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…That new life was born out of all I learned from the Women’s Liberation Movement which I now use as a tool for the emancipation of older women, who, unlike me, did not discover WLM but are now being empowered to see themselves and their lives in positive terms. (Betty Vivian, As Good As New, p.2)
Betty Vivian Pybus was born in Grange, South Australia, the eldest of two girls. She married in 1942 and moved to Hobart with her husband in 1945. She had a son and a daughter.
At the age of 47, Betty became a true feminist. Her autobiography, As Good As New, written under her maiden name Betty Vivian, is a valuable first-hand account of the development of the second wave of feminism in Australia in the 1970s.
As the convenor of a 15-woman collective, she was responsible for groundbreaking achievements including setting up the Women’s House in Sydney. The centre provided a counselling and referral service for rape victims, and information on contraception, abortions and the women’s movement. It was the first abortion referral service in Australia, and resulted in the elimination of the backyard abortion trade and the establishment of a legal clinic for terminations.
Betty continued as a pioneer of the Australian women’s health movement, as a founding member that established the Leichardt Women’s Community Health Centre, which was the first federally funded feminist initiative. She went on to manage the Liverpool Women’s Health Centre. The establishment of these health centres were pivotal in the establishment of the Hobart Women’s Health Centre.
Betty was also a part of the movement that resurrected the writings of early feminists. The discovery that many of the books were out of print led to the establishment of women’s publishing companies such as the Feminist Press, Virago and Women’s Press, who republished them.
Her commitment and activism continued through her later years, and her contribution to the feminist movement and unceasing work on behalf of older women was recognised at the inaugural Edna Awards in Hobart in 1999. On Australia Day 2004, she received the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of her work for women, as a feminist and community activist.
Photograph courtesy of The Mercury.