1 Playground, 67 McDonald Street, Erskineville; Kirsova 2 Playground, 136-140 George Street, Erskineville; Kirsova 3 Playground, Wigram Lane East, Glebe

Learn more: National Library of Australia

Lilian Fowler Reserve. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

5. Lilian Fowler

Australia’s first female mayor, first female politician in NSW

Legend has it that Lilian Fowler decided on a career in politics at a very young age when a Nuisance Inspector confiscated her marbles while she was playing with them on a public footpath.

And what a career it was. She was the first woman alderman in NSW and the first female mayor in Australia. She was also among the first women members of NSW Parliament when she was elected to the seat of Newtown in 1944.

Like Kirsova, Fowler fought for space to create children’s playgrounds and is recognised with a namesake reserve in Newtown.

Significant site: Lilian Fowler Reserve, 27 Angel Street Newtown

Learn more:

Bunn Street. Image: Katherine Griffiths, City of Sydney

6. Anna Maria Bunn (formerly Murray)

Australia’s first female author

Anna Maria Murray was the author of the first novel written and published in Sydney. Titled The Guardian, it was penned in her Pyrmont home in 1838.

Originally published anonymously, the novel combines gothic influences with a comedy of manners and touches on themes including incest and suicide. It received mixed reviews.

2 streets in Pyrmont carry her name: Bunn and Murray streets.

Significant site: Bunn and Murray streets, Pyrmont

Learn more: Dictionary of Sydney

Skirting Sydney

For more stories about Sydney’s pioneering women, check out Skirting Sydney in the Sydney Culture Walks app.

Take a self-guided tour through the city spaces where women from Sydney’s past lived, worked, were educated and entertained.

Posted . Last updated .

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