You could say that the anniversary of a death is the opposite of a birthday. Yet both are intrinsically related. Today, 17 June, marks 101 years since the death of Australia’s first suffragist, Henrietta Augusta Dugdale.
In November, 2009, barely a year into researching Henrietta’s life, I gave a presentation in Point Lonsdale entitled “Reality Versus Myth” offering some account of my findings. While Henrietta’s name appeared to be well-recognised in the history of women’s rights, biographical material on her was conflicting. The more I delved, the more I came to appreciate the untidy nature of truth. Historical information, I discovered, is only as reliable as the informant.
During my presentation, I gave examples, debunking some of the myths which had been built around Henrietta while also alluding to self-styled myths in her supposedly autobiographical, futuristic utopian novel, A FEW HOURS IN A FAR-OFF AGE. After my talk, I visited the local cemetery where my great-great-grand-aunt was buried. There, with members of the Queenscliffe Historical Museum, I placed a bouquet they’d bought for the occasion on Henrietta’s grave. It was a quiet and moving tribute, while mutually acknowledging that the dates on Henrietta’s old headstone did not correspond with the rightful dates of her birth and death (14 May, 1827 — 17 June, 1918).
It is always worthwhile to keep revisiting the past because you never know what you might find in your never-ending search for the truth. Eventually, though, a writer has to draw the line, as time becomes of essence. Questions will continue to haunt me, but at least I can be satisfied that I managed to finish my book in the centenary year of Henrietta’s death.
In October – ten years after my commemorative event in 2009 – I will be making another pilgrimage to Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale, this time for a belated launch of STEP UP, MRS DUGDALE.